For many, 2020 was a year that saw them develop a deeper knowledge of passions or rediscover a new interest when regular life has slowly eroded. In books as in life, 2020 was a year of many great revelations about design, leadership, sustainability, and nature for me. There were also small, illuminating moments of joy and wonder, connection, and a few aha moments while reading or listening to these books.
Maybe some of them will spark your interest as well!
Ruined by Design by Mike Monteiro
One of the best books I read in the 2020s. Mike explains why the world is working exactly as we have designed it and the implications of good and bad design decisions when we take into consideration the bigger picture. We as designers need to do a better job of designing the world around us and owning the power of doing it. Owning the power to choose. Owning the power to influence. After reading this book, I got to understand my role of UX Designer and Researcher as a gatekeeper of what we are bringing into the world, and what we choose to not bring into the world. Design is a craft with responsibility and it made me reflect on many decisions I am making as a UX Researcher and Designer.
Topic: Design, UX, Sustainability, Impact
Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl has written this book to encourage women to dream big, forge a path through the obstacles and achieve their full potential, to set their own goals and reach them with gusto. Also, it encourages women to talk about it with men as well: to do their part to support women in the workplace and in the home. This is a beautiful dream to share. One important lesson from this book is to learn to sit at the table, stop thinking that you don’t deserve things, that you are not good enough and that you are where you are because of others. Start putting a value on yourself.
Topic: Impact, Career, Personal Leadership,
Factfullness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – and Why by Hans Rosling
When asked simple questions about the global trends or why the world’s population is increasing, how many young women go to school, how many people live in poverty – we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers randomly will continuously outguess us. Professor Hans Rosling offers quite a radical new explanation of why this happens and shows how we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a worldview based on facts. It’s a great book to question your own beliefs.
Topic: Science, Politics
Brief Answers to Big Questions by Stephen Hawking
The world is facing unprecedented challenges and to solve these problems, we need our greatest minds. Therefore reading a book by one of the greatest minds was a no-brainer for me! It touches on everything from Brexit to space colonization in a warm, inviting tone as if you were sitting next to a crackling fire and gathered to hear great thoughts from Stephen.
Topic: Science, Tech, Politics
The life-changing magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
I heard about Marie Kondo when I got interested in decluttering, minimalism and started practicing it every day. Marie Kondo takes tidying up to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you will never have to do it again. I really enjoyed how Marie firstly asks if an object at your home sparks joy, and if it doesn’t – thank for it and get rid of it.
Topic: Minimalism, Lifestyle, Motivation
Shape living for the better: the first 100 years of Electrolux
This year I have joined Electrolux as a UX Researcher. Once I got the job, I knew I had to read this book and truly grasp the essence of Electrolux since it’s early beginnings, when it was founded by mythical business mogul Axel Wenner-Gren. He was one of the best entrepreneurs in Sweden and makes me very proud to work in a company that has such a history: going through two second wars, making the first robot vacuum cleaner and many more historic moments.
Topic: Electrolux, History
Heart of a machine by Richard Yonck
Since I started to work with robots at Electrolux, I wanted to learn more about the history of robotics and what are perspectives for the future. Heart of a machine explores the next giant steps in relationships between humans and technology: the ability of computers to recognize, respond to and even replicate emotions. Computers have long been integral in our lives and their advances continue at an exponential rate. Futurist Richard Yonck argues that emotion, the first, most basic, and most natural form of communication, is at the heart of how we will soon work with and use computers.
Topic: Robotics, Tech,Science
Atomic Habits by James Clear
We all have habits: some good and some bad. James shares his perspective on what habits are and how they are created. It takes time, persistence, and commitment. I really enjoyed the combination of behavioral design methodologies when building and breaking the habits. For example, in order to break or form a habit there are 4 key laws that James mentions: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, make it satisfying. I guess you need to read a book to learn more about it!
Topic: Motivation, lifestyle, Behavioral Science
Lean vs. Agile Design Thinking by Jeff Gothelf
When you have one team learning agile, another learning lean, and yet another learning design thinking, how are you supposed to get to alignment? Everyone speaks a different language, works at a different pace, aims for different goals, and leadership is in the middle trying to understand how best to help. This is a short and easy to read book explaining the differences and similarities!
Topic: Design, Lean, Agile
Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony
A beautiful true story on creating a bond with the elephants. Anthony and his French wife, Françoise, devoted their lives to animals and shared it in this book. The bond they formed worked both ways: the elephants learned they could trust Anthony, and he learned about life, loyalty, and the meaning of freedom from them. But it wasn’t without struggle, not only with the elephants, but with the village people, and the constant worry of poachers.
Topic: Nature, Elephant
On Fire: The burning case for green deal by Naomi Campbell
For more than a decade, Naomi Klein has documented the movement of the climate crisis from future threat to a burning emergency. She has been among the first to make the case for what is now called the Green New Deal – a vision for transforming our economies to battle climate breakdown and rampant inequality at the same time. In our era of rising seas and rising hate, she argues that only this kind of bold, roots-up action has a chance of rousing us to fight for our lives while there is still time.
Topic: Sustainability, Future
Empty Planet by John Ibbitson and Darerell Bricker
For half a century, statisticians have warned that a burgeoning population will soon overwhelm the earth’s resources. But a growing number of experts are sounding a different alarm. Rather than continuing to increase exponentially, they argue, the global population is headed for a steep decline—and in many countries, that decline has already begun. Authors say that a smaller global population will bring with it many benefits: fewer workers will command higher wages; the environment will improve; the risk of famine will wane, and falling birthrates in the developing world will bring greater affluence and autonomy for women.
Topic: Sustainability, Future
The book of Lagom: The Swedish Way of Living Just Right by Göran Everdahl
If you are not familiar with the term “Lagom” yet, this word can not be translated literally and kind of means “not too much, not too little, exactly enough”. This is how swedes approach many things in life and I really like digging deeper into the lagom concept by reading about the history of Sweden, with all the cliches included and how lagom transmits in many aspects: food, design, economy. The book also provides simple solutions to juggle everyday priorities, reduce stress, eat well, and save money, with lessons on the importance of downtime, being outdoors, and Sweden’s coffee break culture.
Topic: Culture, Sweden
Becoming by Michelle Obama
In this memoir, Michelle makes a deep reflection and mesmerizing story about her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work. Warm, wise and revelatory, Becoming is a personal story of a woman that is a big inspiration for me.
Topic: Motivation, Personal Leadership, Biography,
Resilient Management by Lara Hogan
In this book, Lara Hogan shares her recipe for supporting a tech team: from developing your mentoring and coaching skills, to getting comfortable with having difficult conversations, to boosting trust among teammates—while staying grounded along the way. Think of Lara’s book as a self-reflection guide: it’ll help you understand and harness the power of your unique perspective to grow healthy teams.
Topic: Personal Leadership, Mentorship, Career
Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World by Michele J. Gelfand
This book provides great insights into why different cultures (in families, companies, personal and professional settings) accept different levels of rule-making. Every culture has some tight domains and some loose domains. It’s helpful for people to develop cultural intelligence — not just emotional intelligence or general intelligence — when they’re traveling, and understand and anticipate what domains are going to be tight and loose.
Topic: Culture, Research, Behavioral Psychology
Keep Going by Ostin Kleon
If you are interested in maintaining a creative life, or if you’re looking for a short, practical but enjoyable primer on how to stay productive in your life, take a look at the Keep Going book. Like all Kleon’s books, I really enjoyed this one. It’s a “breezy” read, but not fluff. He speaks openly about the challenges, fears, and lives most creatives lead. I feel like he’s directly talking to me.
Topic: Motivation, Career, Psychology
Banzai by Zofia Fabjanowska
As a big fan of Japanese culture, I read this book in a few hours, because it was full of stories, cultural insights, beautiful illustrations, examples bringing my mind to Japan. It’s a book for curious souls about the language, traditions, ceremonies, and very important elements of the culture like origami, kimono, manga, anime, and many more interesting aspects of daily life in this beautiful country.
Topic: Culture, Japan, Travelling
Just Enough Research By Erika Hall
This is a great book to revisit every year. That’s what I did as a UX Researcher because I always find something new to try or to revisit. Just Enough Research is a great, easy to read book which underlines the importance of user research. The book does a great job in demonstrating that research doesn’t have to very expensive or onerous; it provides plenty of simple and practical to conduct ‘just enough research’.
Topic: UX, Research, Design
Inclusive Components by Heydon Pickering
While awareness of web accessibility has continually been increasing, there is still a long way towards highly accessible products. This is a great book for anyone associated with web development or design and interested in learning very practical (and technical) advice about accessibility. It provides good guidance, examples, and knowledge necessary to actually implement interfaces that are inclusive.
Topic: Inclusivity, Accessibility, Design
Accessibility for everyone by Laura Kalbag
This is a great book for everyone just starting to learn about the accessibility landscape: Laura guides the reader through the accessibility landscape, types of disabilities and impairment challenges, explains important laws and guidelines, and how you can plan, evaluate and test design.
Topic:Inclusivity, Accessibility, Design
Design is a job by Mike Monteiro
Mike Monteiro was a discovery for me this year, so after reading Ruined by Design I grabbed another book of his. This is a great resource for designers who want to start freelancing, build their own design studio, and just to understand how to treat design as a job. Personally, it helped me to understand better how I should present my work, manage feedback, expectations, and work as a team as well.
Topic: Design, UX, Career
Designing for Sustainability by Tim Frick
Curiosity about sustainability in design led me to this book. It was practical and informative to read how to apply sustainability principles when creating user-friendly and energy-efficient digital products and services. I would say it was not the most revealing book and more a basic intro to sustainability, but it is good for people who know little about the topic and want to learn more.
Topic: Impact, Sustainability, Design
Option B by by Sheryl Sandberg
One more book by Sheryl – Option B is a powerful, inspiring, and practical guide to finding resilience and moving forward after life’s inevitable setbacks. We all deal with loss: jobs lost, loves lost, lives lost. The question is not whether these things will happen but how we face them when they do. It turns out that post-traumatic growth is common-even after the most devastating experiences many people don’t just bounce back but actually bounce forward
Topic: Leadership, Motivation
Alphas & Omegas:The Power of Feminine Traits in Business by Victoria Yasinetskaya and Mercè Brey
It was a pleasure not only to read this book but also contribute to it by sharing my experience about working in Sweden with the author Victoria Yasinetskaya. This book is a practical guide on how to achieve more diverse organisations and develop inclusive leadership. Based on conversations with people from different countries, Alphas & Omegas explains how the balance between feminine and masculine traits generates wellbeing for employees and profitability for businesses.
Topic: Inclusive Leadership
Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? By Frans de Waal
Frans is a world-renowned biologist and in this book, he shares work on animal intelligence and cognition. He asks important questions, like what separates your mind from an animal’s? Maybe not that much? Elephants can classify humans by age, gender, language. So do other animals, however, we as humans assume that our own intelligence is at the top. I believe we can learn a lot from animals and open minds to the idea that they are far more intricate, complex, and intelligent.
Topic: Nature, Motivation
Content Design by Sarah Richards
This book is a short, lively, practical introduction to content design. Using real-world examples, it steps you through the content design process, explaining everything along the way. Sarah also advocates for a more thoughtful approach to creating content. By making sure your content is what the intended audience wants or needs at the time they see it, by building trust with your audience and by making your content easy to understand and interact with.
Topic: Content, UX, Writing
The first 90 Days by Michael Watkins
Since this year I took a new role, I thought it was a good time to revisit this book about making a transition. While transitions offer a chance to start fresh and make needed changes in an organization, they also place people in a position of acute vulnerability. Watkins identifies common pitfalls that happen and helps to learn how to secure critical early wins, as an important first step in establishing yourself in your new role.
Girl, wash your face by Rachel Hollis
You might have heard the saying that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. If that saying were a person — well, have you met Rachel Hollis? Hollis, now a successful blogger, speaker. In this book, Rachel talks about real issues and reveals the specific practical strategies that helped her move past them. In the process, she encourages, entertains, and even kicks a little butt, all to convince you to do whatever it takes to get real and become the joyous, confident woman you were meant to be. Because you really can live with passion and hustle – and give yourself grace without giving up.
Playing Big by Tara Mohr
This was one of the last books this year that I decided to read after completing the Personal Leadership Programme and when my teacher Katja gave a recommendation, I did not hesitate. In this book, author Tara Mohr shares how she saw how women were “playing small” in their lives and careers, and how they were frustrated by it, and wanted to “play bigger.” That’s why Tara devised a step-by-step program for playing big from the inside out.
Topic: Personal Leadership, Career, Motivation