The past three weeks were like a blur. I caught a cold, spend two days in bed, felt better, but then my recovery stalled on its way up and suddenly crashed to new lows. Four more days in bed, now slowly recovering again. Currently I’m running on low power mode to make it through the day without shutting down. Unlike my old iPhone SE I hope my batteries regain their full potential pretty soon.
Luckily this lingering illness came just in-between projects, so there weren’t much urgent things to do. I managed to do a few meetings, negotiate a proposal and do some housekeeping but not much more.
As much as these days sucked, there was something good to it: having more time to read. So this weeknote is a little book column.
"Envisioning Real Utopias” by Erik Olin Wright
The late sociologist presents a framework for thinking about alternatives to our capitalistic society. He doesn’t call for a revolution, but looks for the cracks in the system where “real utopias” sprout, until they may reach a point where they define our societies more than capitalism does. This book is not a page turner, but it’s well structured and good to read. More info.
“How to thrive in the next economy” by John Thackara
While Erik Olin Wright’s book comes from the academic angle and is very thorough, John Thackara looks at similar (and other) topics in a more journalistic way and with a designer’s mindset. It’s an optimistic account of many (most local and small-scale) phenomenas that – in Thackara’s opinion – could be part of the solutions for the problems we humans are facing.
I wish it would go deeper, exploring – like Wright – the feasibility on a larger scale or in different contexts. But then it would be another book. Or many books. What it is: a good overview on different initiatives and trends which serves as a springboard to dive deeper into some areas that one might find intriguing. More info.
“Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life” by Adam Greenfield
Less optimism can be found within the 315 pages of this account on emerging technologies. But Greenfield is far from a conservative pessimist. He rather asks critical questions about what the motives are of those that invent, advance and implement those technologies. And even if some of those intentions are well-meaning, he reminds us what can go wrong with technologies when they are applied to other contexts (as they will). “The purpose of a system is what it does.” is a great quote/statement I heard about for the first time in this book. Highly recommended. More info.
“The Nature of Order, Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life” by Christopher Alexander
This four-book volume will me keep me busy until the end of the year I guess. But I made good progress on the first book, where Alexander lays out how “life” in man-made artifacts, as well as in nature, is rooted in structure. Alexander’s books stimulate my thinking about design like few others do and with this series of books he probably reached the apex. If you want to start an intellectual discussion about design inside your brain, get a copy and read it. More info.
"How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built" by Stewart Brand
This book was sitting on my to-be-read stack for quite some time. And the only reason I haven’t picked it up already is its dimensions. Too unwieldy for reading in bed at night, too big to carry around and read it whenever there’s an occasion¹. The book is a classic, and although it is about architecture, a lot of the ideas can be transferred to other domains. Exchange the word “building” in the title with “web site”, “digital product” or “design system” and you have a lot of food for thought if you are a designer in this field. More info.
Although there are a dozen more books waiting to be read, I’m always happy to get some recommendations. So if you know about a book I must read, let me know.