One of my photos

Smashing Ideas

October 27th, 2011 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 2 Comments · Life

Today I finished reading The Smashing Idea Book, which I got through Amazon’s Vine programme.

One of the many little pleasures of Vine is that I get to read things I would not normally have the chance to. There is no way I would fork out over £20 on a text book in a field I am neither studying nor working in, so getting these does broaden my horizons a little.

I don’t get carried away though. Also on offer was a Beekeeping for Dummies book. I don’t think I need to broaden my horizons quite that much, although seeing it on the list did make me wonder just how much of a market there is for such a book. Just how many budding beekeepers are out there?

But I digress… here is what I thought about the book:

It may be that, not being a designer or a design student, I am missing the point, but I found this book to be a bit light on hard information at the expense of filler.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful book to hold with some gorgeous pictures in it, and it is extremely well presented as you might expect from Smashing Books, but it was too lacking in substance for me. For example, of its 402 pages, 32 are taken up with the index, contents and pages that are either blank or chapter title pages. On top of that another 274 pages are just image galleries: mostly screenshots of websites or photos taken from Flickr. That only leaves 99 pages of text – and many of those pages only have a paragraph or two on pages that are otherwise blank or full of pictures.

Most of the book tells you that you need to look at things for inspiration and then gives you lots of examples of things without giving much of a clue about how to do that practically. Along the way at times the book treads a fine line between getting inspired and copying other people’s work. In fact it more or less tells you to copy from enough different places so that you avoid obvious IP infringement.

Suddenly at chapters 6 and 7 the book does what I spent the best part of 350 pages wanting it to do – giving two practical demonstrations of how to use inspiration from other websites or from more abstract sources. Up to that point I was thinking that it was all a bit ’emperor’s new clothes’.

And yet…

I guess that if you are in the design field and the book gives you just one idea that makes a project work or gets you a commission then it is all worth it at twice the price. Just because it didn’t do what I wanted doesn’t mean that it won’t work for somebody else.

I realise this is all subjective but personally I would have welcomed a lot more chapters like 6 and 7 because I already have a source of thousands of images. Its called the internet. Having said that, the clue is in the title. It is a book of ideas and not step-by-step instructions so it actually does what it says.

Where I would quibble with the title is that it is not clear that this is a book squarely aimed at people designing websites. While somebody designing, say, fabrics, might get an idea or two it is not really aimed at them and anybody designing things other than websites would be better off with something else.

I do wonder if I am being a little unkind though. I have an architectural source book that is very similar, being little more than lots of pictures to show different aspects and styles which I find fascinating even if it is of no practical use to me. I just think that somebody who designs websites will, by definition, have access to the internet and a whole world of different pictures already.

What it reminded me of was one of those Tony Buzan memory-improving books I read ages ago. It was a 200-page hardback book. At page 33 I was thinking that it was interesting and possibly useful and then I turned the page and discovered that the book was effectively over: pages 34 to 200 were just lists of things to remember using the techniques in pages 1 to 33. Basically it was a pamphlet that had been stretched to fill a whole book.

In the same way this idea book could have contained all its information in 50 pages. But who buys 50-page books? Or 33-page books? Do we as consumers think that anything that short can’t be worthwhile and so the only way we can be persuaded to buy it is with loads of filler?

A more recent example would be Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan, another pamphlet pumped up to book size, in his case by labouring the point. If anything I think that the book’s main big idea was given far less impact by being restated umpteen different ways, something a few of these popular science bokos are guilty of, especially those in the behavioural economics field.

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