What inspires 19 design leaders at Vimeo, VICE, American Express, and more

4 min read
Adam Fry-Pierce
  •  Mar 21, 2018
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If you were stranded on an island and could only bring one book to read for the rest of your life, what would you choose? What might best keep you motivated?

Last month, 19 accomplished design leaders gathered in New York City for a member dinner as part of InVision’s Design Leadership Forum. Before digging into their meal—and the more serious part of the conversation—the group took turns sharing what keeps each of them inspired.

It didn’t have to be business-related, design-related, or even a book at all.

Here’s the full list of what leaders from Verizon, Infogroup, Cvent, PIMCO and more recommend. No pressure, no islands—just good reading (for the most part).

1. Bob Baxley, Author
Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman
Vacationland collects the real-life wanderings of author, actor, and humorist John Hodgman. Though funny, it’s also “a poignant and sincere account of one human facing his forties, those years when men in particular must stop pretending to be the children of bright potential they were and settle into the failing bodies of the wiser, weird dads that they are.”

2. Stephen Gates, Citi
The Head of Design and host of The Crazy One podcast suggests wandering down the rabbit hole of, or the prospect of organizing a company based on Ethereum blockchain.

“Interesting… risky as hell.” – Stephen Gates

3. Bob Calvano, A+E NetworksIf your reading list is long enough already, practice transcendental meditation. Bob, VP of Design, recommended this over a novel or article. Aside from mental clarity and wellness, it also seems to come with some business benefits—or so Wall Street seems to think.

4. Ben Koh, Infogroup
Winning Ugly: Mental Warfare in Tennis by Brad Gilbert
Olympic gold medalist and ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert is widely known for his tennis game—but not because of his technique. His technique was actually pretty terrible, but his mental fortitude and resourcefulness helped him climb to the top and “win ugly” when the game wasn’t going his way. This mentality, and the approaches taken by Gilbert to overcome the odds, can also be applied to the business world, particularly when it comes to spreading design thinking and getting executive buy-in.

5. Maggie McKosky, Shutterstock
The SHED Method: Making Better Choices When it Matters by Sarah Rowe
Maggie, Head of UX and Product Design, is on to something here. This book says people are bombarded by so many decisions that we’re starting to get worse at making them. Implementing a lifestyle based around SHED—or sleep, hydration, exercise, and diet—is at the core of improving personal routines that ultimately lead to better decisions.

6. Julie Mathers, Cvent
MeasuringU: UX & NPS Benchmarks for Consumer Software (2017)
Not quite a book, but it’s worth a read anyway, according to Julie, Senior Director of User Experience Design. This report details why, with numbers to support it, benchmarking is an important step to improving user experience. Data—based on 2,164 participants—sheds light on attitudes toward the functionality and usability of consumer software.

7. Brandt Flomer, McKinsey
The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
Even if you don’t have kids, breezing through the pages of this book guarantees a lightened mood. Here’s how it works: the person reading—a dad, a teacher, or Director of Digital Innovation—has to pronounce everything that’s written, even it’s just silly sounds.

8. Vincente Caride, Johnson & Johnson
“Facial Recognition is Accurate, if You’re a White Guy”
Johnson & Johnson’s Senior Director of Digital Experience Design suggests this New York Times piece for its coverage of technology’s intersection with race. In it, research says software is right 99% of the time if the person in a photo is a white male, but errors rise to nearly 35% for images of darker skinned women. The piece also “raises broader questions of fairness and accountability in artificial intelligence at a time when investment in and adoption of the technology is racing ahead.”

9. Shani Sandy, S&P Global
Design Indaba
This online publication is packed with powerful reads about creating a better future through design and creativity. With its home in Cape Town, the brand champions the notion that creativity and design have the power to fuel an economic revolution not only in South Africa, but globally. Check out the latest top story, “How can architecture aid those who experience exclusion?

10. Danny Forst, American Express
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Sci-fi meets technology, what could go wrong? Neuromancer was “the first fully-realized glimpse of humankind’s digital future,” making it the perfect way to escape a busy day without completely leaving the world of technology.

11. James Findlater, Vimeo
Vimeo’s Director of Design also recommends a non-literary form of inspiration. He suggests developing a daily crossword puzzle habit. Some people even think doing crossword puzzles can make you smarter, or at the very least allow you to learn a lot of random facts.

12. Mirco Pasqualini, Ogilvy & Mather
If books, puzzles, and blockchain all fail at keeping you inspired, try Song E Napule. This cozy kitchen for Italian food and pizza is a few blocks away from Washington Square Park, so you can grab lunch and take a break outside.

“Tell the big guy at the counter that you’re a friend of Mirco and he will treat you well!” – Mirco Pasqualini, Group Director, Design & Interaction

13. Laura Hahn,
Play The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch. This “boundary-breaking” new game can help you “step into a world of adventure”—and it’s got two thumbs up from this Head of Design.

14. Janet Park, Pimco
HBO’s The Defiant Ones
This four-part, critically acclaimed documentary series tells the stories of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dretheir (also known as Dr. Dre). According to NPR, it’s a compelling look at “Dre’s and Iovine’s history, showing how two talented producers separated by genre, geography, and generations formed a partnership that changed the face of music.”

15. Renda Morton, The New York Times
Planet Earth 2
Renda, VP of Design, recommends tuning into BBC earth’s captivating series. It allows you to experience the world from the viewpoint of animals through incredible footage and educational narration. Renda says Vox also made a video series about the technology used to create the episodes—so tune in.

16. Che Douglas, The Wall Street Journal
Heidelberg letterpress
This is a fitting inspiration for The Wall Street Journal’s Global Head of Design. It’s one of the primary fully automated 20th-century presses that incorporated pneumatic sheet feed and delivery to help transform the newspaper industry.

17. Jess Brown, VICE Media
“How tech could better protect us from distraction” (TED) by Tristan Harris
In this TED Talk, Design thinker Tristan Harris shares ideas for technology that could create more meaningful interactions. He asks, “What does the future of technology look like when you’re designing for the deepest human values?” The Director of UX also recommends the film The Shape of Water.

18. Brian Kelly, Verizon
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
This fiction novel follows a father and son through post-apocalyptic America. They have only the clothes on their backs, a pistol, and a cart of scavenged food to support their journey to the coast.

19. Gregg Meyer, WeWork
Making meaningful connections in real life
The Design Director ended things on a great final note, especially for a member dinner. With all the great books, articles, videos, and games in the world, it’s still essential to genuinely connect with others.

Want more info on the Design Leadership Forum? Head over to the Design Leadership Forum page to read more about our mission, featured members, upcoming events, and to access the nomination form to join.

Are you an aspiring design leader? Check out more posts on the InVision blog for the latest tips, tutorials, and best practices being used day-in and day-out in the world’s best digital product design teams.

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