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Books that have shaped our thinking – Nava PBC
"Recommended reads related to civic tech, health, government, behavioral science, design and engineering

At Nava we have a living Google Doc where we link to books that help us understand the systems and architecture we use. The intention of this document is to form a baseline of readings that new employees will need and to share with other employees good resources for being productive.

Below are some of our favorites from that list:

Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences
by Susan Leigh Star and Geoffrey C. Bowker
This covers, in great detail, the astounding ways that the models we make for the world end up influencing how we interact with it. This is incredibly relevant to our work: the data models we define and the way we classify and interpret data have profound and often invisible impacts on large populations. — Sha Hwang, Co-founder and Head of Creative

Decoded
by Jay Z
Decoded is Jay Z’s autobiography and describes his experience as a black man growing up in an impoverished neighborhood in NYC. In particular, there is a passage about poor people’s relationship to the government that changed the way I think about the perception of those government services that I work to improve. This book showed me that the folks we usually want to serve most well in government, are the ones who are most likely to have had profoundly negative experiences with government. It taught me that, when I work on government services, I am rebuilding a relationship, not starting a new one. Context is so important. It’s a fun, fast read and I used to ask that our Apprentices read at least that passage, if not the whole book, before starting with our team at the NYC Mayor’s Office. — Genevieve Gaudet, Designer

Seeing like a State
by James C. Scott
A reminder that the governance of people at scale can have unintended consequences when removed from people’s daily lives and needs. You won’t think of the grid, property lines, and last names the same way again.— Shelly Ni, Designer

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain
Cain uses data and real world examples of how and why introverts are overlooked in American culture and then discusses how both introverts and extroverts can play a role in ensuring introverts get a seat at the table and a word in the conversation. — Aimee Barciauskas, Software Engineer

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas Piketty
This book analyzes the long-term fluctuations in wealth inequality across the globe, from the eighteenth century to present. He exposes an incredibly important issue in a compelling way, using references not just to data, but to history and literature to prove his point. — Mari Miyachi, Software Engineer

Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III
by Robert A. Caro
Our most underhanded president also brought us Medicaid, Medicare, and civil rights. Was Machiavelli so bad after all? — Alex Prokop, Software Engineer

Praying for Sheetrock
by Melissa Fay Greene
A true, close-up story of McIntosh County, Georgia, a place left behind by the greater Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. This is a story about the civil rights movement that shakes up the community in the 1970s, and this is also a story about burnout, and organizing, and intergenerational trauma. — Shelly Ni, Designer

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care
by T. R. Reid
Reid explores different models for healthcare in nations across the globe. He’s searching for an understanding of why America’s system is comparatively so expensive and unsuccessful, leaving so many uninsured and unhealthy. There is a great chapter on Ayurvedic medicine which (spoiler alert) seemed to work for the author when he was suffering from a shoulder injury! — Aimee Barciauskas, Software Engineer

Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
A very enjoyable and inspirational read about the history of Pixar from founder Ed Catmull himself. It delves into what sets a creative company apart and teaches lessons like “people are more important than ideas” and “simple answers are seductive” without reading like a typical business book.— Lauren Peterson, Product Manager

Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman
The magnum opus of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman is a psychologist but his Nobel is in Economics, and unlike other winners in this category, his win stands the test of time. You will be a much better decision maker after reading this book and understanding the two modes our brains work in: System 1 intuitive “fast” thinking and System 2 deliberate “slow” thinking. It is a beast of a book, but unlike the vast majority of (pop) psychology books, this book distills decades of groundbreaking research and is the basis for so many other psychology books and research that if you read this book carefully, you won’t have to read those other books. There are so many topics in this book, I’ll just link to the Wikipedia page to give you a flavor.— Alicia Liu, Software Engineer

Nudge
by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
This covers how sensible “choice architecture” can improve the decisions and behavior of people. Much of what’s covered comes from decades of research in behavioral science and economics, and has a wide range of applications — from design, user research, and policy to business and everyday life. — Sawyer Hollenshead, Designer

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
by Atul Gawande
This book is about how checklists can help even experts avoid mistakes. Experience isn’t enough. I try to apply the lessons of this book to the processes we use to operate our software.—Evan Kroske, Software Engineer

The Soul of a New Machine
by Tracy Kidder
This book details the work of a computer engineering team racing to design a computer. While the pace of work for the team is certainly unsustainable and perhaps even unhealthy at times, the highs and lows they go through as they debug their new minicomputer will be familiar to engineers and members of tight-knit groups of all varieties. The rush to finish their project, which was thought to be a dark horse at the beginning of the book, is enthralling and will keep you engaged with this book late into the night. — Samuel Keller, Software Engineer

Release It!: Design and Deploy Production-Ready Software
by Michael T. Nygard
One of the best, most practical books I’ve ever read about creating resilient software on “modern” web architectures. While it may not be the most relevant with regards to cloud-based infrastructure, the patterns and processes described within are still very applicable. This is one of the few technical books I have read cover-to-cover. — Scott Smith, Software Engineer

Design for Democracy
by Marcia Lausen
From an AIGA project to improve the design of ballots— both paper and electronic— following the “hanging chad” drama of the 2000 election, comes this review of best practices for designers, election officials, and anyone interested in the intersection of design and voting.—Shelly Ni, Designer

The Design of Everyday Things
by Donald A. Norman
This is a classic for learning about design and its sometimes unintended consequences. I read it years ago and I still think about it every time I’m in an elevator. It’s a great introduction to a designer’s responsibility and designing in the real world for actual humans, who can make mistakes and surprising choices about how to use the designs you create. — Genevieve Gaudet, Designer

More recommendations from the team
• The Unexotic Underclass
• Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice
• Everybody Hurts: Content for Kindness
• Poverty Interrupted: Applying Behavioral Science to the Context of Chronic Scarcity [PDF]
• Designing for Social Change: Strategies for Community-Based Graphic Design
• Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels
• The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on their Craft
• The Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times
• The Effective Engineer: How to Leverage Your Efforts In Software Engineering to Make a Disproportionate and Meaningful Impact
• Effective DevOps: Building a Culture of Collaboration, Affinity, and Tooling at Scale"
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10 hours ago by robertogreco
How Fonts Are Fueling the Culture Wars – Backchannel
"Typography is undergoing a public renaissance. Typography usually strives to be invisible, but recently it’s become a mark of sophistication for readers to notice it and have an opinion.

Suddenly, people outside of the design profession seem to care about its many intricacies. Usually, this awareness focuses on execution. This year’s Oscars put visual hierarchy on the map. XKCD readers will never miss an opportunity to point out bad keming. And anyone on the internet can tell you, Comic Sans has become a joke.

But by focusing on the smaller gaffes, we’re missing the big picture. Typography is much bigger than a “gotcha” moment for the visually challenged. Typography can silently influence: It can signify dangerous ideas, normalize dictatorships, and sever broken nations. In some cases it may be a matter of life and death. And it can do this as powerfully as the words it depicts.

***

Why We’re Afraid of Blackletter

You’ve seen blackletter typography before. It’s dense, old-fashioned, and elaborate. It almost always feels like an anachronism. It looks like this:

[image]

But usually when you see it in popular culture, it looks more like this:

[image]

Or like this:

[image]

You probably know blackletter as the script of choice for bad guys, prison tattoos, and black metal album art—and you wouldn’t be wrong.

Blackletter looks esoteric and illegible now, but it started off as a normal pattern that people across Europe used every day for hundreds of years. It stayed that way until pretty recently. It reigned as the dominant typeface in the English-speaking world for several generations, and remains popular in parts of the Spanish-speaking world today.

Why don’t we use blackletter anymore? The answer is literally “Hitler.” Nazi leadership used Fraktur, an archetypal variety of blackletter, as their official typeface. They positioned it as a symbol of German national identity and denounced papers that printed with anything else.

As you might imagine, the typeface hasn’t aged well in the post-war period. In just a few years, blackletter went from ordinary to a widespread taboo—the same way the name “Adolf” and the toothbrush mustache have been all but eradicated.

The Nazis played a part in this. In 1941, the regime re-characterized Fraktur as Judenletter, “Jewish letters,” and systematically banned it from use. The long history of Jewish writers and printers had tainted the letterforms themselves, they argued, and it was time for Germany to move on. Historians speculate that the reversal had more to do with the logistics of occupying countries reliant on Latin typefaces, but the result was the same. No printed matter of any kind could use Fraktur, for German audiences or abroad. Even blackletter handwriting was banned from being taught in school.

Think about that: The government of one of the world’s great powers banned a typeface. That is the power of a symbol.

***

It’s Hard to Text in Arabic

We take it for granted that we can type any word with a keyboard, but really, you should check your anglophone privilege. In English, each letter stands on its own, while Arabic connects every letter in a word, allowing many letters to take on new shapes based on context. Arabic lends itself to lush and poetic calligraphy, but it doesn’t square with traditional European methods for making typefaces.

Much of the Arab world fell under Western colonial rule, and print communication remained a challenge. Rather than rethinking or expanding the conventions that had been designed around the Latin alphabet, the colonial powers changed Arabic. What we see in books and newspapers to this day is a ghost of Arabic script, reworked to use discrete letters that behave on a standard printing press.

It’s not surprising that colonial powers would pull their subjects closer to their center of gravity. But even today, many Arab countries struggle with that legacy. There are over 100,000 ways to format a word in English; the Arabic world only has about 100 clunky typefaces to support communication between half a billion people.

Rana Abou Rjeily, a contemporary Lebanese designer, is reclaiming Arabic typography. After studying design in the US and UK, she developed Mirsaal, an experimental typeface to bridge the gap between Arabic and Latin text.

Mirsaal looks for the right balance of western conventions to make Arabic work in a modern context. It uses simplified, distinct letterforms, but with the goal of making written Arabic more expressive and authentic.

This isn’t a purely symbolic exercise. The Middle East is dealing with political instability that stems from deep cultural divisions. It is not hard to imagine how a more robust written language might play some role in making a better future.

***

Piecing Together the Balkans

The Balkans are synonymous with fragmentation. The region has seen generations of violence, much spurred by the ethnic tensions within. Their typography reflects these divisions. The regional languages are a hodgepodge of typographic spheres: Latin, Blackletter, Cyrillic, and Arabic. Never mind the locally designed Glagolitic scripts.

Typography took on special meaning during the Cold War, as Latin and Cyrillic alphabets came to symbolize allegiance to global powers.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, typography continues to communicate political leanings, be they nostalgia for the Soviet era or alignment with the globalized West. Using the wrong typeface could get you in a lot of trouble.

In 2013, Croatian designers Nikola Djurek and Marija Juza created the East-West hybrid Balkan Sans. Balkan Sans uses the same glyphs to represent the equivalent letters in Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. In the words of its makers, it “… demystifies, depoliticizes, and reconciles them for the sake of education, tolerance, and, above all, communication.”

Croatian and Serbian are similar languages that could hardly look more different in their written forms. Balkan Sans makes them mutually intelligible, so that two neighbors might be able to correspond over email without thinking twice. They transformed typography from a barrier between nations into an olive branch.

***

The Culture War at Home

The US is not so different from the rest of the world when it comes to tribalism and conflicted identity. This has crystalized in last few months, and we’ve seen typography play a substantial role.

Hillary Clinton ran for president with a slick logo befitting a Fortune 100 company. It had detractors, but I think we’ll remember it fondly as a symbol of what could have been — clarity, professionalism, and restraint.

Donald Trump countered with a garish baseball cap that looked like it had been designed in a Google Doc by the man himself. This proved to be an effective way of selling Trump’s unique brand.

I’m not interested in whether Clinton or Trump had good logos. I’m interested in the different values they reveal. Clinton’s typography embodies the spirit of modernism and enlightenment values. It was designed to appeal to smart, progressive people who like visual puns. They appreciate the serendipity of an arrow that completes a lettermark while also symbolizing progress. In other words, coastal elites who like “design.”
Trump’s typography speaks with a more primal, and seemingly earnest voice. “Make America Great Again” symbolizes “Make America Great Again.” It tells everyone what team you’re on, and what you believe in. Period. It speaks to a distrust of “clean” corporate aesthetics and snobs who think they’re better than Times New Roman on a baseball cap. Its mere existence is a political statement.

The two typographies are mutually intelligible at first glance, but a lot gets lost in translation. We live in a divided country, split on typographic lines as cleanly as the Serbs and the Croats.

***

I’d Like to Leave You With a Mission:

The next time you go shopping, download an app or send an email, take a second to look at the typography in front of you. Don’t evaluate it. Don’t critique it. Just observe it. What does it say about you? What does it say about the world you live in?

The stakes are higher than you think. The next generation of fascists will not love geometric sans serifs as much as Mussolini did. They won’t be threatening journalists in blackletter.

The world is changing around us. We constantly debate and analyze the conflicts between the militaries, governments and cultures that surround us. But there’s a visual war that’s happening right in front of our eyes, undetected. Its power — to divide us or bring us together — hinges on our choice to pay attention."
typography  arabic  history  2017  benhersh  ranaabourjeily  mussolini  politics  donaldtrump  hillaryclinton  design  graphicdesign  division  croatia  serbia  mirsaal  colonialism  decolonization  text  texting  technology  blackletter  adolfhitler 
11 hours ago by robertogreco
Matt Anderson
Matt Anderson's personal website for design projects
art  design 
11 hours ago by LinkChef

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