Just a List of My Favorite Reads for the Past Year

Nothing in life, they say, is constant. I wholeheartedly agree but I have to make room for one exception. And that would have to be my voracious reading habits.

I’ve changed careers. Made and lost some friends. Lovers came, promised me the moon and a dozen lambs, under-delivered, blamed myself for unrealistically high expectations, and off they went —either better or bitter versions of themselves. Family members have left for good too. I’ve lost count of the number of cats who have chosen me as their human. I’ve experimented with going vegan, paleo, and consuming kimchi every day. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things — from religion to my thoughts on minimalism to deciding between Backstreet Boys and N’Sync as the best boy band of the 90s. (For the record, I haven’t made up my mind yet).

Yet I have never changed my mind about books. Ever.

I used to wax poetic and philosophical about books without fail but for the past two years—around the same time that I began to favor non-fiction for fiction — I have been one lazy book pimp.

While I admit that my book slutting ( also known as reading more than one book at a time) ways are still unabashedly existent, I haven’t been pimping my favorites as of late. But I intend to change that now.

So here are my favorites for the past year and why you should go get yourself a copy too.

No Amazon affiliate links involved so you can tread your way through the list without thinking that I’m making money out of this. 🙂

1.  Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport

Confession: I am secretly crushing on Cal Newport’s mind and looks (look him up on YouTube now and you’ll see what I mean!).

Deep Work pushed me to go on a Facebook sabbatical for most of 2016. If you’ve tried everything to get things done but you’re still missing deadlines and not checking everything on your weekly to-do list by Friday, go give this book a read.

2. Everybody Writes, Ann Handley

Author Andrew Davis describes this book as the new Strunk & White and the new creative resource for a new generation.

He is on point.

If you’re still baffled what it’s like to write for the Internet (everybody does these days, right?) and curious about how you can use content marketing to your advantage, you will be eternally grateful to Miss Handley if you add this to your reading list.

3. I’m Not for Everyone. Neither Are You, David Leddick

I had no idea who David Leddick is until I came across this book by accident. I was about to buy Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art on Kindle and this book popped up in the Recommended section (or was it the Frequently Bought Together section, I can’t specifically recall).

The sampler text convinced me to add the title to my book purchases. And I’m glad I did. Every time I go through the pages of this book,  I imagine David Leddick giving out his sassy yet sensible bits of aphorisms when I find myself flooded with self-doubt and negative self-talk. Here are my favorite bits:

  • You can tell what a man is like by watching him walk away from you.
  • The world is like a classroom of children with their heads down on their desks being obedient. When you raise your head you discover there is no teacher.
  • I don’t mind losing battles as long as I win the war.
  • Never make a business call on Monday or Friday.
  • Do not get involved with someone expecting them to change.

4. The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield

Ah, Stephen Pressfield!  Coupled with Cal Newport’s book, I’ve successfully knocked down distractions ( I thought so) and regained focus because of this gem in overcoming the Resistance.

Curious about the Resistance? I’m not going to give it away so you’ll read it. Despite having a Kindle copy of this Stephen Pressfield gem, I even asked a friend to buy me a physical copy of the book when he went abroad (I can’t find a copy in local bookstores) because it’s that good.

5. Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

The only love that feels like love is the doomed kind. (Fun fact.)

This is one of those pieces of fiction that will remind you about the power of words, and how a story can make you feel a thousand type of overwhelming emotions at once. If you’re looking for catharsis by reading fiction, head on to your local bookstore and find a copy of this Jenny Offill masterpiece.

6. On the Move, Oliver Sacks

I’ve been an Oliver Sacks fan ever since I discovered him on Radiolab. His commentaries on how the brain works has fascinated me, and I wanted to learn about the life he lived when he died last 2015.

The man truly knows how to translate scientific facts and bits into beautiful prose. Figuring out his exact personality type while going through this memoir was also a delight for an armchair Jungian typologist like me. 

7. A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

I’ve read this book thrice and it never fails to send me to tears. Of course, it’s a sad story. But it’s not just the story. It’s the writing itself that will gnaw its way to you and scrape you raw. The book is labeled YA (for ages 12-19) literature but don’t let the label fool you.

8. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug

Usability and creating wonderful user experiences on the web may be a dull topic for many. Steve Krug, however, packed these subjects into an entertaining read.

So what does it means to have great UX? Don’t make your users think. It may sound like its magic but in reality, there’s a lot of tedious work behind the scenes of designing wonderful user experiences. This is a good primer if you want to delve into usability and you’re clueless where to begin.

9. Personality Type: A Practical Guide to Understanding Yourself and Others Through Typology, Lenore Thomson

I’m not done with this book yet but I’m already halfway into it, and I’ve been asking myself why I haven’t read this book sooner!

If you’re into personality types, MBTI, and Jungian psychology, Lenore Thomson wonderfully illustrates the different types minus the usual stereotypical descriptions that you’ll find online. You may have to orient yourself with the basic Jungian functions before you read this book.

10. Predictably Irrational:The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely

Have you always wondered how people make decisions? I do.

This book by behavioral economist Dan Ariely might not give you a straight answer on how people choose between what’s rational or not, but reading about his experiments on the subject is by turns entertaining and insightful.

Who would have thought that subtly reminding college students about the Ten Commandments before an exam would reduce the likelihood that they’ll cheat?

There you go. If you’ve stumbled upon this post, I’m curious about your favorite reads as of late. I would love to hear about them too!


Why a Copywriter Like Me is Showing Up in UX Meetups

Besides frequently asked about my decision in trading my 9-5 desk job for self-employment as a copywriter, friends often find it strange that I talk a lot about UX when I’m not a designer, product manager, or even a web developer. I repeatedly get asked the following: 

  • You’re a copywriter, why the sudden interest in UX?
  • UX is all about design, right? What do words have to do with visuals?
  • Why are you showing up in UX meetups? Everyone’s either a developer or designer. You’re probably the only copywriter in the room. Are you even in the right meetup?

I got an anonymous tip that a kitten dies of starvation every time I fail to give out a decent response to these questions. So I came up with this part-FAQ page, part-love letter to friends and family who are curious about my sudden tweetfest about UX. The kittens are definitely worth saving!

Why the Sudden Interest in UX?

Dear friends and family,

It started when one of these marketing agencies I’m freelancing for asked me to ghostwrite a blog post* on what sets great design apart from good design.

While going through design websites to gather references on the subject, I was running out of meaty points and examples to write about. Put simply, I was at a loss about good versus great design.

It was tempting to dial 911 and request for someone who’s in charge with writer’s block. But I got myself together, thought about Stephen Pressfield’s take on writer’s block in his book The War of Art (this is just Resistance disguised as writer’s block!), and decided to put on my professional writer hat.

So I turned to a designer friend via email, and asked (or maybe pestered him a bit) for examples of products or services that perfectly illustrate what it means to have good versus great design.

His reply was:

Great design is humanistic and solves problems. Check out IDEO and their YouTube channel.

So I made my way to the IDEO website and stumbled upon the concept of design thinking for the first time.

As I went through their content on design thinking, my initial thoughts were:

  • So people actually do this? And it’s a job? I’ve found my calling!
  • This is psychology, product design, and business development rolled into one. Cool stuff!
  • How do I become one of these folks?

By the time I submitted my ghostwritten post, I already had a bird’s eye view of the design thinking process. My curiosity further led me to the UX design rabbit hole.

Design Thinking is Figuring Out the Right Problems to Solve

My designer friend was right. Good design is product-centric and aims to impress. Great design, on the other hand, is user-centered and helps solve problems.

Design thinking is the process of spotting the right problems to solve. The problem itself doesn’t have to be associated with design in a visual sense.

For instance, you can apply the design thinking methodology to solve problems that’s been bugging you or mankind— from rekindling a lackluster relationship to coming up with better healthcare information system in an hospital.

If you like the idea of coming up with a Friday date night prototype that meets your needs (and your partner’s of course), you are going to like design thinking. 

In fact, design thinking is the same process that shoe designer Tinker Hatfield employed to create the famous Air Jordan shoes. In a Mental Floss feature  about Air Jordan’s conception, Foster Kamer narrates:

Hatfield stood up and started asking Jordan questions. He asked him to recall what he’d said earlier about the shoe’s height, its weight, about his Italian shoes and leather patterns. Hatfield started showing the sketches to Jordan, who was beginning to warm up: For the first time, someone had actually paid attention to what he wanted and needed. Jordan asked to see the sample.

In hindsight, design thinking begins by paying attention to problems.

What Does UX Have to Do With Design Thinking?

Let’s backtrack a bit and understand what UX means.

Smashing Magazine defines it as:

User experience (abbreviated as UX) is how a person feels when interfacing with a system. The system could be a website, a web application or desktop software and, in modern contexts, is generally denoted by some form of human-computer interaction (HCI).

Those who work on UX (called UX designers) study and evaluate how users feel about a system, looking at such things as ease of use, perception of the value of the system, utility, efficiency in performing tasks and so forth.

So how do you study and evaluate users like shoe designer Hatfield did?

You go out, talk to your users via research, empathize, define the problem, ideate a solution, prototype, test, and implement. Rinse and repeat.

This is what design thinking is about.

Am I starting to make sense now? Are the kittens going to be safe?

So What Do Words Have to Do With UX Design?

If UX design is about delivering better products and experiences via design thinking, what do words have to do with it?

Why am I showing up in UX meetups when I’m neither a UI designer or software/web developer? I’m supposed to rub elbows with digital marketers and not with the product development folks, right?

The more I learn about the design thinking process and the importance of user research, the more I got hooked on figuring out how I can incorporate the methodology, user research to be specific, into my copywriting toolkit.

I intuitively knew that words matter too in solving problems and designing better user experiences.  And as a copywriter,  I have this knack of creating multiple what-if scenarios in my head. It turns out that this constant what-ifing (and sometimes destructive overthinking) can be put into good use in UX design. Hurray!

As UX Designer Susan Stuart explains in Why UX Design is a Lot Like Writing:

To sum up, when looking for someone to lead the design of your complex application, look for enough visual sensibility to lay the foundation in a “blueprint,” but consider giving weight to experience with writing (and psychology), where the designer has a strong imagination for characters, actions, scenarios and general “what if-ing.”

From what I’ve been learning, it looks like content strategy and information architecture are the subsets in UX that closely resemble what I do as a copywriter and content marketer. Figuring out the right words to say is the common denominator of both fields. They both deal with language, information, and content.

Can You Call It UX Writing?

These days, what is often referred to as UX writing is writing interface copy, mainly in the realm of product development, with user research thrown in the mix.  This is what John Saito of Dropbox described in 2016 when he wrote about what he does for a living:

As UX writers at Dropbox, our goal is to make sure every word we write makes sense. One wrong word can break a user’s experience. A vague button label or unfamiliar term can easily frustrate users.

 In 2014,  Jessica Collier also wrote about this new-ish field that’s shaping up to be a mix of writing and design—Narrative UX.

Jessica writes:

Design, in other words, is narrative. Yet the actual writing that a person sees when using an app is rarely the result of careful consideration. For all the lip service paid to storytelling in the tech industry, we pay little or no attention to the language that goes into product design. So what happens when we finally realize that reinventing ourselves as storytellers necessitates bringing writers into the design process?

And last month, UX Booth wrote about UX writing and referred to it as the “new job in town”. 

As UX Booth’s Kristina Bjoran writes:

It may seem like a bit of a fad but writing-focused user experience designers will be a critical part of the way we design for experiences from here on out.

Whether it’s a fad or not, I’m thrilled to learn that folks who do words (and not just code and pixels) are gaining more recognition in their role in designing better UX.

Whatever label or name it gets — narrative UX, UX writing, content design etc — they all have the same goal:  find the right words (and speak the same language) to help users solve a problem, while taking product and business goals into account at the same time. User research helps accomplish this purpose.

As I once tweeted, I would like to think that UX writing is the lovechild of user research and copywriting.

Saving kittens by answering one question at a time,

*It turned out that the ghostwritten post I did on Great vs Good Design got the highest number of organic traffic for the specific quarter that it got published. 🙂


Social Media or Bullying Media? Stop Hating on Zubuchon

Recently, Zubuchon (a lechon purveyor in Cebu) is the subject of social media ridicule and mockery that, in my opinion, has blown out of proportions.

Some even left unreasonable one-star reviews on the restaurant’s Facebook page, just because media outlets mentioned that they are the best lechon makers in Cebu.

I rarely talk about my thoughts on current events (even politics) but the recent social media spat is worth writing about.

Social Media or Bullying Media?

While social networking has its own merits, it can also rear its ugly head when people behind the comfort of their screens carelessly spew out hateful and negative comments. It’s disappointing when people do this without pausing to reflect (I am even reflecting if I’m going to hit the Publish button right after I end this post).

Will you even spit out the same comments in real life?
Or are you just chiming in and joining the hive mind because your network’s going to see how supposedly insightful your thoughts are?

Admit it, some people don’t truly care, but they want to pretend that they do. There’s a huge difference between the two.

Also, have you even reflected how the other person will feel if you publish your comment?
Imagine if the roles were reversed, how would you feel?
What if it was your business?
And will your thoughts on the issue even help at all?

On Empathy and Getting Your Facts Straight

As for folks who are calling out Zubuchon for their supposedly false advertising, they’re not even claiming that they’re the best. Anthony Bourdain did.

If you think Zubuchon isn’t the best, write about your opinion on your own Facebook page but do not unmindfully leave one-star reviews on the brand’s page. You can leave one-star reviews when you’ve been to the restaurant, and felt that the food and service didn’t meet your expectations.

And if you are going to write a negative review, can you at least be more helpful by politely giving suggestions on how to improve their food quality and dining experience?

Imagine you’re an employee waiting for feedback or a performance review. Your feedback says “Juan was so lazy and dumb. He can’t even understand simple instructions.” Now, wouldn’t you be riled up with this unhelpful feedback?

Zubuchon is clearly the victim of social media bullying, except that the bullies themselves are hiding behind the glow of their screens. 

Undoubtedly, social media has made our lives better. But we have to understand that it’s just a tool,  and at the end of the day, we still need to act and talk like a human.

And I’m not even paid to write for and defend Zubuchon. I don’t even agree that they have the best lechon in Cebu. But come on, Zubuchon owner Joel Binamira is right — why can’t we just strive to be better, not bitter?

Ironically, the slew of hateful comments on social media is giving Zubuchon free publicity.

If there’s something that we need to work on,  it would have to be two things —get your facts straight and imagine if the roles were reversed. You know, plain old empathy.

Hitting the Publish button now.