Designers Book Club: Building a community, one book at a time

Our senior content designer Turi Henderson-Palmer, the founder of Zone’s Designers Book Club, explains how our colleagues’ love of design has blossomed across Cognizant Digital Experience…

Let me start by saying that ‘Designers Book Club’ is a misnomer — it’s not just books, and it’s not just for designers. It may have started that way, but it has blossomed into something much broader and more inclusive in recent months. As it should.

How it started

Zone’s internal Designers Book Club (not to be confused with Zone’s excellent Book Club series) began a few years ago as a way for Zoners to strengthen the design community by sharing what they were reading with the rest of the practice and the broader agency.

The premise was simple: one person reads an interesting and reasonably relevant book, gives a short presentation to the book club audience, then encourages a discussion about it.

How the book gets presented is completely up to the presenter but, as a loose outline, we asked for some, most or all of:

  • An overview of the book
  • How long it took to read
  • The best place to read it (on your commute, under your cat, in a plane, outside a café…)
  • The best and/or worst bits
  • What we will or won’t learn
  • Key takeaways
  • Who should read it
Radical Candor: How to be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity by Kim Scott

The initial uptake was good, and we covered a lot of subjects including Gamestorming, Superforecasting, and even our CEO, Roy Capon, popped in to present Radical Candor: How to be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity. And then everyone had too much work to do, and it went a bit fallow.

Book Club but bigger

After a brief hiatus, Designers Bookclub was given new life at the start of the pandemic as a way for Zoners to connect with each other outside of their project teams while we were all working from home. We’d had several new starters and a bit of an organisational shift and, with some people getting a lot of reading done during the lockdowns, it seemed like an excellent time to give it a bit of a jump-start.

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed

I don’t know if it was the timing, the topic or people simply wanting a reason to come together to talk about interesting things, but the first presentation in the reboot was absolutely lit. The book being reviewed was Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance, and the discussion afterword was so lively and engaging that it actually caused a shift in how we, as an agency, think about how we work. We now have an active ‘lessons learned’ repository and encourage everyone to review and contribute as we gain new clients and wrap up current projects.

Word of this small success got out. First, our Experience Design principal asked if she could forward the next invite to some of our new colleagues at Mirabeau so we could make some connections and help settle them in to their new role in the wider company. Before long, even more of our Cognizant colleagues were showing up through forwarded invites. It’s quietly gone from being a way to have a nice little chat about interesting things with a few like-minded people to creating and strengthening a design community within the broader organisation.

Books and beyond

We’ve covered a lot of topics in the past 18 months, including rhetoric, designing good services, and the power of introverts– and we’re not stopping there. After the last session, a colleague mentioned that she’s not much of a reader, but that she’s been listening to some incredible podcasts and now our next session will be a clever tie-in of a podcast to the Radical Candor book from before. I can see a future where we also include things like video and conference presentations. The sky’s the limit!

Every session in the reboot has been recorded and saved to a page built out on our internal Notion space so Zoners can watch them whenever they like, and we’re figuring out the best way to make those available to the rest of our colleagues. It’s exciting that this little group has become such an excellent ambassador and relationship builder, and I’m looking forward to where it’s heading!

We’re definitely going to need a new name, though.

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