Power To The Public is a manifesto for anyone interested in how human-centered design can make a positive impact in our world.

Interview with Jessica Sutherland

Technology, Design, Critical Thinking—the shelves and read books on Jessica Sutherland’s Literal profile range from Seeing Gender by Iris Gottlieb to Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Throw in some books about interactive screen design or web design for an even broader mix. Learn now more about the reading habits and preferences of Australian user experience designer Jessica in the interview.

Right now, you have three shelves on Literal—Technology, Design and Critical Thinking. What is of interest to you about books in these genres?

What interests me so much about technology, design and critical thinking is how interchangeable they are. Each one is essential to the other, and our world as a whole. Technology and design are useless without critical thinking—and alternative viewpoints inspire original ideas. Original ideas can’t progress without new technology.

Critical thinking books have a wonderful power of making us reinterpret our beliefs as they’re a one-way method of communication; the reader does not debate with the author. We—the readers—can’t rebut like we’re used to in real life discussions, we simply have to consider. This model of publication relies on trust and a depth of expertise, something that seems to be fading throughout the online world, but only growing in a printed publication.

Here’s a wonderful quote, taken from an editor’s note of Scragend: “In the same way that the automobile allowed the horse to become a creature of leisure rather than one of labour, so too has digital publishing moved traditional publishing into the realm of luxury.”

Which book had the most impact on your life?

A book that has had the most major impact on my life right now would be Power To The Public: The Promise of Public Interest Technology by Hana Schank and Tara Dawson McGuinness. I’m a strong believer in the ambitious future use of public interest technology—a philosophy not just of design, but development, government and civics.

Power To The Public is a manifesto for anyone interested in how human-centered design can make a positive impact in our world. Public interest technology includes more than the traditional definition of technology that many digital-age meritocratics are used to and explores what role government will play in the future. Throughout my design career, I hope to make a difference using the principles of public interest technology, an emerging new job title of technologist.

Imagine a person that’s completely new to design asks for a book recommendation—what are you recommending?

Across the board, my recommendation would have to be The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, a timeless classic in how to create timeless user experiences through design excellence. Read it, and read it again.

And for anyone who is a member of a minority group in design, or simply wants to be an ally, Extra Bold is not just a celebration of our diverse design industry, but preaches everything from coming out at work, to the patriarchal roots of italic typography through critical essays, portfolios, and zines.

Do you have a favourite book quote?

“If we agree to outsource sex, birth and death to machines to have the illusion of control, we risk losing hold of our empathy, our imperfections, our agency, the contingency of our existence. Technology dehumanises us. Even if it really is developed with the noblest intentions.” — Jenny Kleeman, Sex Robots and Vegan Meat.

Kleeman explores new ideas and technologies surrounding the most essential pillars of our existence, sex, birth, death and food in her book Sex Robots and Vegan Meat. The quote I’ve chosen here shows the risks involved with not only the development of future technologies but the necessity of innovation at all. As she then goes on to state: “The ‘problems’ the innovations in this book are supposed to solve were caused by technology in the first place.”

We cannot simply proceed in a cycle of rapid innovation, replacing problems caused by technology with problemed technology. What should matter most in innovation is maintenance. For anyone interested in reading more about this, I recommend having a read of *The Innovation Delusion*.

How will your reading habits look like in the next five years

I’m not actually obsessed with how most people define growth—meaning while I hope my reading habits grow stronger over the years, I don’t aim to do this by simply reading more books, but rather by savouring each book in more detail, collecting more meaningful and timeless publications, and re-reading critical theory books to reinterpret them as I age.

Another one of my goals is to support more local book stores and stop purchasing publications from the online giants, and connect with others through my reading with book clubs, which is one of the reasons I joined Literal. Right now I’m obsessed with small-print photography zines, counter-culture and oddities. I picked up a book last week that is all about the mythical properties of fungi, something I couldn’t imagine myself reading five years ago! In summary, I don’t hope to read more, but to understand more of what I read.