Much to the chagrin of my family, our long-awaited winter vacation was interrupted by a nasty cold or a mild flu which I came down with post Boxing Day. Oh well, that’s life. The good news is that, with lots of time suddenly on my hands, I’ve been able to tackle the pile of books that’s been growing on my nightstand, along with a few which came to me as Christmas presents. If you’ll indulge me, here’s an overview of what I’ve been reading:
Designing Interactions, by Bill Moggridge. I’ve actually been tackling this one for about a month now. For the sake of full disclosure, Bill is a colleague of mine at IDEO. But this is not a book about IDEO, by any means. I’ve learned so much reading it, and I keep going back and re-reading the interviews and watching the DVD. I can’t get enough of Bill Verplank’s point of view on interaction, and I’ve read John Maeda’s chapter oh, maybe five times. The Rob Haitani chapter alone should be required reading for every product manager in the world. In fact, if I could pass a universal law, I’d make that chapter required reading for every product manager in the world each January 1 of each and every new year. This book now is the anchor of my innovation library, and I predict in five years it will show much evidence of active use, perhaps even some beausage.
Phaedon Design Classics, 001-999: a comprehensive, full-color survey of iconic designed objects in the tradition of Stephen Bayley’s book In Good Shape. I wish I had this book earlier in my career — flipping through its pages has fleshed out my sense of design history. For instance, one of my colleagues has a Dieter Rams-designed bookshelf in his office, and I’ve spent the past two years analyzing its structure in five-minute chunks during meetings there, but I never knew it was a Rams design. Now it makes much more sense to me. On the other hand, the three tomes of this collection seem to be full of content errors, at least based on the really basic errors I’ve found whenever the books talk about cars, such as:
- The pages about the Porsche 356A Speedster (Entry 461) are accompanied by a photo of the original 356 prototype, which is not a Speedster. Totally different cars from a design standpoint. One is mid-engine, the other hangs it off the back. To use the photos interchangeably not only wrong, it’s downright against the law.
- Entry 496, which is about the Fiat 500, is illustrated with a blueprint of the Fiat 600. It’s not wrong wrong, but it’s like putting a picture of a Lusitano in an essay about Shetland ponies.
- Entry 817 on the Fiat Panda ( a car I dearly love ) states that "[Giorgetto Giugiaro] began creating cars witih sharp edges and straight lines… the Panda is a testament to this particular style, with its box-like shape and large, square-shaped headlights, finished with five chromed lines diagonally gracing the front of the grille." The entry is, as you’d expect, illustrated with a photo of a Panda with the five chrome lines on the grille. Which is all fine and well, except for the fact that the original Giurgiaro design which went into production featured a metal grille with nineteen vertical air slats, with no chrome to be found. To say otherwise is to obfuscate the history of design. And, the original design was much cooler than the later chrome restyle.
- BMW 2002, entry 697. And I quote: "The models built between 1968 and 1973 had larger bumpers specifically for the US market…". No, actually, quite the opposite is true; the "big bumper" 2002 models came to the US from 1974 through the 1976 model year. Not quite a criminal assertion, but close. These details are just details, but they matter in a history book.
To be sure, it’s a fascinating and instructive set of books, but errors such as those above make me wonder if the utility of these types of works in the age of the Web is rapidly approaching zero. Aside from the fact that a three-volume compendium is likely to be difficult to compile, expensive to produce, buy, and sell, and take up a lot of shelf space, it just screams to be done on the web. As in a series of hyperlinked web pages. Perhaps as a wiki, maybe not, but something which could modified as need be when thousands of eyeballs dig up shallow bugs such as big bumpers on a 2002.
The Creation, by E.O. Wilson. The most important book I read in 2006. If Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth didn’t scare you, The Creation will. Wilson speaks from a position of great moral and scientific authority. While I’m confident that we can find a way to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, I’m now more concerned than ever about the rate of species extinction on land and in the oceans. If you haven’t read Wilson’s book, you owe it to yourself to spend some time with his eloquent words and deep wisdom. And pass it along to a friend.
Cough cough, sniff sniff.