Reading Habits

The original of this article was published on Medium.

I have a distinct childhood memory, queuing up at the railway crossing that was always a feature of my school commute. I remember saying to my mother that I wish I could know everything. These days I’m quite happy not to know an awful lot, including how sausages are made, but it did lead to a reading habit. I still get a mixed feeling of being excited and overwhelmed when I go into a library or a big bookshop.

I’m not sure that I read any more than the average person, but I do have a kind of system. It was never really designed, but just grew. I’ve been asked about it several times, so I thought I would share it here.


I’m terribly sad to see RSS starting to die off as a format — it’s super useful. I use the Reeder or Unread apps and the RSS aggregator Feedbin to gather all the RSS feeds from a range of blogs and sources.

For regular reading, I have a “Regulars & Friends” folder that I check often. Others I look through more occasionally. Here is my subscriptions XML file if you’re interested. I don’t think there’s anything incriminating, but some algorithm might make sense of my personality from it.

Following and Automation

A key feature of this is some kind of outboard brain (there are downsides to that) for keeping track of it all. I don’t always have to remember everything, just that I saw something once and to know where to search for it again.

I follow some interesting folk on Twitter and I have IFTTT applet set up so that any tweet I favourite has its links saved to my Pinboard account, which I use as a bookmarking service a lot. I also use a browser bookmarklet and Pushpin on iOS to add to that.

LinkedIn occasionally turns up some useful articles, but I find it very noisy, so I only read it occasionally. It’s so spammy that as part of trying to have a more distraction free phone I deleted the app and only log in via a browser.

I still subscribe to mailings lists of a couple of things/people. John August’s Inneresting (the final nudge of inspiration for my Doctor’s Note newsletter), also The Ready, Austin Kleon, Dave Gray, Indi Young‘s very insightful newsletter, wry insights from Wait But Why, and occasionally Brain Pickings. I’m sure there are more, but I often forget until they land in my inbox.

I have a subscription to Business Insider newsletters on various topics, but filter that into a folder I barely read. I use it as a kind of news collector that I can search if I’m after anything. An occasional skim through keeps me up to speed.

Some of my reading, especially the research for Fjord Trends leads me back to my academic past and I gather a lot of research papers and material in a folder on Dropbox. I can’t share that, but it’s about 4GB right now. If I write anything that needs references, I use Bookends as a reference manager, which is also a useful searching tool.


My favourite news app way above all others is Quartz and I also subscribe to most of the Quartz Editions. I love their editorial style and philosophy. Quartz, The Guardian, the BBC, Reuters, and the main German news channels/apps are my daily commute/eating-on-my-own routine.

Fjord also have some great internal channels of links and a small group are pretty active in posting. Obviously, most of you won’t have access to that, but real people I know are still the best source of material.


I also listen to podcasts and audio books quite a bit, though less now that I’m not driving or commuting as much. Here are most of the ones I listen to. I read when I take public transport and listen while driving. BBC Radio 4 is my coffee break listen.


I’m a Kindle hoarder. I often download a sample almost as a bookmark. Then if I really like it, I get the whole thing. One of the only times I really get to read books is in bed and my Kindle Paperwhite is the best thing ever for that. I no longer disturb my wife with the light on. I often go back and search my highlights and notes.

Lest this sounds like an information flood, I’ve actually gone the opposite way. I’ve turned off all notifications from machines on my devices. So messaging apps and calendar come through, but no addiction nudges from Facebook, Instagram, News, etc. Actually I deleted many of those accounts and apps. That helps free brain space. The only one I allow is Headspace, since it nudges me in the other direction.

Despite the Kindle hoarding, I’m making an effort to read real books more, partly to reduce screen time, but partly, as one of my colleagues observed, because my daughter never saw me reading books. She just sees me staring at screens, even if I was actually reading a book or working. She still thinks its unfair that I get to look at TV — my laptop — all day. I try to make a point of reading books in her presence as well as the bedtime stories (which often contain their own wisdom).

Make Time

Now I sound like some life-hacking Silicon Valley bro. But actually Jake and John who wrote Make Time really had an impact on me and their tips really work. Making time to think and for ideas to stew is really important. Treat your brain like a slow cooker.

Crucial, I think, is to read widely. Everything from pop culture to academic research papers. I sometimes even check out Breitbart just to see what the other side are saying and to mess with the algorithms. Almost all my best ideas have come from serendipitously reading two disparate things within a close timeframe (the corporate culture and AI piece was a classic example).

So, there you go. Possibly entirely boring, possibly useful to you. I don’t do all of that all the time, but that’s the set up. And with that, I hope you find some time to either switch off completely or some quiet time to read.

This post was originally written for Doctor’s Note my newsletter containing a mix of longer form essays and short musing on design, innovation, culture, technology and society. You can sign up for it here.

Doctor’s Note

I plan to keep blogging here, though the slowdown of content has been mostly due to me procrastinating about platforms (WordPress, Hugo, Medium, newsletter). But that also made be procrastinate about writing.

So, in the meantime, I’ll be posting long-form writing on Medium as well as here, but also experimenting with a newsletter called Doctor’s Note—an irregular newsletter containing a mix of longer form essays and short musing on design, innovation, culture, technology and society. Much like this blog.

What with GDPR and all that, please consensually go to the sign up page to receive the goodies. I’ve set a goal to write something every week.

Service Experience Conference 2017 Closing Keynote

I had the pleasure of giving the closing keynote at the Adaptive Path Service Experience Conference 2017. There was a fantastic line-up of speakers and now all of the videos and decks are online on their summary of the conference.

I really recommend taking a look at all the talks, but I’ve embedded mine below (which might not work in the RSS feed):

Andy Polaine // Designing Living Services // The Service Experience Conference 2017 from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

Fjord Fika with Dave Gray


Fjord have recently started a podcast series called Fjord Fika, the Swedish word for slowing down and catching up with colleagues and friends over coffee and pastry. (Germans have a long tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen that I rather miss in Australia).

The Fika podcast features unscripted conversations with key luminaries and thought leaders in technology and design. We aim to take a fresh, honest look at all sides of innovation – the good, the bad and the ugly – and the impact on society. I had the pleasure of speaking my friend, multiple author and visual thinker extraordinaire, Dave Gray

He and I have often had long and interesting conversations that I wish we had recorded. And now we have. You can find it here and in all the usual places you get your podcasts. Have a listen and tell us what you think. Twitter is a good place for comments. 

Service Design. Now in Korean.

Service Design Book Korean Cover

Our book on service design was recently translated into Korean by Dr. Grace Bae from CMU HCII and Dr. Younkyung Lim from KAIST Design, Korea. It’s great to see the final result, even though I can’t read the language of course. Korean readers will have to tell me how it is. You can buy it online here.

Also, thanks to Dr Eunki Chung, a PhD graduate at the Human Computer Interaction Institute of Carnegie Mellon University who was assisting. There’s a nice circle that has been closed, since the book is a textbook for CMU Design’s Designing for Service course. The course was originally designed by Shelley Evenson in 2007, who is now one of my bosses at Fjord and Executive Director of Organisational Evolution.

Services need to manage reverse ID better

Having finally relocated to a permanent address in Sydney and re-docking with government and utilities, I’ve been experiencing the whole gamut of customer services. There are a whole host of things to register for and the way companies go about it is different every time.

The good news is that most of this is much better. I first got to Australia in 1999 and left in 2006 and I have many memories of having to go to government offices in person or being on hold to utility companies for ages. But there is still a lot of work to do.

Several companies have adopted the post-registration follow-up strategy. I can just see it as a sticky note touchpoint moment on some service or CX designer’s customer journey. The problem is many companies still have a view of the power relationship firmly placed in their camp – it’s still inside out. Here is what happened when my energy company, AGL, called me month into my contract with them. At least I assume it really was AGL:

Random caller on my mobile: “Hi, this is X from AGL, am I speaking to Mr Andrew Polaine?”

Me: “Er, yes.”

AGL: “Great. So I just wanted to welcome you to AGL and check that everything was set up on your account the way you want it.”

At this point I’m thinking, it’s a bit late, but one billing cycle in, so I understand why. And it’s a nice touchpoint so far. Then we hit an impasse:

AGL: “Before I go any further, I need to confirm some security details. Can you tell me your street number and name or give me your date of birth?”

Me: “Sure. But you just called me so I need to make sure you are actually from AGL. Can you tell me the last three digits of my account number?”

AGL: “I’m afraid I can’t do that until you confirm your account details.”

Me: “But I don’t know who you are. Do you not have any way to prove you are from AGL?”

AGL: “I’m sorry, I can’t give you any details until I confirm you for security purposes. But I understand if you are uncomfortable with this, so you can just give us a call anytime.”

The call centre contact was perfectly pleasant, but put in an impossible situation by policy and hamstrung by her script. It also turned something meant to be a pleasant, proactive touchpoint into work for me to do having to call them back. It also goes against the mental model of these kinds of interactions that other services, such as banks, have built in our heads – don’t give out your details to random callers.

This approach evidenced inside-out thinking, not customer centricity. The policy is probably “on all calls customers must identify themselves,” but the real world equivalent of my call was someone ringing my doorbell and asking me to prove I lived there when I answered the door.

Thinking through and acting out those kinds of interactions as if they were in-person and personal relationships is a simple way to get them right. In this case, AGL could have come up with a way to do a reverse ID check and even communicated this when I first signed up so I knew what to expect. It’s not a huge transgression, but multiple moments like that add up to a choppy experience. Thankfully AGL have been pretty good so far.