As 2006 comes to a close I thought it would be good to give you a sort of "end of the year gift guide" for the holidays. Gifts, that is, which relate to presentations, creativity, design, or business. Now, I could recommend books like Beyond Bullet Points or In the Line of Fire, or Say it with Charts, etc. Those are very good (although Tufte's earlier books are even better, especially for ideas on displaying quantitative data). But when I ask myself to name the items — books mostly — that have influenced me *recently* concerning the very narrow focus of presentation design and delivery, the items below come immediately to mind, though ironically the books are not about presentations. I list them here with links back to Amazon where you can read what other's have said about them as well. Many of the items below I am giving this year as Christmas gifts. You may want to do the same, or just pick one of two up for yourself.
If I had to choose between the popular Beyond Bullet Points or Multimedia Learning, I'd choose the latter (but I'm happy to have read both). MML goes deep yet is written for a general audience (more or less). You can apply the results of Mayer's work to many aspects of multimedia design and delivery including live presentations. Mayer's findings can give you some good background evidence as you fight for simpler presentation design and delivery and evangelize the "Presentation Zen" approach to presentations. This book should be have a bigger audience than it does.
I wrote about this book in an earlier post. Even though I am not a huge comics fan, I found this book to be absolutely brilliant. The numerous lessons within the book can certainly be applied to other forms of storytelling and visual communication, etc. This is another one of those books I wish was available for me to read about 25 years ago.
The Elements of Graphic Design.
I actually have had this book for many years and have recommended it often. The book covers all of the basics yet experienced designers will find it refreshing as well. I suggest non-designers start with a book like this rather than another book on "how to use PPT." It's better that people understand graphic design components and about the importance of design choices and how to develop their "visual mind" and critical thinking about slide design, page design, and what, for example, makes an image weak or strong, etc.
New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Workbook: Guided Practice in the Five Basic Skills of Drawing
The whole left-brain/right-brain thing is familiar to most people, but what is great about this book are the drawing lessons she puts you through. This is a wonderful book for anyone, but especially for those who are not artists or designers. No matter what your beliefs are about how the brain works there's no question that the exercises can help you both draw better and more importantly *see* different(ly). If you want more background info you may want to get her book as well.
A Smile in the Mind.
A Presentation Zen reader thought I would like this book, so I bought it. He was right. Wow. I love this book. A very visual book with loads of examples, but it does explain in some detail just what wit is and how to communicate with it visually. It's not gimmicky. This is not a new book, but there are good ideas in there and it's a lot of fun to go through the examples. "Wit" is actually part of the more naked style of presentation I prefer.
Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers,
Writers, Editors, & Students.
I have a million books on Typography, yet I love this 2004 book on Type. A very well designed book which is not of enormous size so it's perfect for café reading if you like. If you are new to typography this is a great introduction, but experienced designers will find it useful as well. Most people do not understand typography or even that it is important and powerful stuff. To most people type is type and it just doesn't matter. Why isn't this stuff taught in schools?
Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart
Applications and Clever Devices.
This book covers the fundamentals to interaction design including design research and uses a host of good examples, there's even a bit on service design. There are lessons in this book for programmers and designers, yes, but anyone interested improving their "design quotient" can benefit from this book. Includes interviews with some interaction designers which are quite good.
The Zen of Creativity.
There are many books written on the subject of creativity, but this is one of my favorites. Simple, smart, inspirational, and practical. The ideas in this book just may give you insights and perspectives into a very different way for looking at the world and approaching your own creative endeavors.
If You Want to write: : A Book about Art,
Independence and Spirit.
What can I say, this is one of the most inspirational books I have ever read. Yet, it is quite simple and the book itself is certainly not new. The lessons on creativity inside this book have proven themselves time and time again for me. This is a book far more about creativity really than on writing. I can't say enough good things about this book. I wrote about If you Want to Write some time ago as well.
Emotional Design Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things.
Attractive things work better. Design is not all about how something "looks," but looks matter. Aesthetics matter. The design principles in this book can be applied to visual communication, graphic design, etc. and not just products. A classic book and a must for any designer or non-designers interested in design thinking.
The Laws of Simplicity.
This is a simple book, but not too simple. As Maeda points out, complexity and simplicity need each other and too much simplicity is not good either. This book is doing very well (my inside sources tell me) though some on the Amazon site do not appreciate it. This is not suppose to be the first word or the last word on "simplicity," but it is a provocative read and an important read. I talked about this book in the context of presentations in a post below as well.
A Whole New Mind.
I wrote an entire post on this wonderful book as it relates to presentation a couple of months ago. Fantastic reading for just about anyone looking to have success and make an impact in the "conceptual age." My favorite book of the '06 summer.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
Blink is about "rapid cognition," and the origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that we reach when encountering something new or complex, etc. From Malcolm Gladwell's website: "...like all of us, they [doctors asked to simplify a system] were committed to the idea that more information is always better. But I describe lots of cases in "Blink" where that simply isn't true. There's a wonderful phrase in psychology — "the power of thin slicing" — which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience."
A few items other than books
Home Movies. (TV series now on DVD)
I don't watch much TV, but I do enjoy having a laugh (good for the soul) while watching obscure comedy programs on DVD. One of my favorites is Home Movies. Home Movies is simply brilliant, but probably no more than a few of you would agree with that I'm afraid. It's just one of those things that "you get" and love or totally dismiss as utter rubbish. I get that. This show is unique, however. Rather than reading lines from a script, the actors (comedians mostly) improvise more or less to an outline of a vague script. This technique is called "retroscripting" and it leads to dialog that is fresh and natural and really lets the dry, sarcastic wit of the actors come out. Retroscripting leads to a very "naked" form of dialog which I find very compelling and is the style of communication I prefer in presentations too (rather than reading from a script, for example). Brendon Small and H. Jon Benjamin are two amazingly creative, talented people (whom you have probably never heard of). Like anything else that is insanely great (but quirky and odd), it could not last on TV, but there is indeed a community of Home Movies fans around the world. I've got all four seasons. Not for young kids (but then I am not so young).
Keyspan Presentation Remote.
There are a million remotes out there, but this is the one I use and love. Very basic, very simple, very small...and it just works. I have the Kensington Wireless Presenter too and have had no troubles with it, but I love the way the Keyspan works.
iPod Video (80GB)
OK, this is not exactly cheap, but if you have to give presentations and you're looking for another backup option (besides carrying two computers) you may want to consider the iPod video. Of course you can also rehearse your presentation while sitting on the train, etc. even if you actually never present from it. If you do not want to show videos within PowerPoint/Keynote you can show them off the iPod simply by toggling to "video" on the projector. Here I show how to present from an iPod video. Comes in a cheaper 30GB black (or white) version too.
The Shuffle is with me constantly on the road. I have it for music and podcasts, but I keep a couple of Keynote files as well as PDF version of the slides and handouts. This is a great backup just in case. I can easily transfer the files to the clients Mac or PC if I ever had too. Absolutely my favorite iPod yet! It makes me smarter (podcasts); it inspires me (music); it's practical and useful (holds backup files for "work"); and it's wearable good looks are pretty cool too. Oh yes, the Shuffle also helps keep me in shape (get to the gym more often and for longer periods knowing I'll have my favorite songs). Instead of a diet book or expensive weight-loss program, the Shuffle may be just that little bit of incentive that gets some people out the door and walking on a regular basis or lifting weights at the gym, etc. Personally, there's no way I can hit the gym anymore without the Shuffle. It's a real energizer for me and finally small enough to forget it's there.
Other cool books which make good gifts for the creative entrepreneur or student? Anything by Seth Godin (example) or Guy Kawasaki (example). Also recommend Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture and Malcom Gladwell's The Tipping Point. And since WOM marketing is important whether you are big or small, I highly recommend Andy Sernovitz's Word of Mouth Marketing (see earlier post on this book as it relates to presentations). Any other gifts you can recommend?