Julie Anixter | Books

Design Observer Holiday Reading List

Fernando Flores—a philosopher of linguistics—once said that to read a book is to have a conversation with its author. If you read for pleasure, the holidays give the gift of uninterrupted time for precisely those kinds of conversations. The week between the holidays spreads out like a quiet (and for some, an actual) beach; a sanctuary for reading. Here are twelve books that can transport, entertain, answer indelible questions, set the tone for the new year, or perhaps, just restore your soul, whether you’re on a beach or not.

Julie Anixter
Executive Director, AIGA

Memoirs and Biographies

1. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen writes, clearly in his own voice, a memoir that starts in early childhood in Freehold, N.J., and continues to the present. In it, he reflects and pays tribute to his family, his art, and his demons—first and foremost among them, his battle with depression. Reading this book is like reading a long ​song, and the way Springsteen​ describes constructing both his music and his career are perhaps especially resonant for designers.

2. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Replacing John Stewart on the Daily Show was no easy task, but Trevor Noah took the challenge, and this book tells the backstory, beginning with his childhood in an apartheid-ridden South Africa where his birth was,​ in fact, defined as a criminal act. The union between his father (white, Swiss) and his mother (black​,​ Xhosa) was punishable by five years in prison. Noah’s mother hid him indoors during the earliest years of his life, in part because the government could quite ​literally have ​stolen​ him away. A spectacular story.

3. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
An extraordinary biography of one of our greatest design mavericks, Walter Isaacson is masterful as a storyteller, and his detailed account of Jobs’ meteroric rise is indispensible reading for anyone working in technology and design. Jobs' response to Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter’s plea for resources is one of the great moments in any history of business, and one among many highlights of this superb book.

4. Empress of Fashion, The Life and Times of Diana Vreeland by Amanda MacKenzie Stuart
An original creative thinker, Diana Vreeland is credited with building both the authority and audience that framed the early days of Vogue Magazine in New York. Generous and spirited, she was an early advocate for collaboration—and sharing. “You must always give ideas away,” she liked to say. “Under every idea is a new one waiting to be born.” Vreeland not only created icons, but became one herself.

Books on Art, Art History, and Culture

5. To and From Utopia in the New Cuban Art by Rachael Weiss
As a new era beckons in US-Cuba relations, the introduction to this timely book describes an art movement with “extraordinary relation and relevance to the life of the country across social, domestic, cultural, and psychological registers.” Weiss explains and demonstrates the range of this work, explaining the degree to which it is, among other things, “aggressive, protean, and perennially restless within an extraordinary conviction about the possibilities of art.”

6. Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia by Andrew Blauvelt
Blauvelt mines a specific ​demographic—radicals, hippies, and the so-called “flower children” of the late 1960s—as both spectators and co-creators in what he terms an anti-establishment “atmosphere of rebellion.” This stimulating volume locates the notion of “Hippie Modernism” as a response to a climate of political and social change, and capably connects it to the broader stories that characterize design in the second half of the twentieth century.

7. 100 Ideas that Changed Art by Michael Bird
A robust index that reframes its subject as a function of broader, more varied stimuli, complete with wonderful examples for each entry.​ Bird’s taxonomy is part reference, part magic: an inspiring addition to any library.

8. American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, Nick Taylor
“If you’ve traveled the nation’s highways, flown into New York’s LaGuardia Airport, strolled San Antonio’s River Walk, or seen the Pacific Ocean from the Beach Chalet in San Francisco,” observes Taylor, “you have experienced some part of the legacy of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)—one of the enduring cornerstones of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”.
An excellent—and eloquent—study of one of the most compelling social initiatives ever launched in the United States, and a timely resource for anyone engaged in design and activism.

Design and Business

9. The Business Model Generation Handbook by Alexander Osterwalder
Teams all over the world are using this ​to ​map products, services, even business launch​es. The idea of the business model—and how to generate it—has fully entered contemporary culture and its vocabulary. Highly recommended for anyone involved in innovation, start-ups, and entrepreneurship.

10. Blind Spot: Illuminating the Hidden Value of Relationships by Diller, Shedroff, and Sauber
“Why do so many companies focus on technology and business model innovation,” asks Shedroff, “reducing people to ‘users’ and ‘consumers’ instead of focusing on building meaningful long-term relationships with their customers?”  A fascinating take on breaking down demographics and audiences into real people with actual, measurable needs.


11. The Art of Memoir by Mary Carr
Carr is an astute observer of everything in her midst—and her scrutiny is both enlightening and endearing. Memoir is, to Carr, the ultimate test of authenticity, and this book will resonate with designers looking to connect their own observations to personal storytelling.

12. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
A meditation on the power of resistance, from a screenwriter whose recollections are both poignant and powerful. With short, readable chapters, this is an easy book to pick up again and again. And perfect for a day at the beach.

Posted in: Media

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