Digital product studio ustwo sets out to create things for the good of the world. The studio, which has locations in London, Malmö, New York City and Sydney, is often associated with its award-winning iOS and Android game Monument Valley, which takes players on an “illusory adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness.” Yet the studio has taken its skills beyond game-making in its meditation app Pause that combines sounds and visuals to relax users and Moodnotes, an app that acts like a therapist for users.
With its penchant for problem-solving and finding new solutions, it’s no surprise that the studio’s bookshelf selections follow suit. From a self-help book about asking for what you want, to a novel about taking chances, these books have shaped the ustwo team into the innovative designers they are.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder
I had a good few eureka moments whilst reading this book. It’s about randomness, risk, complexity and the concept of antifragility. More than just being resilient to life’s ups and downs (a hard task by all accounts), antifragility describes things that benefit from volatility and thrive on adaptation. It’s easy to become hypersensitive, swamped, anxious and be unable to pick signal from noise. This book is a rallying call to be sharper and think in a more disciplined way, while recognising that humans are messy and there is opportunity in that to make lemonade.
Taleb’s writing style is divisive – brash and full of anecdote. I felt like that was a test in itself, to look beyond some bolshiness and see the wisdom. In Taleb’s world, acute stress (a stimulus, not necessarily emotional stress) followed by total recuperation is the perfect antifragile adaptation forcing tool. That’s something I recognise as effective – and a reminder to rest hard after I work on new things.
– Dev Morgan, product lead, ustwo
George Cockcroft (under the name Luke Rhinehart): The Dice Man
I must confess I came across this book by chance. In some places, it’s described as a “cult classic” but in my experience it’s also a classic bookshelf filler – and that was the way I found it, in some random bookshelf in a design department I used to work in. This book tells the story of a Manhattan psychiatrist in a midlife crisis that involves problems with decision making. To overcome this problem, he decides to delegate all decisions to the result of a rolling dice. As you can imagine, everything goes downhill from the moment he decides to do that.
This book inspired me when I started my adventure in interaction design. As a designer it’s quite common to experience situations where the decision-making process becomes really hard. Possibilities seem endless, the filtering criteria becomes more and more complex, the need to understand the expectations from everyone… Sometimes you want to just roll a dice to decide! But I guess this is when personality, your experience, and making sense of all the data you’ve collected comes into play. Often, you feel grateful for having multiple options to chose from.
– Juan Real, senior interaction designer, ustwo
Jean-Marie Donat: TEDDYBÄR
Sometimes a collection of images just hits that sweet spot of fascination. Jean-Marie Donat has been collecting curious photos for the last 30 years, and in this amazing book he lays out the mystifying, long-forgotten practice of posing as a polar bear in a series of strange and haunting pictures taken between 1920 and 1960. Shot in various parts of Germany, and showing all sorts of everyday events, the images form an oddly poignant thread of the country’s history.
– Tim Kim, joint managing director, ustwo
Victor Pelevin: Yellow Arrow
Yellow Arrow is a short story from cult Russian author Victor Pelevin, written shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s an allegorical story set on a speeding train that never stops and is headed towards a disaster waiting at its final terminus. The train becomes a deep metaphor for human life and society: for those who live their lives with unquestioning acceptance and for those who don’t – those who wonder about the train and whether there’s anything else outside of it. The narrative works on many levels and provides an entertaining and metaphysically speculative foray into where we’re all headed.
– Elana Jeeaooo, senior visual designer, ustwo
Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever: Ask For It
The book was a gift from our designer in the studio, Elana. At the time I wasn’t a particular fan of self-help books, nor did I feel I had a need for it, but I am very glad I finished it. I didn’t know it would change my life. I was terrible at difficult conversations and basically avoided them as much as possible. Partly, this was because I don’t want to be seen as a weak whiner. But the book helped me to realise my deepest fear wasn’t actually being rejected. It was the fear of being judged.
The power of this book is not the techniques to reach a successful negotiation; most important is that it allowed me to overcome that little voice in the head, and go ask that difficult question, or go and ask for that change. And, to my surprise, when I asked, people generally responded positively. All of a sudden I thought: “Why didn’t I ask earlier?” I’m probably still a long way off always confidently speak from the heart, but I’m happy I’ve made a start.
– Joyce Li, visual designer, ustwo
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