Seven Sick Books I Read This Year

Published on 23 Dec 2019.
Reading time: 3 min.

This post was originally published in The Startup.

These are the seven books:

  1. Refactoring UI (Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger)
  2. Laying the Foundations (Andrew Couldwell)
  3. The Best Interface is No Interface (Golden Krishna)
  4. Several Short Sentences (Verlyn Klinkenborg)
  5. Copywrong to Copywriter (Tait Ischia)
  6. Content Design (Sarah Richards)
  7. Hot Seat (Dan Shapiro)

Cool. Thanks for reading. Have a good day!

Stick around if you want to hear why I think these books are so sick. And if you get to the end, there’s a bonus 8th book, which is probably the best of them all.


The design books #

The first three books are about user interface design and design systems.

The first, Refactoring UI, is a goldmine for how to create sick user interfaces for digital products. Here’s an excerpt:

If you’ve ever wondered why one app or website looks ‘well-designed’ or ‘polished’ or even why it ‘pops’ compared to others, but haven’t been able to express it in words, this book explains it.

At $99 for the book (and $249 with all the extras), it definitely is expensive. But I fully believe it’s worth it.

If you want a taster, Steve and Adam have posted:

One thing Steve and Adam emphasise throughout is systematicity. The next book, Laying the Foundations, is a book about design systems.

There’s been a lot of talk about design systems in 2019. (I really like this talk in particular.) There’s also been lots of great books published about them.

In my opinion, Andrew’s book is one of the best.

Andrew covers how to create, iterate, systematise and maintain a design system or a set of brand guidelines.

He also covers how to sell people on it: how to get buy-in from devs, product owners, and the wider business.

The final book, The Best Interface Is No Interface, is exactly what it says on the tin. Golden’s writing is sarcastic and sassy and this book is hugely enjoyable to read. You can read a preview of it in The Verge here.


The tone-of-voice / copywriting / content books #

If you’re a UX researcher, UI designer, product manager, or similar, you can’t ignore tone-of-voice and content.

Even if your company has a dedicated copywriter and content designer, knowing the basics will take you far. All three of these books are siick and are short, easy reads.

The first book is called Several Short Sentences About Writing. It advocates starting writing by using short sentences. This may not sound that important. But it has a tremendous impact.

I defer to the New York Journal of Books, which states that this book is

[the] best book on writing. Ever. To paraphrase Voltaire’s statement concerning the Almighty, ‘if Verlyn Klinkenborg did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.’

. . . Indeed, no other book is as filled with as much grounded, practical advice for putting words to the paper or electronic page or gives better, more helpful exercises.”

Next is Copywrong to Copywriter. It’s a great short book about and writing with purpose. It covers all the basics: copy strategy, defining audience, finding tone of voice, grammar, and more.

Third is Content Design. Oh boy. I was blown away by this short book.

Sarah was part of the team that revamped GDS (the UK Government Digital Service) and invented ‘content design’ as a discipline.

The book explains what it means, and has practical examples of techniques to use when working.


The CEO book #

Book number 7 is Hot Seat. Okay, I’ll be honest. I haven’t finished this one. I’m only two sections in (founding and funding). But it’s really, really interesting.

If you’re reading this article, then I bet you’re the kind of person who’s thought about starting a company before.

This book is a deep dive into the complexities and practicalities of starting a company, splitting equity, finding co-founders, finding investors, and hopefully becoming profitable. It’s almost a cheat-sheet. And, moreover, it’s incredibly readable. Dan is a great storyteller — all the information about being a CEO is told through stories about companies (both successful and unsuccessful).


The bonus book #

The bonus eighth book I read this year that is so so sick is: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Here’s an excerpt:

There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

This book is phenomenal. Don’t let the hideous cover fool you.(I re-covered mine in some nice wrapping paper.)

Go buy it. Go read it. Battle Resistance every single day. Some days you might even win.