February books

Last month I decided to regularly publish mini-reviews of books I read so I can refer back to those notes – I’m getting tired of “yeah, I’ve read it. No, I can’t remember who wrote it or what it was about, but I remember it was good. I think”. Also, I love books, so writing about them is always a fun thing to do. Hope you find it useful as well.

Sketching User Experience by Bill Buxton

One of the best UX books I’ve ever read and it is a shame it has been on my reading list for months – I should have read it a long time ago! The book explains the function of sketching, describes different types of sketches and argues that there is a difference between lo-fi prototypes and paper/interactive sketches: sketch is defined by its purpose, not by its form. There are also good and inspiring examples that nicely illustrate the points that the author is making. The writing style is somewhere in the middle between being academic (including references to papers) and too conversational, what makes the reading experience really pleasurable.
I tend to read UX books only when commuting and hardly ever read them at home, but I found myself ignoring everything else just to finish a chapter before going to sleep. And another one. And maybe just a few more paragraphs… I know I’ll be re-reading the book and can’t wait to get my hands on Sketching UX Workshop (a sample chapter [PDF] has been making rounds on Twitter – looks like others are equally excited).

Flinch by Julien Smith

It is a short and free ebook that, I think, is trying to make you do things. It first explains the idea of the flinch – the instinct that makes us react to danger – and then argues that this is exactly what keeps us in our comfort zone. For some people the book can serve as a motivational tool, but I’m not convinced. I think I see the point, but the exercises are not that useful or appealing – at least not for me. “Pick an ugly mug and break it” – well, yes, but I’m not going to clean that. “Talk to strangers on the street” – why should I bother people when I hate when strangers bother me?
I’m not entirely sure that this book was a waste of time, but not reading it wouldn’t change anything in my life (maybe because months ago I decided it was time to get out of my comfort zone, so didn’t need convincing). I also don’t really know why the whole book is needed – an article summarizing the main points would be much better.

Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits

It was recommended by a friend as a nice introduction to the lean startup thingy everyone seems to be obsessed lately. It is short and summarizes something I’d call “good business practice” rather than “customer development” and halfway through the book I found myself wondering “why am I even reading this”? I’m not an entrepreneur and I’ve never worked for a startup, so my user research and business analyst selves been shouting all the time that this is what you do: research, test ideas, research, more research, understand your audience, understand the market… Obvious stuff! Perhaps it is not that obvious for people starting their business. And I think this is the biggest value of the book: it helps you understand how startups work and how they should work. It teaches about proper business thinking and reminds you that far too many companies simply ignore sensible things, doing what they have always done. It might have been an obvious read for me, but now I may give a copy to my manager and see if we can stir things up a bit.

Nextwave by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen

One of the best and most entertaining comic books I’ve read since discovering Fables. It has all the things I like: humour, explosions, and bad ass women who are not sexualized as it often (almost always?) happens in comics. The one thing Nextwave lacks is a proper plot and the story line is just an excuse for showing more Unusual Weapons of Mass Destruction, but in this case it doesn’t really matter. Nextwave team was formed to fight terrorism, but it turns out they were recruited by a de facto terrorist organisation, so they steal action plans and go rouge to make the lives of their former employers miserable.
The thing I found the most refreshing was the fact that the team was lead by a woman and there were other female team members: it’s not a bunch of guys and a token woman. As expected from a comic book, the ladies are pretty, but they don’t look like porn stars. They are strong and mean. Monica is a former Captain Marvel, Tabby explodes things, including herself, and Elsa Bloodstone – a monster slayer – has become my favourite character (although I don’t want to read her original series, she doesn’t look cool anymore).
Nerdwish: I would love to see Nextwave’s Elsa team up with Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop – not sure what for, but my two favourite female characters kicking ass together would be awesome.

Marvel’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I found it accidentally and couldn’t resist. I opened iTunes Store and got flashed in the face with an in-store ad of Marvel comics. So I clicked. I ignored Avengers and a bunch of other super hero titles and looked at Others, because that’s where the cool stuff is, and there noticed the Wizard. The drawing style was so different compared to other comics on the screen. So beautiful. After downloading a sample I decided to buy the book – it was so pretty. I just love things drawn like that. I bought it for the art and it was well worth it. If I had to describe it with one word it would be “lovely”. And the story? Well, it’s Wizard of Oz, nothing special. But beautifully drawn nothing special.

~Falka, 7 March 12