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The LiveArea Bookshelf: Our Summer Reading List

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At LiveArea our creative teams are dispersed throughout the world — we have studios in Seattle, Allen (Texas), New York, and London — yet we stay in close contact through chat, video, and team gatherings. We share interesting articles and inspirational websites, and keep each other informed about developments in the field.

While we are a digitally focused agency, our creatives find continual inspiration on the printed page, and particularly interesting or useful books often circulate among the team. I recently surveyed the various LiveArea studios to find out what is currently on everyone’s bookshelves. I wanted to see what people are talking about and what might be of interest to our broader community. See below for a shortlist of titles that generated great conversations in our studios the past few months, and continue to inspire our approach to customer-centered experience design.

LiveArea-Blog-Summer-Reading

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design
Kat Holmes
MIT Press, 2018

Mismatch first came to my attention as a recommendation from Steven Lawrence, our UX design lead in the New York office. It has since become a favorite in our studio and one that I refer to often in my work. Author Kat Holmes, currently senior vice president of Product Design and UX at Salesforce and founder of mismatch.design, previously served as the principal director of Inclusive Design at Microsoft and is known for leading the development of the influential publication “Inclusive: A Microsoft Design Toolkit.”

Using the relatable example of a playground swing, Holmes introduces the concept of mismatches, what she describes as “barriers to interacting with the world around us.” The swing, she notes, while enjoyable for many, can exclude anyone who, for instance, lacks proper height or two arms, or the grip strength to hold onto the chains. Mismatches like these are the “building blocks of exclusion,” experiences that impact participation and social contribution.

Throughout the book Holmes challenges the idea of the ‘average’ user, reminding us that there is no single, ideal user, but rather a multitude of people with varying degrees of physical and mental abilities. In the online and product design space, users also vary widely in terms of digital savvy, internet access, and many other factors. Holmes offers a helpful framework for designers to rethink assumptions and work with rather than for our end users. By keeping exclusion barriers in mind from the start of a project, she explains, we make the end product better for everyone. These ideas are crucially important in our studio as we continue to focus on designing inclusive digital experiences for our clients, with accessible design at the core of our approach.

At less than 200 pages, Mismatches is a short, brisk read, and cuts through typical jargon to offer a clear and concise point of view. As issues of inclusivity and accessibility continue to gain awareness for technology-focused businesses, Mismatch is a timely and urgent guide for those who design digital products and experiences for diverse audiences.

LiveArea-Blog-Summer-Reading

The Acorn Method: How Companies Get Growing Again
Henrik Werdelin
Lioncrest Publishing, 2020

How do companies continue to grow and thrive as they mature? This is the central question posed by Henrik Werdelin in The Acorn Method. Werdelin is the co-founder of BARK, the company behind the dog treat-and-toy delivery service BarkBox, and is a founding partner in the venture development group, Prehype. First suggested in a group chat by Barry Fiske, our Senior Vice President of Global Experience and Innovation, The Acorn Method has inspired our team with its clear message and mix of bold ideas, strategic thinking, and tactical advice.

Werdelin focuses on what established, mature companies can learn from a start-up mentality, and by taking inspiration from the natural world. He describes how, over millennia, trees have figured out how to grow as a system. Once oak trees reach their maximum growth, they drop acorns to regenerate and grow new trees. Similarly, maturing companies can regenerate by developing new businesses within the larger corporate structure. Companies can grow tall like trees, but for sustained growth over the long term, they need to grow outward like a forest.

Werdelin’s central idea is the Revenue Exploration Studio (RES), an internal group formed within a company with the sole purpose of developing new businesses. These internal studios can operate, he suggests, with the speed of a startup while retaining access to the deep resources of an established company. Werdelin devotes the bulk of the book articulating how to establish a RES and how to develop business ideas once the structure is in place. Extending the natural metaphor, Werdelin encourages business leaders to look for the fertile ground around their existing company to plant seeds of new product ideas. BARK, for example, established a strong brand position with the BarkBox subscription service and then added new dog-related business lines such as Bark Super Chewer and Bark Bright.

I enjoyed this book for its approachable writing, detailed examples, and use of the natural world as a model for business-building. It is a recommended text for business leaders, entrepreneurs, and anyone involved with service innovation and transformation in today’s marketplace. In a sea of business books touting innovation strategies, The Acorn Method offers useful, actionable advice for companies seeking growth in an age of uncertainty and constant change.

LiveArea-Blog-Summer-Reading

Black Futures
Edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham
One World Publications, 2020

Black Futures, an anthology of work by Black artists, writers, academics, and activists, is a powerful display of black imagination and creative expression. Published at the end of 2020 and co-edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham, the eclectic compilation offers a variety of perspectives and reflects on the black experience yesterday, today, and in the future.

I received this book over the holidays and was immediately struck by its heftiness (the hardcover book tops 500 pages) and glossy, magazine-like printing. Inside I found bold typography and pages saturated with color and photography. As I dug deeper I discovered a tapestry of images, artwork, essays, poems, screenshots, recipes, memes, and more. Each piece offers a unique reflection on the black experience.

The book is organized loosely into thematic sections such as “joy,” “justice,” and “legacy.” Drew and Wortham deliberately eschewed structured rigidity in favor of a fluid, non-linear experience, encouraging readers to “follow their interests into a deep warren of rabbit holes and discoveries.” I enjoyed entering the book randomly to find new stories and make unexpected connections. During one reading I experienced the poetry of Eve Ewing, a feature on fashion label Pyer Moss, and a conversation between Wortham and author Ta-Nehisi Coates. Each story included page references to related content in the book, a type of analog hyperlink system that promoted further discovery.

In the book’s forward, the editors pose a provocative question: “What does it mean to be black in this moment?” Ultimately, the book succeeds not by trying to offer a singular answer, but rather in its presentation of blackness as a constellation of voices and histories, one that encapsulates both moments of joy and legacies of trauma. The reading experience is kaleidoscopic, a theme reflected in the book’s prismatic, foil-stamped cover. Black Futures has inspired our creative team with its beautiful design, unique narrative approach, and, most importantly, its focus on the variety and complexity of the Black experience.

Spreads from Black Futures

LiveArea-Blog-Summer-Reading
LiveArea-Blog-Summer-Reading

Spreads from Inside Out & Upside Down: Posters from CalArts, 1980-2019

LiveArea-Blog-Summer-Reading

Inside Out & Upside Down: Posters from CalArts, 1980–2019
Edited by Michael Worthington
MW Books, 2020

As a digitally focused agency, our creative teams are continually inspired by the latest developments in technology, interface design, and user experience design. We also, though, seek inspiration in the analog world, and like most designers, we love poster design for its scale, directness, and visual impact. One of our favorite recent design collections is Inside Out & Upside Down: Posters from CalArts, 1980-2019, a compilation of posters designed by students and faculty at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Edited by faculty member Michael Worthington, the collection offers a rich and varied exploration of color, form, typography, and graphic experimentation.

CalArts, based in Valencia, California, is a longstanding, preeminent art school in the United States, boasting a roster of influential faculty and alumni. The graphic design program has a well-established reputation for experimental design. The program became widely known in the 1980s as faculty and students developed a particularly California-inspired version of postmodern visual aesthetics. From the school’s inception in 1970, students and faculty created posters and flyers announcing guest speakers, visiting artists, gallery shows, and other campus events.

With a small, specific audience and existing outside the typical designer-client relationship, the posters were an opportunity for designers to try new ideas and develop inventive visual expressions. Often highly experimental, the posters reflected the designer’s conceptual and stylistic interests. As an essayist and former alum Ian Lynam notes, the posters represent “work that breaks every convention due to a highly personal exploration of methodologies and processes.” Worthington also emphasizes the creative process in his introduction. “These are not obedient works,” he explains. “They break rules, they misbehave, and sometimes they are an unruly mess.”

The book compiles more than 500 posters, with the work reproduced in full color and often at full-page size. The collection represents a variety of visual approaches, from hand-lettered type to layered digital compositions, and production techniques ranging from offset printing to hand-made photocopies and silkscreen prints. Additionally, a series of essays from faculty and former students offer context and reflection on the impact of the program. As a companion piece to a related exhibit and online archive, Inside Out & Upside Down documents four decades of change in design practice, technology, and production, and captures the restless experimentation at the heart of an influential design program.

LiveArea-Blog-Summer-Reading
LiveArea-Blog-Summer-Reading

Spreads from Inside Out & Upside Down: Posters from CalArts, 1980-2019

Author

David Peacock is a LiveArea creative director.

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