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The PT Bookshelf: From Design to Efficiency

Book reviews on design, traits, and efficient behavior.


By Warren Berger

The greatest innovators think like designers, whether they seek to end world hunger or build a better snow shovel. Certainly today's most successful businesses are design-driven; both Apple and Facebook elegantly organize huge amounts of data, filling a desperate need in this information-rich age.

Glimmer offers marketers insights into modern consumers, noting for instance that they'll often buy into a "culture": Consider the intricately conceived identities of Starbucks and Trader Joe's. Designer Bruce Mau, featured heavily in the book, urges companies to "go deep" and immerse researchers in the daily life of a population to discover its needs.

Glimmer holds inspiration for non-marketers, too, with its accounts of regular folks who had a "Glimmer moment"—a sudden vision of the possible—and followed through to create something useful. The popular OXO ergonomic kitchen tools, for instance, emerged when a man watched his arthritic wife struggling at the stove.

Berger offers tips to spark such moments, such as breaking routine, brainstorming, and—especially—asking stupid questions. Be open-minded to any idea source, be it nature, neighbors, or pirates: The skull-and-crossbones is one of the most successful logos in history, after all. — Sonya Sobieski

You Are What You Choose

By Scott de Marchi and James T. Hamilton

Why do different people make different decisions? Maybe it's your TRAITS. The authors' system of evaluating how people choose examines six measurable characteristics: Time, Risk, Altruism, Information, meToo, and Stickiness. If you score high on the Risk scale, you'll be the first to try something new. If your Stickiness is high, you might have been among the few to stick by President Bush as his approval ratings plummeted. Researchers Hamilton and de Marchi provide an interesting scaffold on which to predict or interpret choices, working from surveys of more than 30,000 individuals. But since people are complex, looking at one trait at a time can only get you so far. — Dave Levitan

The Perfect Swarm

By Len Fisher, Ph.D.

Simple rules of thumb govern complex behavior in many animals, from schooling fish to swarming locusts, and, yes, even humans. By using the concept of swarm intelligence, Fisher illuminates how some of the most complicated problems we face can be solved with the simplest solutions. UPS, for instance, found that making right turns on delivery routes is more efficient than making left turns—and saved three million gallons of fuel in one year. Fisher jumps with proficiency from locusts to pedestrians to computer algorithms to stock markets, and although the connections can be tenuous at times, one never loses sight of the big picture. — Dave Levitan