The design of our lives is much larger than just products. Design thinking is about problem solving, understanding the human condition and, to quote Ilse Crawford, creating “a frame for life.” Naturally, this extends to our relationships, our rituals, our openness to one another. The books we read, and the multitudes they contain, inform the design of our lives.
While books are gateways to real or imagined worlds, they are also part of the visual tapestry of our lives. They are physical objects whose beauty transcends the design of the jacket; just as our old friends appear to us forever young, our books emit more than just a surface beauty. The sleeves are visual reminders of the worlds they contain, the wisdom or experiences they have imparted. Their presence lets us know they are there for us when we need to return to them. 
During this past year of social isolation, when circumstances led us to confront more fully the reality of ourselves, our lives, and the things that truly matter, reassurance and guidance could be found in the written word. Here are some of the books whose wisdom and insight will have me returning regularly to their pages. With connection at the forefront of our minds during this time, even as we begin to emerge to some level of normality, this selection is about connecting to the self, to others, and to the larger community.
The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor

If ever there were a book to read and re-read regularly, this is it. Every page is dense with poetry, insight, humour and an urgent call to action. Taylor explores the concept she eloquently terms “body terrorism” and explains how our rejection of bodies, whether due to colour, gender, age, ability, size, or shape creates disconnection, upholds systemic oppression and, most dangerously, calls into question the very humanity of those who don’t possess what society deems the “default body.” Her prose is as kind as it is fierce, as she openly acknowledges that all of us are “fluent in body terrorism” and must be patient with ourselves as we try to move away from this way of thinking, both when it comes to our own bodies and those of others. It is an excellent reminder of the work we all must do to move toward a more just society.

Living Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD

The late author was a clinical psychologist and expert mediator who successfully meditated in highly charged situations, including between violent gangs and police, and initiated peace programs in war-torn areas including Rwanda, Serbia and the Middle East. His methods, outlined in this book and many others he authored, centre around creating space for everyone’s needs to be expressed, heard, and repeated back, to find solutions that, rather than being compromises, meet the distinct needs of all involved. This book provides excellent guidance on approaching conflict of all kinds with openness and respect, to build more compassionate relationships and, by extension, societies.

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

Often we think that gatherings must naturally take shape free of prescription in order to be authentic and welcoming. Priya Parker explains the error in this way of thinking. She champions a way of meeting that is born from considering specifically what you wish the gathering to achieve, and actively setting expectations to reach these goals. She argues that this structure frees people to be more open, more relaxed, and fosters deeper connections. This book was written before Covid, and though much of the information is relevant even through these strange times, a good companion piece is the podcast she created in partnership with The New York Times titled Together Apart, which explores the specifics of creating connection while social distancing.

All of the choices we make form the design of our lives, individually and collectively. Alongside careful decisions regarding our consumption of products, we must consider the ideas that feed our minds and hearts. With the help of a well-chosen book, we can see what we were previously unable to see, experience through the eyes of others, and learn to redesign our connection to ourselves and to the wider community.
Illustration by RIMA Studio