Books that have changed our thinking

Public Digital, and its network of experts, and the wider communities of digital practice we’re part of are full of smart people, and some of them have written books. Here are just a few, reviewed by the Public Digital staff.

Books on a shelf in the Public Digital office

Andrew Travers – Interviewing for Research, 2013
The most useful pocket guide for research interviews; short enough to read in a sitting, making it easy to refer back to if it’s been a while since you last ran user research sessions. Andrew’s thoughtful, human advice is a brilliant guide to getting the most out of conversations with users without wearing yourself out in the process. Originally published by Five Simple Steps, Andrew now gives away a digital copy of the book on his website. [Anna]

Azeem Azhar – Exponential, 2021
Building on the themes explored in his excellent Exponential View newsletter and podcast, Azhar clearly explains why we’re experiencing a step-change in the rate of technological evolution in many fields including business, manufacturing, warfare, and science- but that society – people, institutions and governments – is failing to keeping pace. Clearly written, and passionately argued, it covers a lot of ground, sometimes a little lightly – it’s rare for me to finish a book and wish it had been longer. [Stef]

Giles Turnbull – The agile comms handbook, 2021
Useful for absolutely everyone, but particularly helpful for communications people in organisations with traditional press release-approaches to comms. Giles shares loads of ways to work in the open, as well as ways to encourage the people around you to do the same. Chapter 3 on why we need to create ‘layers’ of information rather than just bombarding busy people is a must-read. [Amy]

James Plunkett – End State, 2021
The challenges we face – inequality worsened by the gig economy, responding to covid-19, attacks on our democracy – can feel overwhelming. Our institutions often don’t seem up to the task. But wait, haven’t we been here before? End State shows how our institutions were remade in the nineteenth century to face the challenges posed by the industrial revolution. It offers a hopeful account of the opportunities we have to fundamentally rethink how we live, work, govern and organise. [Emily]

Jennifer Wemigwans – A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online, 2018
To write of Indigenous knowledge is to recognise the existence of multiple paradigms available for shaping the digital world. Wemigwans generously shares the cultural protocols - and responsibilities – required to explore the question: should Indigenous knowledge exist online, and if so, how? Answers proliferate across this deceptively thin book. A read that can open your mind. [Laura]

Jer Thorp – Living in Data: A Citizen’s Guide to a Better Information Future, 2021
It’s rare to read a book on data that feels like a forest walk. So versed in data uses, structures, and possibilities, Thorp paints a landscape for the reader that allows them to connect with what can often seem like an invisible world. By sharing his own experiences, he demonstrates his discovery of limitations, and also takes care to spotlight the work of those creating new data futures who have aided his thinking, doing, and hope. [Laura]

Lou Downe – Good Services, 2020
How do you build good services, digital or otherwise? This book succinctly tells us how. If you design, lead or deliver services, this book is a must read. Lou explains clearly and simply through a 15 point framework. All relating to what a good service is. Each point helps my thinking on quality, building and delivering services. It's a constant desk companion. It's a great book by an expert service designer. [Nick]

Nina Montgomery – Perspectives on Impact, 2019
The editor is Nina Montgomery, a gifted young designer at IDEO who has also just completed her PHD at Oxford on the intersection between religion and purposeful business. Nina’s book is called Perspectives on Impact: Leading Voices On Making Systematic Change in the Twenty-First Century, and I would recommend it highly as a fresh new voice in this space. If anyone does manage to read it, they may even pick up a reference to my work as CEO of Girl Effect and design to disrupt systems of poverty! [Farah]

Ruha Benjamin – Race After Technology, 2019
An achievement of scholarship and reflection on the unintended harms produced when race is considered after the development of technologies. A call to reconsider approaches in pursuit of new social experiences. How might we consider race before technology? Read it to find out. [Laura]

Russell Davies – Everything I Know About Life I Learned From PowerPoint, 2021
Very useful advice on communicating and presenting – ideas, structure, stories, words, visuals, practicing, speaking. Russell is good on the politics and history of presenting, and funny! If you only read one bit, it’s pages 120-1: “Just do these seven things...” [Rod]

Sarah Winters – The Content Design Book, 2017
Utterly foundational book for anyone wanting to understand or do content design, and beautifully designed. Favourite bit is pages 16-19: “there are billions & billions & … of pages on the internet. Not more content, smarter content” [Rod]

And you can find our own books here. Happy reading!

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