A business book? As a holiday present? "Jeremy," you ask, "are you serious?" Well, indeed I am. I don't often consider business books to be ideal gifting items, but X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, by Brian Solis, is an exception.

Experiences are incredibly important to customers. In fact, they are in large part what makes up your brand. And branding, after all, is all about differentiation. Without a strong customer experience, it's impossible to have a strong brand. X: The Experience When Business Meets Design makes an argument that great products alone will not make you successful in business; rather, creating and cultivating meaningful experiences are what is going to drive your brand forward.

If you're fascinated by the book's thesis that strong experience leads to strong branding, then you'll appreciate the different angles Solis takes to make his point. Some of the varied, fascinating topics covered in include:

  • How to create organizational alignment in order to architect experience
  • What human factors need to be taken into account to optimally design customer experiences
  • How to visualize an experience
  • What a detailed experience map is, and how to build one
  • Developing personas for your customers in order to truly walk in their shoes
  • Case studies from market leaders like Apple, Telstra, and Disney

What's so engaging about X  is how different it is from your typical business book: It comes across as if designed to be an experience in and of itself. Its beautiful aesthetic appeals to the reader emotionally; at the same time, its contents are heavy on substance. The cover and interior design by Mekanism, the award-winning ad agency, is the strongest I have seen in a business book ... ever, if I'm being honest.

"Over the past couple of years, Mekanism and I worked together as if we were designing a mobile app," writes Solis on his blog. "In fact, our working premise was how to make print feel as intuitive as anything you do in your smartphone or tablet. And more so, how do we make paper relevant in a digital economy."

Besides the physical beauty of the book itself, busy business people (I'm including myself in that category) will love the modular way this book reads. It feels as if you can pick up one page, absorb the whole thing, and then skip 20 pages and read an entirely different yet connected substantive idea. On one page, Solis might be explaining how smartphones aren't even really phones anymore, and that only 28 percent of customers truly prefer to resolve service matters over the phone, and a few pages later, he will be educating you on how your customers will take to Twitter to complain--in innovative ways--about awful experiences they have with your brand.

In fact, that's what Veronica and Ryan Block did. They were so frustrated about being unable to cancel their Comcast service over the phone that they recorded their awful experience and posted the audio to Twitter. The recording went viral in part because Comcast wasn't taking into account the overall customer experience; it focused on customer retention, and that's what made it so difficult for the Blocks to cancel their service. Rather than give a good experience to two customers who might return in the future, Comcast opted for the opportunity to be embarrassed on Twitter, in front of millions of people. This is why experience is so important to your brand's future, and Solis delivers this message again and again in different ways across this compelling book.

The fact that there really isn't anything else out there like X makes me tip my hat to Solis, and gives his book my top recommendation. Whether you're looking for a holiday present, a New Year's gift to a colleague, or an "anytime" gift for someone you're looking to inspire, X: The Experience When Business Meets Design is a great option.