Design Books Suck

Learning is simply built into the human design. One of the basic tenets of our immune system is encountering pathogens and establishing a strengthened defense for the future. Studies have shown that children who get their hands dirty and encounter all sorts of nasty things have strong immune systems. We are naturally built to learn by experience.

Not unlike the immune system, humans learn the same way. By getting their hands dirty and just diving into what they want to learn. Our cells don’t build up immunity to nasty viruses by learning the history of the virus, understanding its structure, and slowly taking the time to understand it. At least not at first. White blood cells have plenty of time examine the fine details once they have pounced on the virus and beaten the living crap out of it ( get it? ). I think we can take a page from the white blood cell’s ass-kickery in relation to educational design books.

Books have always been the de-facto way that I go to when I approach learning a new skill. But, I can count on one hand how many books have actually taught me useful skills and contributed to the skills that I use everyday. In general, all the design books I own spend 200+ pages teaching me how to think in beautiful prose about the subject. It seems like every author is more interested in giving me the proper foundation to learn than actual letting me play in the dirt with my new skill.

It sucks. Books like Rework are hailed as revolutionary because they cut through the bullshit and give you real steps that you can immediately do and learn from. Why isn’t every design and business book written like this? Are we just too afraid to tell people how we really do our jobs? Design blogs are a nice try but they are often forgettable and still intangible.

Honestly, I am tired of books and articles that spout basic introductions, formal rhetoric and basically useless information. If I can teach a friend how to use Photoshop in a few easy steps and a few hours of practice and examples, what the hell are these books taking 300+ pages for?

Teach me what I really need to know. Stop dancing around it to fill up word count and pages. Most skills can be expressed with clear and actionable steps. Sure, detailed knowledge is powerful but aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves? We are exactly like our immune systems. We need to deal with the real stuff before we begin to get into the minutiae of doing it perfectly.

Formal schools and books talk about ideas and concepts like they are the crown jewel of the digital industry. Ideas are free and come in the trillions. Hiring managers look for people who have completed projects and get shit done. Ideas are nice but they seems to build very little value in digital professionals. Its just sad. Design books suck.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel but its still barely visibile. Small book publishers like A Book Apart  and Five Simple Steps on are on the right track. However, these publishers can only cover so many subjects and many of the books are still heavily conceptual and often targeted at seasoned professionals.

We need to start getting digestible books that make you learn by throwing you into the fire. There is no substitute for hard experience. I don’t know about you but I want to see some books that give clear steps, real examples and projects that I can sink my teeth into and get some momentum going.  I’m tired of reading books that take me 5+ hours to read and teach me nothing. Show me someone who is tackling real practical steps and stumbling a little bit a long the way and in a short time, Ill show you seasoned professional who is a serious contributor to whatever project they work on.




  1. Patrick says:

    Most people won’t pay $49.95 for 50 pages, nor will they believe the person is knowledgable if the book is small. Plus a lot of book authors aren’t as qualified to speak on the topic as you would think. Seriously, would you buy a book about being a Pinterest expert right now?

  2. Shawn Borsky says:

    I think the $50.00 price tag on a 50 page book is part of the problem. However, I think playing into the size equals quality expectation just proves the current system is broken even more. I certainly would not buy a book on being a Pinterest expert right now but my grievances are not around unqualified people writing books but around the books lacking major substance that are written by people who are technically qualified.

  3. Lateef says:

    Looks like its time for YOU to write a book, then! What you find lacking in design books, is what I love about drawing books-its all step by step and good exposure.

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