Why a Book?

I spent the last two years writing a book about experience design. Now I’m marketing and talking to people about that book. This blogpost was inspired by those conversations.

The past few months have been a blur. Between a design and strategy consulting engagement with Asellion, creative directing a royal entourage for Mardi Gras, and going through multiple rounds of edits on The Practical Guide to Experience Design, I haven’t had much time to take a step back to reflect on what I’ve done or to think about what the next year might look like. When writing the Practical Guide, I spent many hours thinking about how to transform a loose collection of emails, wiki pages, and blog posts into a physical book, but I didn’t think about what would happen next. Now with the book to be published in just over a month, I’m coming up for air.

Editing help from Fog (the cat)
The kittens were always happy to help editing. Their contributions were questionable at best.

What’s it about?

When I tell people that I’m currently publishing a book, I usually get the same handful of questions. Many ask what the book is about. It’s a book about experience design process. It’s practical rather than theoretical. It has actual high-fidelity examples, which very few books do.

After my first very rough draft, I searched Amazon for reviews of similar titles. I read what was good, but focused on what people were complaining about. These were the areas I focused to improve. Many complaints were about books being too theoretical. Stories from an author’s personal experience can provide inspiration and might even come in handy when trying to convince a client or team to make a particular decision, but they don’t provide the direct kind of guidance that many turn to books for. I scrubbed the book for these kinds of subjective anecdotes, and decided I would publish a blog and newsletter for those sorts of things.

Others criticized the content for being more focused on the author than on the audience. One reader provided a low review and suggested that the authors use the process they were selling to actually write the book. This is the review that kept me up at night. Between my first and second drafts of the book, I began using the process to create the book about process. I identified my users’ needs and restructured everything to meet them. Rather than a book full of text, photos, and diagrams, the Practical Guide became a book with descriptions of process and real examples that could be followed to understand how a project might come together in the real world.

Who is it for?

People often assume The Practical Guide to Experience Design is a textbook. While this isn’t untrue, I wrote the book based my observations of what designers with 1-3 years of experience were lacking, and I revised it considering the needs of someone with a greater level of experience or experience in an adjacent industry.

Rather than writing alone in a vacuum and relying on my own judgment and assumptions in terms of my audience’s needs, I enlisted help. I involved several of the designers working at The Artificial to work through the projects for the book, and captured learnings throughout the process. After closing the agency to go freelance, I was lucky enough to have the help of a friend and former colleague who very much represented the type of designer I was writing the book for. Her background is graphic design, English is not her first language (though you might not be able to tell), and she’s insatiably curious. Her input kept the text grounded in more accessible terminology and language, and her background and inquisitive nature provided valuable perspective and inspiration.

It wasn’t until after I was fairly confident in the content of the book that I began to understand how valuable it would be to those who are not part of the design team but are still very involved in the design of experiences (or products or services), like product owners, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

Will it stay relevant?

At least one person offered the critique that our industry moves so quickly, why print a book at all. Wouldn’t printing a book only ensure its hasty obsolescense? Of course some of the examples might quickly feel outdated as trends progress quickly. But the ways of thinking in the book are part of the slow undercurrent. Most existed before I had my first design title (nearly 15 years ago), so I have few worries that they’ll continue to exist for the next decades and beyond.

Of course their names will change as different companies find a market in selling rebranded versions of old ideas, but the core of the why we do it, how we do it, and what we hope to achieve will remain largely intact. And of course I wrote the book with this in mind. Each process and methodology is described in ways that empower the reader to assess their situation and then to apply the bits that make sense to achieve their desired outcome. Things tend to last a lot longer when you put the user at the center of them instead of your own brand (or ego).

What do I want to get out of it?

This is probably the most difficult question to answer. I don’t like being the center of attention and I’d rather listen than speak, so many of the obvious answers are off of the table. I don’t want a career in speaking, though would happily talk to a small team or group with a specific problem or interest. I don’t need to be an influencer, though wouldn’t mind using the power that comes with it to make tech a more inclusive and equitable place.

What I want from the book is not different from what I wanted when I got my first job that came with influence or when I founded The Artificial. I want to leave things better than I found them, and that means enabling people who are passionate and curious to do the same. I want fewer stories about people not getting hired because they don’t have the right degree or job history, and I want to give more more people the confidence to try for things that they might not have otherwise.

I want design to be less of a career and more of a trait, like being organized or conscientious. Sure, some people will always be focused on design, but better-designed experiences, from apps to governments, require many participants, most of whom are not designers.

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If you have more questions for me, about the book or otherwise, just reach out on Twitter!