Books That Matter to Marty Neumeier


Branding is part and parcel of who we are as thing-making, idea-shaping, experience-crafting creatures.

Few people have helped me weave meaning and mission into brand-making for myself and clients more than Marty Neumeier. Marty is Director of Transformation at Liquid Agency, devoted to helping businesses craft amazing brands. He’s helped companies such as Apple, HP, Adobe, Google, and Microsoft do just that.

His books Zag and The Brand Gap are bibles for anyone interested in creative branding. Zag has lit up more than one of my smart clients, not at first intellectually or spiritually disposed to “branding.”  Marty’s latest book Metaskills: Five Talents for a Robotic Age offers an even more compelling, comprehensive mandate for why we need to meet the call to create with a design mind.

(Psst…We’ll highlight Metaskills in a new video series we’ll launch for you next week.)

Marty gets why captivating books matter. He writes them, and he learns from the ones he’s read. So, I’m delighted to share with you the Books That Matter to Marty Neumeier. From influences such as Soul Dust to Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, you’ll get why Marty Neumeier is not your ordinary “brand consultant.” He’s a visionary.

What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on
poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or
otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do
for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you
on as a young adult or last week that salved some pain or turned
your thinking upside-down.

I was recently charmed by a book called Soul Dust, about the nature of consciousness. It was written by British psychologist Nicolas Humphrey, who has an fluid writing style given the complexity of the subject. Consciousness is far from being understood, but a number of brainy people are working on it. What Humphrey does is catch you up on the various theories and findings, then examine them one by one to prepare you for his own theory, which is delightful.

What one detail do you still recall from that book?

To make his case, he invents a magical object called an “ipsundrum,” which despite it’s awkwardness—or maybe because of it—stuck with me. I was so taken with the book that I subjected my readers to Humphrey’s theory in Metaskills.

The one book you have most often re-read is what?

For some reason I rarely re-read books. This is wrong, because you should re-read the books you love, the same way you re-watch movies and re-listen to music. How else can you learn what you like? The one book I’ve read more than a few times is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I admire its brevity and mnemonic tips on writing. I’ve written three successful books on brand innovation by combining the verbal brevity of Elements with the visual bravura of The Medium is the Massage, designed by Quentin Fiore. Now you know my secret.

The kinds of books that most irritate you are what?

Since my books fall generally into the business category, I read a lot of business books. I’ve come to despise—or at least look askance at—books that take a small idea and pad it with stories and case studies in order to fill 300 pages. I often find the stories corny, tedious, and unconvincing. I know, I know. Most readers think the stories are the best part. But there are two kinds of writers: those who illustrate and those who design. Illustrators take simple principles and flesh them out into complex stories. Designers take complex stories and uncover simple principles. I’m in the second camp.

Survey: Roughly what % of books do you read digitally versus in
paper? (What’s your preferred reader?)

I think the paper vs. digital argument is a false question. I like paper for its sensuality and digital for its practicality. Printed books benefit from a design tradition that goes back 600 years, while ebooks are still fairly primitive. Digital design is catching up, of course, and might eventually become 90% of the market. Remember, though, photography didn’t make painting obsolete, and cars didn’t make horseback riding obsolete. Print, I imagine, will only become more precious.

In a sentence or two, what’s your forecast for the future of

The near future of publishing, in my view, will be dominated by inexpensive ebooks ($4.99 or less), and more expensive ebooks ($9.99 or more) that have rich features such as video, sound, and interactivity. The cheap ones will be so cheap that readers will buy as a sort of reading list. This could drive unprecedented volume.

What do you hope readers discover from your books?

What I hope my readers take away from my books is that business at its best is human. And because it’s human, it can be improved through the use of aesthetics, empathy, and thoughtful design.

If you had five days off to read books next week, which books
would you at last read?

For me, five days is only enough time to get through one or two books, since I take notes and do research while I read. I might read Jaron Lanier’s new book, Who Owns the Future? In fact, I will. There—just ordered it.

What little-known book do you most relish and champion?

The book I think every thought leader should read is What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly. It has an original and thought-provoking premise: technology is an extension of our evolutionary biology. Kelley supports it with tons of relevant evidence. A near-perfect book, in my opinion.

What book are you most embarrassed to say you never read?

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t read Catcher in the Rye when it would have made a difference. Now I think I’d find it shallow, the same way I find The Fountainhead shallow. The Fountainhead plays to a designer’s worst instincts. My advice is to read it, then do the opposite.



To learn more about Marty’s latest project and his creative framework for designers, engineers, scientists, and artists, visit, http://www.liquidagency.com/metaskillsbook/.



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  1. Great to see Marty here and a wonderful profile chock full with stimulus! Thank you for featuring him…