What We’re Reading v1

A current reading list from the IDEO community

April 24, 2014
Reading Time
4 minutes

From stock market know-how to the globalization of bananas, here’s a glimpse of what’s on our nightstands and in our RSS feeds.

In Defense of Google Flu Trends

What are our expectations from technology, and how grounded are these expectations in reality?

Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic explores these questions in an incredibly thoughtful piece about Google Flu Trends, a tool that visualizes where people are searching for information about the flu, allowing potential outbreaks to be predicted.

Madrigal’s piece challenges the popular paper “The Parable of Google Flu: Traps in Big Data Analysis,” after it explores the genesis of Google Flu, its root in the earlier days of Google’s exploration (arguably a culturally valuable divergence in their exploration), and its relationship with the Center for Disease Control.

It concludes with the thought that technology can be seen as failing not because it lacks value, but because it fails in the eyes of an over expectant public.

This over expectant public is not the only audience that defines success though. I’m excited that many will look at Google Flu Trends as a tool for learning, as a signal for health, and a wonderful provocation for how global businesses like Google can meaningfully and thoughtfully contribute to public well-being.

— Andrew Lovett-Barron, Designer and Software Developer, IDEO Palo Alto

The Neatest Little Guide to Stock Market Investing

In its fifth edition, Jason Kelly’s guide walks novice investors through the origins of the market, key terminology, and an overview of the portfolio strategies of prominent investors. He shares three fairly simple strategies to follow in order to maintain a balanced portfolio and beat the market.

I particularly liked this guide because Kelly gives multiple perspectives from famous investors on the market and leaves it up to the reader to choose the strategies that they feel most comfortable with given their situation and acceptable risk levels. The fact that the book wasn’t particularly prescriptive made me trust Kelly more; and it felt like he had the success of the individual investor in mind. Kelly also provides helpful charts and data to back up his strategies, proving them successful through both crashes of the 2000s.

As someone who was looking for a way to educate myself about the market and put my savings to work intelligently, I found this guide invaluable, and was able to finish it in a day.

— Tim Shi, Software Developer, IDEO Palo Alto

Spaces of Banana Control

A few years old, but a wonderful read. Nicola Twilley of Edible Geography takes us on a journey of the architectural spaces that allow bananas to enter so easily into the North American diet, and to control their ripening processes prior to being sold in markets.

Interfaces for physical things continue to take up considerable physical space, while the interfaces for information and human behavior shrink in size. A shipping port, a warehouse, a UPS truck, and a grocery store are all interfaces through which we engage with a physical world mediated by an informational and software-inflected one. What might this ‘architecture of biological control’ look like in a robotic world, with the kind of responsive architecture we’re working with in the Digital Shop, and a bent towards a more industrial and practical end?

We recommend reading more of Nicola’s blog, and other blogs in the FuturePlural network for explorations into speculative design, landscape futures, and radial alternatives to the current world of design.

— Andrew Lovett-Barron, Designer and Software Developer, IDEO Palo Alto

Four Futures

When technology is discussed today, it is often as a great force of social change. When something is labeled “disruptive,” it is meant not only for a particular industry, but also for prevailing norms and institutions.

In this essay, Peter Frase explores four potential futures, playing out technological trajectories in differing conditions. Pieces like this remind me that technology is equally capable of exacerbating existing social structures as it is changing them. Increasingly, vestigial policies and attitudes (e.g. intellectual property law, as this paper explores via Colin Raney) may ossify and instead perpetuate magnified harm and ill-will.

The improvement of our lives and societies is not solely the responsibility of technology, nor can we expect it to be. We also need to change the contexts – political, economic, social, etc – in which technology is created and used.

— Francis Tseng, Interactive Developer, IDEO New York

Andrew Lovett-Barron is a designer, software developer, and artist with the IDEO Digital Shop. He explores code as craft in contemporary design practice, and is currently researching the Decay of Digital Things. You can follow him on Twitter at @readywater.