The Work Experience

The Heretics Guide to Management book review

Skip the hype cycle, recognise your biases and default position as well as other’s biases and default positions to look at problems in context of their changing conditions. This is the overriding message of The Heretics Guide to Management by Paul Culmsee and Kailash Awati. This book was recommended to me by a sage and savvy colleague and friend. It opened my eyes to just how attached I was to certain tools, processes, and practices — namely Design Thinking. This book challenged me to think about just how unproductive we can be when we don’t acknowledge our professional culture wars. If you hold on to traditional strategy methodologies, if you think the latest innovation model is the best way, if you think design thinking is the only way, read this book.

Here’s my review on Amazon:

A refreshing, humorous, and well researched take on the hype cycle of management and innovation frameworks and why no model is a substitute for understanding context and conditions when working through ambiguity. This book’s critique on management trends is underpinned by thoughtful discussion on how we think and how we react to ambiguity; the limits this brings to problem framing, management, and effective work. I came away from this with better critical skills to assess not only my work environment but also myself.


Design research bible

Ethnography for Marketers: A Guide to Consumer Immersion was recommended to me in 2007, I finally got round to reading it in 2010 and the other day I revisited the copious notes I took. This is a book about ethnography, research, projects and design. But why write a blog post that is a book review? Particular when the subject is essentially a text book?

Ethnography for Marketers: A Guide to Consumer Immersion by Hy Marriampolski, Sage Publications, 2006

Don’t let targeting to marketers put you off. This is a text book for human centred design that anyone who describes themselves in anyway “UX” should read. This is also a text that anyone managing UX projects should read.

Not only does the book provide a framework to conducting observational qualitative research – it goes into the detail of how to conduct that research:

  • Recruiting for respondents
  • Designing the research
  • Project planning
  • Project management – costs, risks and contingencies specific to design research
  • Analysis
  • And various ways to present findings

The book provides juicy nuggets for how to answer the perennial curly question of sample size with qualitative research and describes how to triangulate research with available data. It also talks about when not to employ observational research, what to use instead and what to use to as a shortcut to get similar results.

Product innovation that has sprung from observation abound in this book. For instance, consumers spraying room deodorant after cleaning the bathroom seeking olfactory cues for task completion leading to products with and marketed for their more appealing scent. Being a product design book you will have to imagine your own examples if you work purely in the digital realm.

Frameworks are provided to help designers turned researchers interpret observed behaviour, e.g. looking for normative consumer behaviours such as:

  • Combining products
  • Work-arounds
  • Indifference – putting up with inadequate results
  • Errors – customers and users blaming themselves
  • Avoidance  of tasks
  • Imagining perfection

Templates are provided for the various tools you will need when planning and conducting research such as an observation guide, a respondent information sheet and site report template.

Most useful is the description of the site visit and guidelines for interactions with respondents – timing of the visit, how to conduct yourself to build trust and rapport, what to look for, and participant turn offs that can jeopardise results.  Having conducted design research myself I know how tricky it is to ask questions sometimes. Mpolski provides descriptions of types of probes as well as specific examples to help you grasp the technique:

  • “Describe how you…”
  • “Tell me about your attitude toward…”
  • Let’s talk about…”
  • “I’m curious about the ways you…”

Also discussed is what not to ask (avoid asking “why” specifically) with an explanation of the types of defensive response this provokes in participants.

Designing products and services based on user or customer behaviour starts with observing that behaviour. If you like me are a designer sans academic research or psychology background you might find this book a more than useful read. If you are thinking of beginning a design project with research but don’t know where to start, how to plan it, resource and budget it this is a must read – and don’t forget to encourage any project managers to read it too.

The internet the world

Publishing in the age of the internet

I always have an eye out for articles that comment on the effects of the internet age on the world. I was pointed to this thoughtful video of Canadian author Margaret Atwood speaking at an O’Reilly conference on the future of books in the e-age. She gives a historical perspective on the publishing industry as well as some interesting examples of self publishing.

Atwood asks:

  • are books dying?
  • if all books go on the internet will all books be free?

But she really makes the point that the author as a “primary resource” must be sustained. Which is worrying, because apparently authors make less out of e-book sales than they do out of paper books. Atwood then highlights the United Artists response to the film industry (an artist collective) as a potential response for willing self-organising authors against a publishing industry that is seemingly doing less and less to support those it represents, while requiring more of them.

Watch the whole video if you are into the topic, otherwise my highlights are:

  • at 13 minutes great anecdotes on self publishing by Margaret Atwood
  • at 18 minutes a case study on making a book free (phone app, MP3s, free download) as a means to finally get noticed by publisher and have a paperback produced as a result
  • at 27:22 audience question on whether self publishing will result in a lower quality of literary output
Side Projects

Rev head leet speak

My most recent book PL8s is a collection of car number plates. It’s my second attempt at the book, after changing the cover design, and accounting for some issues experienced on my first go.

Why number plates? For the hell of it and because I love making collections and lists of things. I also think number plates are the original source of the shorthand language we use in SMS and IM messages and that before we chuckle at how clever and beyond 2000 we are we should take time and reflect on older sources of short hand language. Enjoy.


Blurb Book Sizes

I made some page size graphics that show each Blurb book size on an A3 page to help me plan some book designs.

Blurb Self Publishing Book Sizes

There are 7 images in total. Check them out on Flickr for your reference.







Side Projects

My Blurb book’s back

I received my second book made by Blurb in the post the other day. This was the first book I had made that was a black and white text, 5″ x 8″ paperback. I ordered one hard cover with dust jacket and a couple of paperbacks. I was well impressed by the paper quality and the binding. The hard linen cover is beautiful and austere, but unfortunately the image did not align correctly … or at least as I thought it would.

The dust jacket front image went over too far on the right edge. I was thinking to try and refold the dust jacket but the spine was printed in exactly the right place. The soft cover image did fit, but only just and it didn’t look quite centred.   It was interesting to see how differently the same image alligned on the dust jacket and the paperback. The image is a lot bigger on the dust jacket and didn’t fit at all. This could be improved by Blurb.

The solution? Well I think I was a bit ambitious making an image that was reliant on lining up just so. I have redesigned the cover so the image is much smaller and is well away from the edges. I think the new cover looks much better too.

Lessons learned:

  1. Keep important parts of the image well away from the edge, even a bit further than book smart software suggests.
  2. Make the image for the dust jacket design a bit smaller than the paperback cover image.

Oh, and by the way, I was not at all fussed by the experience. I won a voucher for the books from a UPA meet up, which gave me the opportunity to try it all out for free. Thanks Blurb!

My Blurb book's back
The package label

My Blurb book's back
Wrapped in plastic

My Blurb book's back
Crooked dust jacket

My Blurb book's back
Linen hard cover

My Blurb book's back
Paperback: The image only just squeezes in to the top and bottom edges.

My Blurb book's back
How I thought the cover image would line up

My Blurb book's back
Inside cover

My Blurb book's back
Original cover design

My Blurb book's back
Plates cover version 2