Recommended Reading: Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling


I adore this slim, elegant, fun book about what design does, and I recommend it to UX Night School workshop participants and anyone else who asks me “What should I read to learn more about design?”

Let me explain- back in 2005, I was working as a librarian and archivist in Houston, and eyeing my next move. I was in my early twenties, and trying to figure out a lot about how to navigate the world. When I saw this pink paperback on the library approvals cart, I immediately seized it, recognizing Bruce Sterling’s name from his science fiction writing. What I found captivated me, gave me a set of challenges, and well, set me on a path I’m still exploring. 

As Sterling writes: “The ideal readers for this book are those ambitious young souls (of any age) who want to constructively intervene in the process of technosocial transformation. That is to say, this book is for designers and thinkers, engineers and scientists, entrepreneurs and financiers, and anyone else who might care to understand why things were once as they were, why things are as they are, and what things seem to be becoming.”

Sterling is a science fiction writer, not a designer or technologist, so his main motivation in this book is to draw us in, and to explore ideas about the past, present and future in regard to design, systems, networks, and technology, and to get us fired up about design and technology issues in our everyday lives. Over the years I’ve bought several copies of this book, given and lent it to my teachers, my students, my family, neighbors and friends. It’s come back with wine and coffee stains, and sometimes it hasn’t come back- which is probably the best compliment a book recommender can get. 

NB: Our recommended books are independently selected, and we work with our local bookstore and other partners to share them. If you buy something through our links, UX Night School may earn an affiliate commission.