Great reads of 2015: 29 articles on technology, design, and society

It's approaching the end of the year, so it's time to bust out the lists and ‘best-ofs’. I read a lot of articles on all things tech, product, and design as I put together a weekly link newsletter (you can sign up for it here). I tend to be most interested in emerging ideas, trends and studies about how tech is shaping society (and not just Silicon Valley). Here are some of my favourites of the year: articles that have either taught me something or got me to consider things in a new way. Hopefully you'll find them inspiring too.

Technology trends

The Web We Have To Save

“The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking. When I log on to Facebook, my personal television starts. All I need to do is to scroll.”

The adblocking revolution is months away (with iOS 9) – with trouble for advertisers, publishers and Google

“Now we’re all online, but somehow we’re meant to accept that web advertising is how it is, and never question or deviate from it? Nuh-uh. Why should web advertisers be immune from evolutionary or revolutionary change in user habits?”

Why ‘Assistant-As-App’ Might Be the Next Big Tech Trend

“I just opened the app and told Tim what I needed in plain English — like sending a text message. Then, I went about my day and an hour later I received a notification from Tim telling me he found the best two options. Would I like itinerary A or itinerary B? I picked one and he booked the flight. Done!”

Life After Content Blocking

“Once we start paying for articles, even in tiny sums, we’ll become much more selective. Irrespective of the amount, the move from free to paid will influence our choices. For many sites, crossing that chasm might prove impossible.”

The Devaluation of Music: It’s Worse Than You Think

“A little noticed but corrosive quirk of the digital age is the way our interfaces conflate music with all other media and entertainment choices. iTunes started it by taking software ostensibly for collecting and playing music and morphing it into a platform for TV, film, podcasts, games, apps and so on. This is both a symbol and a cause of the dwindling meaning and import of music in the multi-media onslaught that is our culture.”

The New Intimacy Economy

“Everybody knows Facebook is creepy. Nonetheless, all this time it never occurred to me to delete my account until it began doing this: Trying to act like a person. Pretending we are on a first-name basis.”

The rating game

“The rating systems used by these companies have turned customers into unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error.”

Society & technology

The end of capitalism has begun

“Today there is no pressure from the workforce, and the technology at the centre of this innovation wave does not demand the creation of higher-consumer spending, or the re‑employment of the old workforce in new jobs. Information is a machine for grinding the price of things lower and slashing the work time needed to support life on the planet.”

Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.

“Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted.”

The decline of the phone call

“But when it comes to taking phone calls and not making them, nobody seems to have admitted that using the telephone today is a different material experience than it was 20 or 30 (or 50) years ago, not just a different social experience. That’s not just because our phones have also become fancy two-way pagers with keyboards, but also because they’ve become much crappier phones.”

A 21st-Century Migrant’s Essentials: Food, Shelter, Smartphone

“For those traveling today, the prices charged by traffickers have gone down by about half since the beginning of the conflict, Mr. Ali said. The only part of the journey that most migrants still pay traffickers for, he said, is the crossing from Turkey to Greece. Many migrants now feel able to make the rest of the journey on their own with a GPS-equipped smartphone and without paying traffickers.”

Amanda Palmer: why fans choose to pay artists they love

“In street terms: locking up Internet content is the equivalent of issuing mandatory ball-gags for street musicians to be worn until an interested passer-by brokers a deal with a middleman who has a permit to remove the ball-gag, release the musician for a few minutes to play a song, after which point the hands are tied up again and the ball-gag goes back in the mouth.”

The Iran I Saw

“All of this means Iranians have unprecedented access to the world around them. It means they have much of the same knowledge at their fingertips that we do, practically for free. It means that an entirely new demographic is sharing ideas and digitally collaborating with each other.”

How Uber Is Changing Life For Women In Saudi Arabia

“Before Uber came to the country—it currently operates in Jeddah and Dammam, in addition to Riyadh—women relied on private drivers (if they could afford them) or the limo companies that Uber now works with (for regulatory reasons, Uber in Saudi Arabia does not work with contracted drivers using their own cars—all Uber rides go through existing companies). ”

Design/product process

Why You Should Always Write Down Your Bad Ideas

“Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Texas-Austin found that a larger variance in the quality of ideas leads to more positive progress generating high-quality ideas. In other words, the more your ideas pool includes a mixed bag of ideas — good, bad and mediocre — the more likely you are to stumble upon a great idea.”

Why everyone is a designer… but shouldn’t design

“When people give you feedback in the form of a solution, always ask them what problem they’d like to solve. If you still stick with a drum circle model, you’ll find that the design will get stuck in feedback purgatory at some point – or worse, people go with the path of least resistance.”

The Endless Suck of Best Practice and Optimisation Experts

“So if you copy things (your competitor, an AB test pattern) — it’s very easy to do this without any understanding of what you’re copying, what bits worked and the relevance or indeed comparative point (in any meaningful way) with YOUR customer base.”

Why Designers Think Users Are Lazy: 3 Human Behaviors

“Users tend to choose the path of minimum effort. And all the listed behaviors represent situations where the user’s perceived benefit of taking a better action is too small compared with the perceived cost.”

The Rise and Fall of Everest (the App)

“Start simple. Build a high quality solution to a real problem for a cohesive group of people. If you solve one problem really well, then you can move on to the next problem (one simple approach at a time) instead of trying to tackle several things at once and, as a result, not really solving anything. Product development is about earning the right to build the next thing.”

What nearly every startup can learn from Product Hunt’s brilliant go-to-market strategy

“Validate interest in the idea before writing code. When Hoover launched his ‘email first’ startup with the Product Hunt newsletter, he started from a position of strength: the community of product people and tech investors he’d built.”

What I'd tell myself about startups if I could go back 5 years.

“Multi-tasking isn't a thing, switching costs are huge, do one thing at a time and do it really well. Find a way to block out interruptions.”


Microsoft Thinks the Smartphone Is Over. It's Wrong

“That’s a huge problem for Microsoft, whose whole case for Windows 10 hinges on its ability to be a single platform across many devices—including, critically, devices that fit in your pocket. If no one builds Windows phones, and it now seems safe to say no one is going to, then that whole idea collapses.”

How to Win on Mobile: Understanding Micro-Moments and Consumer Behavior

“When we talk about mobile, most of us tend to focus on technology: responsive sites, apps, etc. But as UX designers and marketers we need to take a step back and become digital psychologists and anthropologists. We need to get inside the heads of our customers and understand their behavior on mobile. This approach will get us the insights we need to create great experiences that get results.”

Mobile App Developers are Suffering

“You buy tens of thousands of fake installs overseas within a small window of time in an attempt to push your app above the fold in the category chart. Once above the fold, you can cut out the fake installs, as your app will now be permanently cemented among the top few select. It’s a sickening practice, but just goes to show you how the mechanics of app discovery work today.”

When One App Rules Them All: The Case of WeChat and Mobile in China

“Along with its basic communication features, WeChat users in China can access services to hail a taxi, order food delivery, buy movie tickets, play casual games, check in for a flight, send money to friends, access fitness tracker data, book a doctor appointment, get banking statements, pay the water bill, find geo-targeted coupons, recognize music, search for a book at the local library, meet strangers around you, follow celebrity news, read magazine articles, and even donate to charity … all in a single, integrated app.”

Other interesting articles

Please, Not Another Bias! The Problem with Behavioral Economics

“Think of all the most expensive consumer goods – super yachts, high quality sports cars, gold Apple watches. In terms of transport or timekeeping there are much cheaper and in fact much more reliable methods, but the waste inherent in these goods makes them an excellent signal of resources.”

Why no one has solved event discovery

“Most users don’t proactively seek out events to attend as you might suppose. People simply don’t go to that many events, and of those they do attend, many are not anticipated with a high degree of certainty.”

Inside the failure of Google+, a very expensive attempt to unseat Facebook

“The slow demise of Google+ sheds light on how a large technology company tries and often fails to innovate when it feels threatened... Facebook is now larger than ever, with 1.4 billion users and a market capitalization more than half of Google's. It continues to poach Google employees. Facebook and Twitter are also slowly chipping away at Google's dominance in display ad revenue.”

That 'Useless' Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech's Hottest Ticket

“Now nontechnical people from clients and from her own company often occupy at least half the seats. The reason: Software development keeps getting more automated. The rise of content libraries and plug-in modules means that mobile apps can be built much faster, with fewer people. But the nontechnical side–getting everyone to agree on what an app should look like–is more labor-intensive than ever. ”

Last updated on 5 April 2017

product / technology / design / society / trends / news / articles / research /

Free UX design tools guide

Articles on similar topics