7 must-read books for anyone interested in UX design
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
Books are one of the most essential learning resources. Regardless the subject books are always the best way to learn basics or improve your current skills quickly and systematically. Whether you’re a student or senior practitioner, these helpful must-read books books can deepen your UX Design, Usability and HCI knowledge. Good design is never easy. It doesn’t matter where you’re at in UX design - beginner, intermediate, or expert, you should keep learning and working hard to improve your design skills.
So, here are 7 of the must-read UX books, I chose the following titles either because they have played a significant role in the way I view my place as a UX designer or because they address foundational design topics that every UX designer should understand. I am sure they will help you anytime, anywhere.
1. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Don Norman is considered to be one of the founding members of modern UX design. The Design of Everyday Things was first published in 1988, and it’s known as the usability bible. It’s a must-read for anyone who designs for humans. The book’s main theme explores the relationship between a user and an object’s design. It highlights that although we’re often keen to blame ourselves when objects appear to malfunction; it’s rarely the fault of the user but rather poor design.
The book claims that: “It could forever change how you experience and interact with your physical surroundings, open your eyes to the perversity of bad design and the desirability of good design, and raise your expectations about how things should be designed.”
Its insights are just as relevant today as they were thirty years ago, making it a UX classic.
2. The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web by Jesse James Garrett
Jesse James Garrett is a UX designer who has worked on the web since 1995. Aside from writing The Elements of User Experience, Garrett has developed the Visual Vocabulary, a notation system for documenting UX design; and defining Ajax, an approach to creating web applications. His book The Elements of User Experience adds more structure to UX design theory classics like The Design of Everyday Things and The Inmates Are Running the Asylum.
It carefully dissects the UX process and looks at how its various stages influence a product. Here’s what you can expect to read:
“With so many issues involved—usability, brand identity, information architecture, interaction design— creating the user experience can be overwhelmingly complex. This edition cuts through that complexity with clear explanations and vivid illustrations that focus on ideas rather than tools or techniques. Garrett gives readers the big picture of user experience development, from strategy and requirements to information architecture and visual design.”
It’s another foundational UX book that you’ll want to keep close to your desk.
3. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug was first published in 2000. It examines how good software is easy to use, and why it shouldn’t make you think. This is reflected in its writing style. It’s like reading a very well-written, punchy comic book. You’ll instantly understand the points, but it will also make you think deeply about usability and accessibility. You’ll understand UX – what it’s about and why research is so important.
It uses real-world analogies to illustrate how UX can make products and people’s lives so much better. Krug thinks that people are good at satisficing, taking the first available solution to fix their problem. He thinks design should take advantage of this opportunity.
His publisher says that “anyone involved in creating digital products should read this book.” I agree.
4. Human-Computer Interaction: Concepts And Design by by Jenny Preece, Yvonne Rogers, Helen Sharp, David Benyon, Simon Holland, and Tom Carey
Offering the most comprehensive account of the multidisciplinary field of HCI, this book illustrates the powerful benefits of a user-oriented approach to the design of modern computer systems. This is a classic book about human-computer interaction. Despite it is nearly 30 years old, its topics are still very current and it is highly recommended for an interdisciplinary point of view.
Human-Computer Interaction is flexibly structured to allow a variety of learning paths for students in computer science, engineering, psychology and cognitive science. Programmers and system designers will appreciate its emphasis on the design of interactive systems. A unique feature is the inclusion of interviews with many leading authorities in HCI, providing personal insight into their work and conveying the excitement of current research activity: Deborah Hix, Roy Kalawsky, Marilyn Mantei, Tom Moran, Donald Norman, Brian Shackel, Ben Shneiderman, Bill Verplank, and Terry Winograd.
I personally have used this book in my course in Usability and User Centered Design, and have found that the presentation and segmentation of issues in the book provides a good framework to teach the concepts of HCI especially to Computer Science majors.
5. Prioritizing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen
In 2000, Jakob Nielsen, the world's leading expert on Web usability, published this book that changed how people think about the Web. Funny enough, despite 20 years, many of the problems of that time are still on the Internet. Anyone who has any influence over the design and creation sites should be made to read this book. Even better, each client should be made to read it as well.
Even with the web being more then a decade old, sites continually make the same simple mistakes that frustrate and turn away users. Every lost customer due to simple web usability problems is just money straight down the drain.
Prioritizing Web Usability really gets to the heart of creating sites that users find unobtrusive and that enable them to reach their goals with as little hassle as possible. From focusing on writing good content that users can understand, to the placement of elements on the page, Jakob Nielsen and Hoa Loranger really lay down the guidelines that we should follow to create successful sites.
There are plenty of good examples throughout the book, with demonstrations of how sites were improved or at least suggestions as to where things could be changed. And it's an extremely accessible with concepts written clearly and concisely.
Throughout the book I was constantly thinking "Why did I not think of this before!" and was left with no end of ideas for tweaks to make to my own site in the hope of making them better.
6. UX Research by Brad Nunnally, and David Farkas
Nunnally and Farkas cover things to do before you begin research, logistics around scheduling (certain forms of qualitative) research, a general outline of research methods (qualitative and quantitative), some clever tricks for interviewing, and a few good rules of thumb for what to do to finish up a bit of research.
The goal here is to transition your organization from a place that makes decisions based on mere opinion to an organization that makes decisions based on opinions referencing research (p 195). I am skeptical that this transition really happens most places, but it obviously makes a place for someone to do UX research that will benefit users, so it makes sense as a goal.
There is a lot of good stuff in this book. In particular, on the sections on improve UX research and body language, which could be helpful in developing your soft skills for qualitative research. The bigger picture here is weak, and as a technical manual it’s not very thorough. Still, I think it incumbent on the blossoming researcher to study what others have learned, then go out and learn it all over again yourself!
7. Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams by Jeff Gothelf, and Josh Seiden
Team collaboration is one of the most effective approaches for designers to create a great product. So, to become an advanced UX designer, you should know how to collaborate with others effectively.
Lean UX is the perfect book for you to learn how to communicate and collaborate closely with team members of an agile product team, as well as gather feedback early and often. Whether you want to call the theory and techniques discussed in this book “Lean” or just “How we work” doesn’t matter as much, in my opinion. What is important is that we understand the benefits of moving towards a more iterative, outcomes-based design approach, while letting go of some our reliance on classic design deliverables.
Lean UX is a great overview of what an effective UX process should look like. There’s a good balance between theory, practical advice, and case studies. This makes it a valuable resource for those new to the field, but it also gives experienced UX practitioners a framework to structure and communicate the work they do every day. Highly recommended.
I couldn’t include all of my favorite user experience books on this list. There are just too many amazing titles, and I already have about three times as many on my “to-read” list. These must-read UX design books are a great place to get started if you’re looking for some summer reading to help you advance your design career.
Photo by Mohamed Boumaiza on Unsplash