Suggested reading list for Masters students at IDC -I

It has been almost an year. I have been out of IDC and working/studying here in Spain. As I continue to explore design, I often read books that I feel could answer many questions I had. I hope students still have a lot of questions. In this brief post, I present a collection of books I came across that could help design students perceive design better. I hope they keep you well insulated.

The list is arranged in order of possible things you could have in mind at a particular time in the course. So, I have structured them semester wise.

Thanks to Malay, Chinmay, Rishabh, and Advait for their contributions and suggestions. Thanks to Prof. Girish, who named some of these books in conversations. This is the Part I, Part II comes in a week or so.

Semester I

If you were like me and read very little. It would be a good time to get started. This is also the time when you were asked to think about the definition of design. Is there one? Why should we define it? The books I would say you could read are:

  • Old Man and the Sea— Ernest Hemingway
    I am not joking. This book is a treat and in sometime who would relate to the old man in this sea. The line length is short and it is a nice beginner book. Read it in a week or so.
  • Thoughts on Design — Paul Rand
    Another short book by Paul Rand on his works on design. He covers parts of his learnings mostly from a graphic design perspective. I like the part where he discusses the role of symbols to convey messages. It is a short book and could take a week. But take your time.

    He says,

    “The designer is primarily confronted with three classes of material: a) the given material: product, copy, slogan, logotype, format, media, production process; b) the formal material: space, contrast, proportion, harmony, rhythm, repetition, line, mass, shape, color, weight, volume, value, texture; c) the psychological material: visual perception and optical illusion problems, the spectators’ instincts, intuitions, and emotions as well as the designer’s own needs.”

  • The Vignelli cannon — Massimo Vignelli
    The master whose graphic & product design speaks for it. He presents his ideas in probably the most condensed manner as well. You would hear words like Syntactic, Semantics and Pragmatics in the book and the course. It could help you make sense of the job of the designer. His tricks on using space, font and typography are superb.

    “Design without discipline is anarchy, an exercise of irresponsibility.”

  • Design of everyday things — Don Norman
    Probably a lot of people who you talk to have already read this. So, you can discuss on the topics in the book and maybe make new friends. He talks about affordances and design in a very approachable way.

Longer Reads

  • Sapiens — Yuval Noah Harari

    Sapiens is an amazing book to get a sense of world we are living in. It makes you very curious and you could start seeing patterns in daily life. I like the part where he talks about agriculture and how power flows in the society.

Places to read : It would probably be raining when you start. I would go to Jalvihar and read there by the stairs (if it is not raining) or if you get a nice hostel room facing the lake, you are covered. If you prefer the nights, IDC is the best place if PD guys do not have any assignment to do. If you prefer going outside campus, got to marine drive by train or cycle, near the restaurant— Pizza by the bay. Nice views and a good book. I am saying too much maybe, but you can buy some books around Flora Fountain, used or otherwise. In winters, Gullu and Descafe are nice places. Cutting, Vada Pao, and Entropy.

Semester 2

Now, it is the second semester. You are already confused. Too many whys? There seems to be a dissonance between the perceived and the expected. The dream of cool jobs, sassy (why did I use this word) workplaces, you becoming the next Mistry have slowly started to become real. You are excited. Design seems amazing or maybe routine. But maybe you could think a bit.

  • Animal Farm— George Orwell

    Classic short novella by Orwell. Super fun to read when watching politics debates on TV. The satire is very sharp. If you project the book’s events, you can feel a bit uncomfortable about the current state of polity which shows some similar features since 1945. The novella was written to critique the politics around Russian Revolution.

    “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to saywhich was which.” “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

  • Sapiens — Yuval Noah Harari

    If you didn’t read it last semester, you should read it now. If you read it, read Homo Deus.

  • Lateral Thinking (with friends)

    This is a classic gem. I think many people may have read it, but it is quite helpful to read as a designer. I feel, as a designer it all boils down to ultimately finding connections in a problem space and then creating these “artefacts” to probe the connection and see what works. This book could be helpful. Debono’s - Six thinking hats is a good next book for ideation process.

    The way this book is written is probably meant for educators. The style is like a workbook. I always wanted to work through this book with friends. If you can convince friends to read it together, may be you could have a group and meet once a while to do exercises from the book.

  • Designing Design — Keyna Hara (MUJI)

    The physicality of this book, the paper, the layout and the content all are simply amazing. Kenya Hara is the art-director at Muji. You can almost feel the Mujiness of this book. He shows samples from his work that put forward his way of thinking about design. I like the tactile experience of his products and packaging like the fruit containers. This book inspired me to visit Tokyo by participating in Yahoo ! HackU (with Rishabh). We did visit the Muji flagship in Ginza.

    Art is an expression of an individual’s will to society at large, one whose origin is very much of a personal nature. Design, on the other hand, is basically not self-expression. Instead, it originates in society. The essence of design lies in the process of discovering a problem shared by many people and trying to solve it.

    The book is waiting for you in central library.

  • Catcher in the Rye— JD Salinger

    There are books and all. There is prose and all. It narrates the events from the three days Holden spent in New York after escaping from his hostel in Penn. I like the way the book is written. It feel like just a transcribed story you heard from someone at a cafe. It has no message , nothing. It just tries to bring out interesting things that could happen in a banal world and all.

    “I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

  • Designerly ways of knowing — Nigel Cross

    If you were interested what designers do, what is design, what is the difference between design, and art and science? Or if you are troubled that you could end up/ended up making UIs that just do something, and want to know if that is design? Read this book. It was suggested by Prof. Rao in a Design Research module. This book has the ability to make you think about the practise of design especially if you come from either exact science — Engineers or inexact sciences — Fine Arts.

    • Resolve ill-defined problems
    • adopt solution-focussing strategies
    • employ abductive/productive/appositional thinking
    • use non-verbal, graphical/spatial modeling media
  • “We are like that only” — Rama Bijapurkar*

    Suggested by Chinmay, It talks about the Indian context from a more market perspective but has many hidden gems that tell you about why we, as Indians, work like that and make such choices. It could help designers think about the social and cognitive environment their products could operate. It gives you “real” idea who India users might be. This is a fix to a classic design pitfall. If we design for people similar to us, we kind of assume a lot. I would rant and say, I did try reading the book but it needs some courage to read the same things again and again. But, Do you accept the challenge?

  • 1984 — George Orwell

    Classic Orwellian Dystopia Novel. Watch out for Newspeak. Did you find some newspeak around you? If you have already read it, “Brave New World” by Huxley. What future do you think is happening? Or are both ?

  • Change by Design — Tim Brown

    It is a rather inspiring book on the impact of design. I read it before coming to IDC. It talks about the projects by IDEO. The book is more like a feel good narrative about the impact of design. It does not have a lot of design methods in it. But, yeah makes you feel good and strengthens your belief in power of design.

  • Get a blog
    All reading and no writing makes Jack depressed. It is a good time to start writing what you feel about the work you see and do. I could be a weekly reflection or documentation of a project you do. Places you can make one is Medium (more people with read it there), Github pages (like this one) or Netlify (New kid on the block).

Longer Reads

  • Thinking Fast and Slow — Daniel Kahneman Malay recommends it to expose you to “a behavioural angle to design”. It is written by Nobel Prize winning economist. It could give to a nice peek into how people make decisions. This book is one of the most popular books on topics like behaviour change, behavioural economics, and social psychology.

  • 79 Essays on Design — Michael Bierut Another recommendation by our bookworm friend, Malay. The book is a collection of essays and reflections by Michael Bierut. Mr. Bierut was a student of Massimo Vignelli and is with Pentagram now. His work and process are amazing. Check out his new world symphony logo. Malay further recommends reading one essay a day for the faint hearted like me.

Places to read : The weather gets amazing in this sem. Go to Gullu, Sit near the lake, Sameer hill, IDC at night or Hostel Roof. Carry a cup of tea.

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