Progress & the Intentional Selection of Less
New: Presentation Zen (2nd Edition)

10 great books to help you think, create, & communicate better

In the spirit of personal kaizen, I have listed below a few books that I read (or reread) over the past year that you may want to read as part of your own continuous improvement journey.

Brain_at_work(1) Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. Over the last 10-20 years scientists have made many remarkable discoveries concerning the brain and how it works. David Rock is not a neuroscientist but he is a good "neurotranslator" of the scientific evidence and does a good job of explaining in clear terms how the brain works and how our own understanding of the brain can help us in school, work, and beyond. If you want a small taste of David's work watch this Authors at Google talk or this TEDxBlue talk.

Design_learn(2) Design For How People Learn.
This book is quick and easy to read. If you are already well-read on e-learning and the brain and memory, etc. then there may not be much new here for you, but it has good material for professionals and students that can help them understand how people learn and how to design learning experiences (like presentations) that do a better job of engaging audiences. For me it was an interesting review of many of the key concepts in e-learning. A much deeper (and expensive) related book is e-Learning and the Science of Instruction.

100_things(3) 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. I like how the book is broken up into 100 chucks of 1-3 pages with key principles and practical tips in each of these short sections. As the book covers a lot of ground, it may lack the depth for some, but for most people it will be a good primer or a helpful review of important principles. Areas covered include: how people see, how people read, how people remember, how people think, how people focus their attention, what motivates people, and others. I think this is a book that will help a lot of people who read it to design better visuals and communicate in more engaging ways.

Biz_plan(4) Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers.This is a beautifully designed book. The book is billed as "a handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers striving to defy outmoded business models and design tomorrow's enterprises." Even if you are not in need of deigning a business model, there are lessons in this book that can challenge your thinking and help you clarify your ideas and objectives. Amazon says the book is designed for doers who are ready to "abandon outmoded thinking and embrace new models of value creation." I am thinking now to design an entire semester-long course around this book. The book is simple, visual, and clear. Good bits on their website.

Visual_meetings(5) Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity. As someone who loves whiteboards and other analog tools (and hates typical, boring meetings), I found the ideas in this book very refreshing. I can't sum it up better than Amazon: "Visual Meetings explains how anyone can implement powerful visual tools, and how these tools are being used in Silicon Valley and elsewhere to facilitate both face-to-face and virtual group work. This dynamic and richly illustrated resource gives meeting leaders, presenters, and consultants a slew of exciting tricks and tools, including." I have been trying to use many of the principles and techniques discussed in the book in my college courses and seminars. I think this could be very useful for teachers and college professors even though it may seem more targeted to business professionals and entrepreneurs. Good discussions on using visual language to facilitate and present to groups. (Video about the book.)

Game_storming(6) Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. I am a strong advocate of serious play. Play and school—as well as play and work—are often treated as contradictory ideas, yet it is though play—and games—that we explore, discover, and learn. The authors of Gamestorming get that. There are 83 games introduced in the book that are explained clearly and simply. You can choose the games to fit your needs and your situation. All of the games (or activities if "games" is a scary word in your work environment) can help engage your audience and get them involved in your meeting, seminar, or classroom. The Amazon page has a few examples from the book and there is a video as well here.

Universal_principles(7) Universal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach through Design. This is an absolutely fabulous book that I have recommend before a few years ago. This is the 2nd edition which includes many new concepts that are all beautifully and simply spread out across a 272-page book. This is a great reference book for anyone, but especially for designers, engineers, architects, and other creative professionals (and students) who want to learn to sharpen and broaden their understanding of design. The book is informative, educational, and also inspiring. Love this classic book.

Blah_blah_blah(8) Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don't Work. I liked Dan Roam's Back of the Napkin books, but this one is even better. I received an advance copy of the book for free and my endorsement is on the back cover, but it's true: I really do think this book is great. The spoken word is wonderful, of course, but Dan is correct when he says we are being drowned out by the "blah, blah, blah." Pictures, sketches, and other visuals are not panaceas for bad ideas, but the techniques and approach found in "Vivid Thinking" can help good ideas come to life rather than be lost in the "blah, blah, blah." The book is, of course, highly visual and the concepts and techniques are explained using interesting and varied examples from the real world. This video explains the "Blah-blahmeter" introduced in the first chapter—just one of the tools in the book.

White_space(9) White Space is Not Your Enemy: A Beginner's Guide to Communicating Visually through Graphic, Web and Multimedia Design. This a bit like The Non-Designer's Book on Design Book but with more varied content. This is a great introduction for all types of working professionals or students, and yet those already experienced in graphic design may want this on their shelf too if for no other reason than to loan it out from time to time to friends or colleagues who could benefit from knowing the basics. There is nothing really on presentations per se, but many of the concepts can be applied to presentation design as well. A well designed book with loads of visual examples.

Zen_of_creativity(10) The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life This is not a new book, but one I always recommend. While there are many books written on the subject of creativity, 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. This is the kind of book you can read and then reread (as I did) years later and still enjoy it and learn from it. A classic.

In the spirit of Spinal Tap, this list of ten books actually features eleven.

Pz_2(11) Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (2nd Edition). New for 2012. This is the 2nd edition of my first book Presentation Zen. This book is the same as the first edition, but I am much happier with it. I think it is a better book. I designed it to have the same look and feel as the first book, but with an additional 70 pages or so, including a new chapter on engagement. Most of the photos and some of the examples have been changed and many new ones added. There are a few new callout sections such as a special 6-page section on Steve Jobs. There is another special offer from iStockphoto also included in the print version. I'll dedicate a future post with more information about the 2nd Edition soon.




Charles-Antoine Poirier (@chantoine & @increaz)

If you have a chance to read "Designing for growth" (, it is likely you will add it to this 10+ books list.
Thanks for sharing those great titles (after having read half of them, I can confirm their value).

Dirk Haun

Great selection, thanks. I was about to ask you for recommendations for books about learning - (2) seems to cover that :)

I already have "Your Brain at Work" and "Gamestorming" sitting at home, waiting to be read.

"100 Things ..." is a great little book, that oddly seems to limit itself to an audience of (web) designers, when there's so much in there that everybody should know. And it can easily be digested, one "thing" at a time on the morning train ride to work.

Charles Martienau

I've read so many books that you have suggested in the past like the first one of Dan Roam, Daniel Pink, Duarte's books, Connie Malamed, Lidwell, and now you are suggesting even more interesting ones! I will have to read the first two for sure. As a PhD student, we need to be 110% focus to produce good research but man its soo easy to get distracted! I need to get more guidance and help on how to decrease the level of distractions!

Marc Salvia

Thanks for the recommendations. I'm always expecting your posts, but those linking to a mountaint of another information give me enough for a new year...

For a eleventh recommendation... "As we speak. How to Make Your Point and Have it Stick"

Jim Dickeson

Most books and blogs can be rated on a scale of 1 to 10, but this one goes to 11.

Craig Hadden -

What a list! Thanks for linking to so many video clips and other resources, too -- helps to see a sample before deciding whether to look for a particular title in a bookshop.

Another quick place to start is Ellen Finkelstein's 2-minute video that demos 4 good-looking slide layouts. (See )

Juie Dirksen

Garr -- thanks for including Design For How People Learn on the list. Presentation Zen is definitely one of the books that influenced both the style and content of the book when I was writing it, so I'm incredibly pleased to know that you found it useful.

- Julie Dirksen

Jeffrey Davis (@JeffreyDavis108)

Garr ~ This list looks stellar. I've promptly bought four of them. I've read and loved Roam's. I studied with Daido Loori years ago before he passed away and while he was finishing Zen of Creativity. I really appreciate this review. - Jeffrey Davis


Great list! Looking forward to hopefully strengthening our team with some of these! Number 1 looks stellar.

Locksmith Southampton

How do you find the time to read all these books, produce this blog AND work! I want to read YOUR book on time management!


Great stuff Garr!

Daria Smith

I read Your Brain at Work from David Rock, this is amasing book I reccomens everyone to read it!

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