The books we read

At STBY we all love to read. Reading widely is not only pleasurable in itself, it also enables us to learn new things which often helps us to excel in our work. As design researchers we are often working on a broad range of topic areas, which to an extent is reflected in our personal book preferences. Below you can find some of the books that the STBY team are currently enjoying reading. We hope that within this selection you too find some inspiration for the next book to add to your reading list. Happy reading!

What Geke reads: The new reason to work. By Roshan Paul and Ilaina Rabbat

“This book is about the purpose of work. How does our work contribute to meaningful change? This is something I care about a lot, and a topic we have discussed a lot in STBY as well. The authors are both experienced and committed changemakers. They have worked in different sectors (international development, industry and education), and are now fully concentrating on professional training and coaching through the Amani Institute they founded in Nairobi. The style of the book reflects their long term professional experience and their mutual reflections on social impact. It is nice to hear from them how they have found their course in life and work, and how they are now encouraging others to do so. The book is written as a meandering dialogue between the authors and two young, talented and ambitious people who are trying to find their feet in the professional world. I’d recommend this book to people who are interested in being a reflective practitioner, and especially to young people who are looking for examples of contributing to meaningful change through their work.” 

What Qin reads: Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists. By Chenxing Han

“I’ve been reading this book written by my cousin, Chengxing Han, who spent 6 years doing an anthropology study on Asian American buddhist communities. In this book she vividly illustrates the process of finding their individual and collective identity for the new generations of young buddhists (often second or third generation migrants) and how they fight the misunderstanding and under-representation in the generally white-washed American buddhist communities. Personally it’s closely related to the cross-cultural identity struggle I experienced (and imagine my children would go through inevitably) though not necessarily in the religious terms. But also, from a research methodology aspect, it’s fascinating to see the similarities in what she does and what I do, though in very different scale, pace and topic areas. We both collect stories, and look for patterns in people’s lived experiences, then try to find a voice for the group we study. The way she used photos, statistics, and quotes as stimulus and how video materials were used in her analysis all bear striking similarity to our work at STBY.  Though we never really talk about our work when we meet.” 

Qin closely relates to the cross-cultural identity struggle that is described in the book

What Sofia reads: Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life. By Adam Greenfield 

“This book is about the technologies that surround us: which we often take for granted and assume are benign. Adam questions how and examines why we are sleep-walking through our life with tech – and highlights the consequential things that we all need to be a little bit more informed about. He talks about smartphones, the internet of things, augmented reality, digital fabrication, cryptocurrencies, blockchain (beyond bitcoin), automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence and other radical technologies.  These are terms frequently bandied about and often we don’t stop to think about them, when we really should all be better informed. As they encroach into our lives, they have the potential to affect us in ways we have a responsibility to be aware of (so that we can make truly informed decisions). It really is essential (and eye opening) reading. Full disclosure: Adam is a good friend of mine so I have been fortunate to hear him talk about these issues over the years – but this book is actually not that conducive for reading in one single sitting – just as you wouldn’t read a reference book like that – there is a lot to take in and consider! In fact, I struggled to take it all in when it first was published in 2017. In the end I listened to the whole audiobook and now I regularly dip into the book version as I use it as the strapline sagely suggests, as ‘a field manual to the technologies that are changing our lives’.”

Sofia likes to read about Radical Technologies

What Bas reads: The Future We Choose. By Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac

“I’m reading this guide for ‘stubborn optimists’ to learn what more I can do to deal with the climate emergency. The idea of a stubborn optimist speaks to me. If everyone says it is not possible and things cannot be changed, that often encourages me to see how things can be different, because it is much harder to accept the status quo of, in this case, the climate emergency. Written by the people who helped broker the Paris Agreement, this book is full of great advice!”

What Nick reads: The agile comms handbook. By Giles Turnbull

The book is about communicating about work in progress. Mainly publicly, but also with a select or internal audience. I like this book because lots of challenges in design research come down to research not having the impact it should or could. This book talks a lot about products and services, but it feels very relevant to the research and design process too. Communicating more as we go about what we’re doing, why, what we’re learning and what we think the implications are could help our work be more impactful. And having a record of where we’ve been as researchers feels very helpful. Many of us want to talk publicly about our work and this is a helpful guide to not waiting for things to be finished but talking openly as we do things.” 

What Yoni reads: Design for Social Innovation: Case studies from around the world. Edited By Mariana Amatullo, Bryan Boyer, Jennifer May, Andrew Shea

I find it interesting that this book is an extensive and thorough research on it’s own. The 45 case studies from around the world were selected and used as a lens to understand how the sustainability (and continuation) of design for social innovation practices can be enhanced. Leading practitioners and educators were brought together to have round table discussions and critically reflect on emerging themes based on case studies such as: Geographies of Power, International Development, Navigating Partnerships, Measuring Impact, and Positioning Growth. I think that the book provides a good combination of in-depth discussions, followed by clear summaries of all the DSI case studies and quantitative data about the DSI practice. The book is especially nice to read when you feel the urge to travel around the world and meet like minded people. For the past two years (and I am sure I was not the only one), I was not able to explore and physically emerge myself within this transformative environment when designing for social innovation. I hope this book provides the reader a good foundation for many more follow-up discussions in the future. Hopefully in person! 

Yoni likes reading in the train while commuting between Rotterdam – Amsterdam

What Dorota reads: Freedom. By Annelien De Dijn

“This book is on my reading list. I recently got it from my stepdad, he bought 10 copies and is spreading them in the family. We are a mixed family with Polish, Jewish, Belgium and Dutch roots. At family gatherings we sometimes get into discussions about what freedom is, and how to define and perhaps defend it. When is freedom ‘just’ a word and when does it’s meaning reflect in daily life? Where is freedom coming from, and for what purpose?”

What Tania reads: The Inflamed Mind. By Edward Bullmore

“The Inflamed Mind (2018) explains the latest science behind a new theory linking depression to inflammation of the body and brain. Bringing together insights from medicine, psychology and evolutionary theory, psychiatrist Edward Bullmore reveals the complex connections between our immune system and our mental health – and shows how a new holistic understanding of body, mind and brain could revolutionise the way we see and treat depression. I like it because it just makes so much sense that the mind and the body are connected (because guess what; they are!). However for such a long time traditionally western medicine has been having an approach of treating the mind and the body as 2 different and separate objects. It’s written by a psychiatrist that has been doing research since the 1990s and has been looking at the way our immune system is connected or rather can have an effect on the way depression can look like in people. I would recommend this book to everyone that has family or friends and most likely will have someone that either has or will show signs of depression (you even might experience it yourself without knowing it). If you want a better understanding on why some people feel “down” I think this book will give you an overview into how the immune system can have a massive effect on how our mind works.”

What Nina reads: Braiding Sweetgrass. By Robin Wall Kimmerer 

“The book is about indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. Kimmerer brings together different lenses of knowledge (science and indigenous wisdom) to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. I like how this book combines numbers and facts that are associated with science, and stories that live within the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. I personally have a soft spot for beautifully told and poetic stories. I think Kimmerer found an attractive way to raise awareness about a very urgent topic that should interest us all, but is widely ignored by many: climate change and our natural environment. This book helps us understand the generosity of the earth better, and teaches us to give our own gifts in return. The book consists of many essays that are beautifully written, and can be read separately.” 

Nina Stegeman