Setting S.M.A.R.T. reading goals

I used to love to read as a kid. I think that is true for lots of people, but then, kids books are brilliant (I will happily continue to read anything that Phillip Pullman puts out regardless of how far I am from his target audience age). At some point though, I discovered computers, movies, tv boxsets, music, and all those other things that vie for your attention. I was still reading a few books a year, but I got to a point where most my reading was online blogs, articles, and social media. Books had gone by the wayside.

Near the end of 2015, I made a decision to get back into reading. I set a simple goal of reading one book per month. This fulfilled the S.M.A.R.T. criteria for setting goals.

S.M.A.R.T. goals go further than setting vague new years resolutions, and can be defined as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and timely–I have seen alternative labels used but you get the gist.

Anyway, broken down my goal looked a little like this:

Specific

I wanted to become a reader again. A person that reads books. It didn’t initially matter to me which books I read at first, although this definitely changed later.

Measurable

I joined Goodreads as a way to keep track of my progress by taking part in their reading challenge.

Achievable

I figured a book per month would be relatively straight forward to aim for.

Relevant

Part of my job involves understanding how people think. Books are medium of human expression that deserve our attention.

Timely

I set this goal in January of 2016. This gave me a year to complete 12 books.

Screenshot of GoodReads interface tracking progress related to yearly goal
Handily, Goodreads also tells you if you are hitting your reading target for the year. This is a nice touch, and a good use of a dynamic progress indicator that gives just enough information at just the right time.

Starting out

Initially, I struggled with my concentration. I found it difficult to develop this damned reading thing into a habit. I got distracted by my phone often. Bleeping notifications and flashing lights open up a rabbit hole for you to fall into. I’ve grown to view notifications as the dopamine releasing, attention sucking, anti patterns they are (for the most part).

I just want to check this one thing…

…is the worst lie you can tell yourself. On top of which it is rude to the people around you to be only providing them with half your attention. You don’t need to check anything, everything has been checked. Just ask David O’Doherty. He has beefs.

Progress

Over time, I settled into reading, and built upon these goals. By tracking my efforts with Goodreads, I noticed a pattern emerge that I might not have spotted otherwise. I was reading the same kinds of books, by authors I know. This selective bias was unconscious. I decided to make an effort to get out of my comfortable reading areas. I wanted to broaden the kinds books I was reading to include more non fiction, and books written by women.

Approach

I built up a library of books by authors I didn’t know. I visited charity shops to pick up stuff that looked interesting, and spent time online looking at lists. This would usually mean I would pick up several books at a time. The constantly growing bookshelves served as a visual presence in my house, and served to motivate me to take time to read more.

As great as the internet is

There are an endless amount of books with more detailed information, and human feeling that probably deserve your time more. Books have the benefit of an editor, and need to be of a certain quality to even get published. The internet is open to everyone. Great as this is, it means much of what is written doesn’t often go into much depth. Poorly written meandering shit (like the unfettered dreck that you are reading now) goes through unchecked. It isn’t, and probably shouldn’t be, policed by anyone.

Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love

Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People LoveWell-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love by Jon Kolko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty great book. Written by Jon Kolko (founder and director of Austin Center for Design), it is, as the title suggests a book about using empathy to create better products.

Well Designed is very much a product persons view of the world. It’s easy to read, and forgoes jargon. It is also very well structured, and employs an interesting narrative device. Each chapter opens with an imagined scenario featuring a product manager at different points in the process. This continues as a story through the book. This is followed by some solid practical advice, with some discussion around process before closing out the chapter with an interview. These interviews are pretty illuminating, as they show a good variation on approach depending on the culture of the organisation (be it engineering led or product driven).

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on behavioural insights. The practical tips for exploding research was fantastic. Jon breaks his process down into geeky steps, which was a great little takeaway which I will try to clumsily surmise now:

Essentially, he suggests spending time with the data you collect. This means doing the boring admin jobs yourself instead of offloading the work to someone else (like a poor intern, or junior designer). Transcribing user interviews helps you to get to know the people better. All of this sounds so obvious in retrospect, but , much like annotating wireframes, this is something that is frequently overlooked, or is considered not a valuable use of time.

If I had criticism, aside from a bit of a narrow selection of interviewees (it would have been nice to hear from a couple of ladies), it would be one that could be levelled widely at the industry. It feels like we are far too quick to dismiss design history. The following snippet comes from early in the book:

The word “design” has been used to describe craftsmanship in furniture, aesthetics in posters, and the styling of physical products, like toasters or cars. Historically, designers made things look good. For many years, this made designers feel as though their contribution was superficial, as they would be called in when a product was nearly complete and asked to “just skin it.” Now design aspires to be bigger than aesthetics.

This is a sweeping statement, and is used to illustrate a broader point around certain attitudes towards designing software. Frankly it is probably a little unfair for me to jump on, as I don’t believe it was intended perhaps how I took it. Good design has always aspired to be more than aesthetics.

Historically, I’d argue designers have done way more than make things look good. The Tube map designed by Harry Beck in 1931 wasn’t a revelation because it looked good (although it did that too!). It favoured clarity of information, over topological accuracy. Beck understood that passengers on the Tube were not interested in the geographical landscape, but in knowing how to get from station to station.

This is a minor gripe I have with this very good book, that I have turned unjustifiably turned into a mini rant.

View all my reviews