Hey, Designers ... Learn to Business

For the past few years, upon hearing the variations of, “Designers should learn how to code,” I've immediately quipped, “No, designers should learn how to business.”

My quip made it into a blog post, a talk, a LinkedIn thread, and this week again when I stood up in front of the audience at CHIFOO and said it.

Someone who attended the CHIFOO event sent me a message on LinkedIn and asked what books I'd recommend to designers who want to learn how to business. I've put together a list of some of the books I've found interesting. They are mostly not traditional business books, but when you look into them, my hope is you'll see (beyond the brief explanations below) why I'm recommending them.

But, first ... two brief caveats

Caveat the first: If you want to learn to code (or already learned to code) and don't want to learn how to business ... well, great, actually. I'm not deriding people who go on that path. My perspective, and if you click the “blog post” link above, is:

"If you want to have a greater impact as [insert your Experience-related profession here], your work needs to impact the roadmap (product, service, or other). And not just impact it, but drive it. That means you’re going to have to learn how to Business, how to negotiate, how to elicit & diffuse hidden agendas, and how to persuade."

Caveat the second: I have a few Service Design books on the list. On purpose. I'd recommend pretty much any Service Design book with the exception of the one from Rosenfeld Media. The reason I put focus on Service Design is 1) it looks more holistically at everything, including business, and 2) if you are a Product Designer (or any of the myriad titles related) I'd like to point out that you may actually be a Service Designer — or should be.

The Books

In no particular order, with the exception of the best-for-last...

Service Innovation Handbook

I've had this book for a couple years and use it now and again as a reference. It has a lot in it that you may have already come across or know from your work, but it's packaged up well, easy to use, and has a good focus on creating value for people. Not just creating more widgets or social media apps.

SIH on Amazon

This is Service Design Doing

There are a lot of great resources for learning about Service Design. Like me, I can help you with that! :)

But this book does a good job of capturing everything you need to know to get started. It's set up to be an easy read at first, then you can use it as a reference in the future. Lots of practical, applicable advice. File under: wish I'd written it.

SDD on Amazon

Business Model Generation

Another decent book which you can read, then use as a reference book later. If you've seen the Business Model Canvas, well, this is the book that explains how best to use it. This is the type of book that can help put you in the generative/innovative frame of mind that most designers (he said, in wide generality) don't get to do, or don't even think they should be doing it. Hint: you should.

BMG on Amazon

Power of Habit

If you want to understand part of why people behave the way they do, please read this book. It's a fun read and has a lot of information that should help you be better able at sussing out why the CEO is behaving that way — and then maybe what you can do to guide them to where they need to be.

POH on Amazon


Like Power of Habit, this book is about motivations. Sure, you can get an MBA and learn how to spreadsheet the CLV and operationalize a strategy, but if you can't understand the people you work with or how to lead them to where they need to be ... the only value you're adding is essentially pulling a lever on the factory line. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that's not what this post is about.

D on Amazon

Start With Why

Most designers spend their days focused on How. While defining and refining the How of something can be rewarding and, of course, crucial, it isn't as important was the What and, in this case, the Why. This is a good, easy book to read. Or you can watch his TED talk on it.

SWW on Amazon

Never Split the Difference

This, in my mind, isn't a great book. The first part of it is entertaining, but there's a bit of ... low-level toxic masculinity in it? So why am I recommending it? Hm, good question, me.

I only read the first half of it. What I did take away from it is that Everything is a negotiation. As a designer, you can be great at Sketch, or 3D modeling ... but if you can't negotiate, well, it's just more lever pulling, innit?

It's not just negotiating for better benefits at your job, it's getting people on your side, building cachet with others, winning people over to your way of thinking -and- even being open to having your thinking changed.

So, if not this book on negotiation, then definitely find a book on it.

NSTD on Amazon

Difficult Conversations

Another one not in the pic above. I've no idea where it went. It's an oldie but a goodie. As a designer, or in this case I think I mean design leader (catalyst for change?), you will run into times where you need to have a difficult conversation. It's best to walk into those situations well-prepared.

As with the negotiation one, if not this book, then a book on difficult conversations.

DC on Amazon

Design a Better Business — Maybe

I just got this book this week and have only skimmed it a bit. Seems like it might be useful.

So ... maybe? :)

DABB on Amazon

Why Did the Policeman Cross the Road

Best for last! Also, it's not in the pic because it's on loan. Again, to whom? I dunno. :/

I met Stevyn Colgan at a conference in Berlin in 2016. He gave a talk that was essentially an overview of his book. He's got a TEDx talk on it you can find. As he gave the talk I kept thinking, “This is totally design!” even though he didn't call it that. I add it here as a Learn to Business book because of how the stories he writes about are very focused on defining the root-cause of something, then experimenting on ways to improve it.

Ya know, like innovation. That new-fangled, business-y thing we've all been hearing about.

WDTPCTR on Amazon

And the rest...

I'm sure there's a lot of good books (content) you can find. You probably have some good resources I didn't include.

Hope this helps some. And I hope more designers move in the business direction. They need our help.