Book List/The Mould for My Thoughts

Below is a list of books (that I will continue to update periodically) that I have read with a few sentences on what I thought. These books are largely responsible of any and all opinions that I have. 

The books that I highly recommend are in italicised. Feel free to hit me up if you have any questions about anything on this list! Hopefully this will help all the book nerds out there with finding some good books to read :)

*These summaries and this booklist is a work in progress, I'm aiming to add a few more summaries and titles each week.

DESTINED FOR WAR: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap? (by Graham Allison)

This was incredible. I cannot recommend this book more. I don't think it's possible. Allison does an amazing job of breaking down and analysing American-Chinese international relations through complex historical lens. I have yet to encounter a book that was as informative and easy to read as this book. If you only read one book for the rest of your life, this is it. 

SAPIENS: A Brief History of Humankind (by Yuval Noah Harari)

Sapiens is one of those rare books that changes the way you look at the world. Harari starts at the first appearance of homo sapiens and guides the reader through to modern society. His explanation of the social constructs that we take for granted is truly an eye opening experience. I know I just said that if you only read one book for the rest of your life it should be Destined for War, but now I'm saying you should read more than one book for the rest of your life and this should be on that list.

THE ART FORGER (by Barbara A. Shapiro)

This is one of those throwaway novels that you read on a weekend where you don't feel like doing anything productive. Mostly grounded in real historical events, The Art Forger takes the reader through the experience of a single fictional character's adventure with a lost masterpiece. There's a little mystery, a little romance, and a little adventure sprinkled in periodically. Fun and easy read. Definitely not mind-blowing. 

HEART OF DARKNESS (by Joseph Conrad)

Set in the colonial era, Conrad recounts the tale of a ship sailing along the Congo river into the depths of the Congo. This is generally a pretty tough read because of the way Conrad writes, but definitely worth struggling through. It raises interesting points about the effects of colonialism on the colonisers. Also it's really trippy. 

HAMLET (by William Shakespeare)

I really don't think this one requires any sort of summary. For a great reinterpretation of the plot, watch the Lion King. Perhaps it was because I had to analyse this as part of my high school education but few literary works can quite capture the beauty of the English language as well as Shakespeare does with Hamlet. Also this is the source of "get thee to a nunnery", what's not to like.   

THE HANDMAID'S TALE (by Margaret Atwood)

As far as tales about dystopian societies go, this one is one of the best. Atwood crafts an entire world through the lens of single character's story. In this future, the world is faced with a threateningly low birth rate, catastrophic environmental issues, and truly reprehensible attitudes towards women (as property of the state). In the very least, it'll make you think.

ELON MUSK (by Ashlee Vance)

WHAT HAPPENED (by Hillary Rodham Clinton)

SHOE DOG (by Phil Knight)

THE PIXAR TOUCH (by David A. Price)

HALF THE SKY (by Nicholas Kristof)

THE GLASS MENAGERIE (by Tennessee Williams)

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (by Tennessee Williams)

THE BLUEST EYE (by Toni Morrison)

LOLITA (by Vladimir Nabokov)

ANTIGONE (by Sophocles)

BRAVE NEW WORLD (by Aldous Huxley)

DUBLINERS (by James Joyce)

OF MICE AND MEN (by John Steinbeck)

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED (by Tim O'Brien)

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (by Zora Neale Hurston)

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (by Harper Lee)

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE (by Virginia Woolf)

 

A Couple Words on Candy Crush

So. The Candy Crush Redesign.. 

A little background…

I have been a faithful Candy Crusher since it first went viral and have never quite been able to put it down. It is probably my most consistently used app on my phone (I will check it at least once a day, and by check, I mean use up all 5 lives). I am currently stuck on level 1236 --> actually any help/advice as to how to get past this level would be much appreciated.

So it’s safe to say that I am quite familiar with the interface.

Now this.

I woke up one fateful morning and discovered that the once friendly (somewhat childish in a good way) interface transformed into… well this…

 

The old interface was never quite perfect from an aesthetics perspective – at least it was never my cup of tea. That said, it was everything it needed to be. It served as the friendly, inviting portal for the younger users but was also clean enough to not totally put off the more “mature” users (i.e. Adam Levine from Maroon 5).

  SOURCE: https://emcedesign.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/screen-shot-2013-03-25-at-5-27-47-am.png

SOURCE: https://emcedesign.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/screen-shot-2013-03-25-at-5-27-47-am.png

Which I guess is exactly my point here. This new version of Candy Crush completely forgets that it has a loyal following among millennials. When I first opened the game and started on my level, I was overwhelmed.

In this redesign they had cranked up the shadows, highlights, and saturation. While this definitely creates for a more striking visual, it is definitely not what you want in a screen filled with content.

As a static image, there is an incredible amount of information to take in. On the jelly pieces alone, there are 5 different highlights. Now couple this with colorful (and equally aggressively highlighted) pieces of candy, one could stare at this image for hours on end. But that’s not where this ends. There are animations. The animations pre-redesign were always intricate enough that watching them was really quite an enjoyable experience.  Now they’ve taken it from a 10 to a 10,000,000,000. All of a sudden each exploding piece of candy became a spectacle, with little shards flying in all directions and the next row bouncing in (among a myriad of other things). In a lot of ways this is almost reminiscent of the phase that most of us experienced as we first discovered transitions in PowerPoint: all of a sudden every element on every slide had a different animation because “it looks cool”. As we mature, we begin to understand that this doesn’t work.

“Looking cool” is never going to be as important as what you are trying to accomplish with your visual. In this case, in an attempt to make it “look cool”, Candy Crush forgot about how their users interact with their product.

 Their success is crucially tied with their ability to keep their users focused on their app. And yes, the new interface is nothing if not interesting to look at, but in the context of the game, it becomes exhausting to interact with. When all it takes to exit and app is the click of a button, Candy Crush simply cannot afford to create an environment for its users that is anything less than perfectly comfortable. So please, Candy Crush designers, zoom out for a moment and recognize that with so much information on your screen, “adding intricate details” belongs on a list of things not to do.

*I could totally be the only user who finds that they are using this game less because of how visually taxing it is now, but this is just my two cents.

Dear Future UOCD Student - Get Ambitious

Instructor's Description: Your UOCD experience is a journey through a complex design process. It's an experience filled with ups-and-downs, surprises, challenges, you name it! To allow you a space to further explore your experiences, we are asking you to develop 3 blog posts over the course of the semester, one for each phase of UOCD.

You might even imagine that you are writing them for the new UOCD blog site....informally called dearuocdstudent.com that is targeted towards current, future, and previous UOCD students.


SOME FINAL MUSINGS

Group.png

Dear future UOCD student,

This marks the end of this tumultuous journey that has been UOCD. I guess this is where I should try to distill this entire experience down into a single, catchy, deep (but not so deep so as to elude understanding by all others expect for myself) phrase. Quite frankly, being concise has never really been my strength. So here are a couple lengthier sentences that are more poorly worded than they are deep.

DON’T START WITH THE END IN MIND

So this is probably contrary to just about every productivity hack book out there – I know because I’ve read probably more than my fair share – but bear with me for a moment here. In the real world, having a goal is important. The linear path is always the shortest and most efficient. But design is a whole different ball game. It’s not about efficiency; it’s about the magic of discovery. There is something about letting your mind wander that unlocks a whole different way of thinking. Start off with a blank canvas. I’ve always been someone who loved coming up with a single idea and then fighting it through from the get go. Everything about UOCD forced me to give up this traditional notion of linear thinking and wander off into the unknown. The stranger your ideas are, the better a job you are doing so don’t freak out. Be willing to laugh at your ideas that are straight out of movie (one of our favourite ideation categories was vigilante justice).  

FEEL FREE TO GOOF OFF – IT’S IMPORTANT TO PRODUCTIVITY

In a lot of ways, this was what made our team as effective as it was at the end of the day. We were that team that would always show up at around 10:15 to our 9:50 class. Now by no means am I advocating for being late (that was greatest pitfall), but more often than not, those 25 minutes “before” class were spent having breakfast. 

We had the (mis)fortune of getting a user group in which the stakes were incredibly high. Because we were trying to empower legal aids, we were struggling with how to help our user group provide a voice for the most vulnerable populations within our community day in and day out. This was rough. The enormity of the scale of our project was both invigorating and intimidating. On a daily basis, we were pushed from “we need something realistic and substantial” to “I give up. Let’s abolish the current justice system”. 

Our biggest saving grace was our team dynamic. We had a group that had grown close over the biweekly breakfasts, team bonding activities, and discussions on how to survive the ghost hiding under Sara Ballantyne’s bed. Between our random side conversations and coffee trips, we were able to lighten the mood just enough to playful with our ideation. This is crucial to whatever use group you get. At some point in UOCD you will inevitably have a “holy cow, we are trying to fundamentally change an entire group’s life”. Keep that in mind, but let it propel you to achieve more creativity rather than weigh you down.

KNOWING HOW TO SKETCH POORLY IS AN IMPORTANT SKILL

Much like goofing off is important so is the ability to be a bad sketcher. The difference between a sketch and a masterpiece is that the former invites collaboration. Given that the course itself is named “User Oriented Collaborative Design”, you can see how this would be important.

Artboard 6 Copy.png

A poorly drawn idea has this unique ability to encourage the viewer to interact with it and make edits. There is absolutely nothing that will kill and ideating/co-design/refining-of-the-idea-session like a beautifully crafted representation.  

QUESTION THE QUESTION, NOT THE ANSWER

Last but not least, always be that person in the room that asks “but why”. For us, our professors fulfilled this role in our bench top review sessions, but now that I sit here writing this, I wish we had done it to ourselves more often. It’s hard to come up with entirely different answers once you’ve found one or two, but coming up with new questions is so much easier. 

Think back to when you questioned the premise of answers and not the answers themselves. Now do that. Again. And again.

LET ME RAMBLE A LITTLE MORE

Now that I am done with this class (for the most part), I think the way I interact with my peers has changed. It took me a couple tries in this class but I finally learned that it’s not about understanding the responses to questions, but rather the context that they sit in. UOCD has taught me to be okay with scribbling aimlessly on a blank sheet of paper and asking questions that will probably lead nowhere in particular. I’ve learned to revel in the chaos and trust that everything will work itself out eventually (think: design scribble).

One last piece of advice: Caffeine is your best friend. Forever and always. 

Dear Future UOCD Student - Get Collaborative

Instructor's Description: Your UOCD experience is a journey through a complex design process. It's an experience filled with ups-and-downs, surprises, challenges, you name it! To allow you a space to further explore your experiences, we are asking you to develop 3 blog posts over the course of the semester, one for each phase of UOCD.

You might even imagine that you are writing them for the new UOCD blog site....informally called dearuocdstudent.com that is targeted towards current, future, and previous UOCD students.


A LONG STORY ABOUT A LIGHT BULB

 An "artsy" shot of our ideation web

An "artsy" shot of our ideation web

Dear future UOCD student,

So Phase 2. Suddenly, we were no longer wandering around aimlessly in the minds/lives (and often times, offices) of our people group, rather we were looking for real ways to change their lives. That said, it was important to make sure these “ways” weren’t “too real”. 

One of my favourite ideas (that we didn’t end up going with because of a myriad of reasons that I will get into later) was one related to mental health. Here’s how it went down:

THE LIGHTBULB MOMENT

After our interview with the Massachussetts Legal Aid Corporation, someone on the user visit commented that MLAC seemed like an awfully dreary place to work. Perhaps it was the weather that day or the overwhelming use of (at most) three different shades of grey, but I couldn’t help but nodd in agreement. The comment hung in the air for a moment before we launched into a discussion about Olin’s oranges versus Babson’s (insider tip: Olin has better oranges).

Throughout the remainder of Phase 1, the notion that being a public defender/working legal aid meant making a profound sacrifice kept popping up in various interviews and user visist. To me, this didn’t quite add up. Why is it that helping others defend their basic cival rights requires a “bleeding heart” type figure willing to give up their own emotional health and a life of luxury? Shouldn’t it be our imperative as members of society be to make helping others as easy as possible? 

During one of our pen-twirling ideation sessions, the issue of mental health came up. Perhaps it was in the wake of the email about the dogs coming to campus or some other arbitrary event, with that, all 5 member of my team were suddenly obsessed with the idea of bringing in a petting zoo — but of course the hypoallergenic kind. 

As ridiculous as it sounded, we decided we were all tired and deluded enough to run with it (and hopefully have some fun along the way). With that, we were brainstorming ways to collaborate with the team working with animal shelter workers next to us, ways to bring therapy dogs into all types of different contexts. After a while, the time we had allotted for the meeting elapsed and we packed up our things and left the studio. The next morning we came in, ready to work on our “proper ideas”. 

THE LIGHTBULB MOMENT PT2

Fast forward a couple weeks, somehow we ended up staring our ideation bored (lovingly named the “conspiracy map”) and we refocused on the notion of improving mental health for our people group. Not quite sure why, but the comment that had been made suddenly came back to me: “it seemed like an awfully dreary place to work”. 

So this begged the question of what does a place that isn’t dreary look like? And what made it non-dreary?

Now this was a much easier question to answer. In the recent decades, there has been considerable hype about the magic that Silicon Valley. From Google’s napping pods, to Facebook’s laser cutter and food court, to Airbnb’s apartment inspired conference rooms — “cool places to work” were plentiful. 

 Airbnb's super cool offices

Airbnb's super cool offices

With that we arrived at our co-designed office space idea.

THE LIGHTBULB SHORT CIRCUITED

After a few co-design sessions, it became clear that this was a solution that was both too “inside the box” and “outside of the box” at the same time. It was something that would require significant infrastructure investment capital from our users yet even in the best case scenarios, the change would be insignificant. With that, our brilliant lightbulb idea went out.

LIKE THOMAS EDISON, WE TOO, LEARNED FROM OUR NONFUNCTIONAL LIGHTBULB

It’s always a little sad to realize that the idea you had been sure was “the one” was nothing more than a lot of fanfare. But this remains my favourite idea. 

It taught me to realize that building something great for you user really has very little to do with finding the right solution, rather, it was a matter of finding the right problem. Once you have found the root cause of a pain point, the number of possible solutions is practically infinite. Treating each idea as an inconsequential whim was essential to our entire ideating process. We are working with a user group with incredibly high stakes and as a result, suddenly our design process gained a lot of weight and gravity.

In some ways, this was exactly the trajectory we needed to take. Ideating should never be a serious exercise, for when we are serious, we prematurely place constraints on what is and isn’t possible. Instead, think back to when you were a child and your answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up” was “space ballerina”. 

Be daring enough to be ridiculous — it’s where the magic happens.

Dear Future UOCD Student - Get Curious

Description as per instructors: Your UOCD experience is a journey through a complex design process. It's an experience filled with ups-and-downs, surprises, challenges, you name it! To allow you a space to further explore your experiences, we are asking you to develop 3 blog posts over the course of the semester, one for each phase of UOCD.

You might even imagine that you are writing them for the new UOCD blog site....informally called dearuocdstudent.com that is targeted towards current, future, and previous UOCD students.


ON BEING A DESIGNER...

 Stock photo of "design"

Stock photo of "design"

When asked, I now proudly declare that I have been a “designer” for a little over a year now (followed by a story about how I’ve been doing this whole graphic design thing since middle school so as to give myself some semblance of legitimacy). But it wasn’t until a couple months ago that I even started using this label comfortably. There was always something about the way I did what I did that made me feel like using the word “designer” was superficial. It felt as though there was some element that I just hadn’t quite grasped -- like I was pretending to be part of an elite group with little to no actual knowledge of what being part of said group actually meant. 

Learning the technical skill required to make a beautiful line in Adobe Illustrator or snapping shapes to a grid in Sketch are all tangible skills that usually take no more than a couple months to master. But in the hands of a designer these programs suddenly seem so much more powerful. I am lucky enough to have witnessed the power of design. The magical, innate, allusive ability of these individuals to create things that work. It pains me a little to admit just how much I have come to rely on the now cliche Steve Jobs quote: “design is not just what it looks like and feels like, it’s how it works”. This quote -- to me -- captures that shared secret that all designers seem to understand. It took me a couple years to figure out that perhaps this is why I’ve always felt like part of the uninitiated, desperate to become one of the “cool kids”. 

I never quite figured out how to make something work. 

As a Babson student, I’ve grown used to the mindset that being innovative is either a trait you have or you don’t. There are the great innovators like Steve Jobs and David Kelley and then there’s us -- those who were not blessed with this natural talent to magically figure exactly what people want. I enrolled in UOCD essentially on a whim. I’ve heard my best friend (who now works as a product designer) gush out every aspect of this course and figured I might as well give it a shot. And before I knew it, I was sitting across from a neatly dressed man, sipping on a hot latte, talking about what it meant to be a lawyer and how pro bono work has changed his life. 

The user group that my team chose was legal aids and public defenders. In recent years, this field has become highly romanticized (with shows like Suits and movies like A Few Good Men) as a noble, intense profession, filled with dramatic scenes and sweeping declarations. It is perhaps precisely this widespread misunderstanding of the legal profession that led me to my most profound discovery yet.

“I actually hate going to court”.

Those 6 words suddenly drew my attention away from the hustle and bustle of the typical downtown Starbucks environment around us and back into the conversation. For a lawyer, this seemed like such an unnatural statement. Courtroom dramas are named such because the intensity and excitement are distilled into eloquent opening speeches and targeted cross examinations delivered in the courts. Yet here we were, talking to a man who loved being a lawyer but hated going to court.

As it turns out the modern court system is incredibly antiquated in several ways. The most prominent of which is the notion that all parties of all cases to be heard on a particular day were to arrive at 9:00am. In other words, lawyers would often spend hours upon hours sitting in a room (in which cell phones and laptops were prohibited) waiting for their case to be called. This incredibly dreary side was edited out by TV producers and thus edited out of our lives.

Suddenly, it all made sense to me. Designers can do what they do not because they were superhuman -- in fact it was precisely the opposite -- designers were so incredibly human (in the most average sense of the word). Everything these legendary designers create centered around people. It is this innate curiosity to understand people throws the halo around products from IDEO and Continuum. 

Perhaps this was why I had always felt like an outsider to this group of legends: I never quite grasped that to understand the deepest, darkest secret of design, all I had to do was listen.

 

Sincerely,

Philipa Yu