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What’s on my UX bookshelf

January 19, 2012

I regularly find myself giving a list of recommended reading to people who are looking to learn more about UX design or a specific topic. It usually ends up being the same 3-4 books that I recommend, but after one of these conversations recently I figured I’d take a few minutes to run through my bookshelf and put together the extended list of all the books + blogs that I’ve read and would recommend. This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list of all UX good books, just the ones that I’ve had the time read.

General UX books

The Design of Everyday Things, Donald A. Norman
*most often recommended
A classic read from one of the gurus of UX. This is my favourite book to recommend to people who are just starting to understand and appreciate the importance of UX. It highlights the amount of design that we encounter and use on a day-to-day basis without ever noticing – which is a sign of successful design. After reading this you’ll never look at door handles the same way again.
Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things, Donald A. Norman
Don Norman’s follow up book which shows the journey he went on as a designer, where he went from focusing primarily on aesthetics/form to appreciating the impact that emotions and psychology have on the way we experience design.
The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond, Jesse James Garrett
This is best, most straightforward explanation I’ve found that can articulate the difference between Interaction Design, Information Architecture, Visual Design, UI Design, and how all this hangs together to create a website.
The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper
When it was first released this book challenged the common approach to design as being something that was done in a token way after the engineers has done all their hard work. This once pioneering book has now become a bit dated in my eyes. Not because it is any less relevant, but just because there are very few companies that don’t at least nominally acknowledge that user experience is important. Whether they do anything about it is another matter. It’s still a worthwhile read, but nowadays it just feels a bit like it’s stating the obvious.


Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug
*most often recommended

The is the classic book about web usability and how easy it can be get it right if you approach it the right way. A must read for anyone starting to get it to UX, and best of all it can be read in an hour or three.
Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability ProblemsSteve Krug
*most often recommended
The companion book for Don’t Make Me Think that is the best step-by-step guide to conducting usability testing you’ll find. Krug’s basic point is it really is straightforward and anyone can do it. This books shows you how easy it can be. This quick to read book will leave you ready to start conducting tests that day.
Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks, Luke Wroblewski
This is the book that I am the most thankful that someone took the time to write. Luke W. does a great job of answering the questions about how people use web forms. While he rightly doesn’t give any absolutes about what is the best layout, he provides research based insights to understand how all the little details, such as label placement, affect usability and can be applied. They seems like such small details, but anyone who has designed a web form knows just how important these details are…and how much time can be spent debating them.


Universal Principles of Design: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach through Design, William Lidwell & Kritina Holden & Jill Butler
A comprehensive collection of general design principles and concepts that can be applied equally across the various design disciplines. It covers anything from Gestalt principles, to colours, and storytelling. If you want to add some theory behind how some design patterns work, this reference does a great job of explaining all the concepts with visual examples.
Designing for Interactions, Dan Saffer
A good general overview about what Interaction Design is, how it works and how it fits in to the overall design landscape from one of the better known Interaction Designers, Dan Saffer.
Thoughts on Interaction Design, John Kolko
An intellectual look at the emerging field Interaction Design and how it can make a difference. John Kolko is one of the more inspiring Interaction Designers out there. He ties design theory in to making a practical difference.  It provides some great challenges and food for thought for experienced IxDs.
Envisioning InformationEdward Tufte
Tufte is one of gurus of information design and visualisation. This beautiful book uses historical examples from all over the ages to explain the subtle nuances of communicating information when designing maps, diagrams, data sets, etc.
Designing for People, Henry Dreyfuss
An old time classic, from one of the pioneers of Industrial Design. Written in the 50’s when the manufacturing boom generated the need for well-designed products as a differentiator, this book gives an insight in to how designers changed the world of physical objects; just as the UX profession is doing to the digital space now. It’s fascinating to the see the parallels.
101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, Matthew Frederick
Some great design food for thought. UX design shares a large amount of knowledge, principles and practices with Architecture. There is a lot we can learn from this well-established discipline. Similar to the Universal Principles of Design above, this book captures some general principles that can be applied to lots of different areas.
Getting it Right with Type: The Dos and Don’ts of Typography, Victoria Squire
Good typography is a key element in any kind of design work. Having a good understanding of how it works is something that everyone can benefit from.

Strategy & Planning books

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur
The Business Model Canvas is one of the most useful tools you can find to help drive and inform product strategy conversations.
Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World, Peter Merholz, Todd Wilkens, Brandon Schauer, David Verba
A great book on the changing nature of business and how to produce innovative products. Focused on the strategic side of business.
Rework: Change The Way You Work Forever, Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
This captures the essence of start-up culture and how to work effectively in small teams. For people working in large bureaucratic organisations this can seem like a fantasy-land utopian state, but a lot of the mindsets and approaches can be adopted regardless of where you work.
Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands, Marty Neumeier
If you need some inspiration about how to think outside the box and be different in your product strategy, this book helps outline how to embrace an innovative mindset.

Human Behaviors

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
We all experience being in-the-zone, a.k.a. the flow. Some of us try to design for it, but few people really understand the psychology behind how it works. This captures the insights of someone who has dedicated years to understanding it.

Agile & Lean

The Lean Startup, Eric Ries
*most often recommended
This book has started a movement. Eric Ries, with his Build-Measure-Learn cycle provides a language and a methodology for reframing the way we run businesses and products. The best part is that it isn’t just for people in garage start-ups. It applies equally to enterprises.
Agile Experience Design Lindsay Ratcliffe & Marc McNeill
Another book that falls in the category of books that I’m glad someone took the time to write. Fellow ThoughtWorkers Lindsay and Marc have put pen to paper to capture the approach and techniques that we use to experience the benefits of going Agile.
The Toyota Way, Jeffrey Liker
One of the must reads for anyone looking to learn more about Lean and Agile practices.

Tools & Techniques

Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Service, Kim Goodwin
A great reference book and how to guide for the UX/Interaction Design process. It covers everything from project inceptions, through research, prototyping, and on to detailed interaction design. Not something you’ll read from cover to cover but great to be able to refer back to when you need to figure out/remember how to do something.
Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, Dave Gray & Sunni Brown & James Macanufo
For anyone who runs a lot of workshops or activities this is a great resource. The games themselves are useful for inspiration, but it is worth reading just for the first chapter that explains the structure and mechanics of how games work.
This is Service Design Thinking: Basics – Tools – Cases
The first book to be written that is dedicated to Service Design, it gives a good overview of what it is all about, the tools and techniques used, and some useful resources/templates to help get started with it. It’s also a beautiful example of information design in itself.

Research methods

Measuring the User Experience: Collecting, Analyzing, and Presenting Usability Metrics, Thomas Tullis, William Albert
If you want to tighten up your research methodology and back up your findings with solid stats, this shows you how to do it.
Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research, Mike Kuniavsky
A great capture and explanation of the tools and techniques in the UX research toolbox.
Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior, Indi Young
Mental models are one of my favourite tools for communicating research findings and human behaviours. A simple, but effective tool this book will show you to create them.


Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design, Bill Buxton
*most often recommended
Bill Buxton of Microsoft fame outlines the philosophy behind sketching and prototyping products. He highlights that value of exploring ideas with sketching and prototypes before launching in to the more costly build phase. It’s also filled with great case studies.
The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, Dan Roam
A great guide for anyone trying to improve the use of their sketching skills as a facilitator. It’s not so much a how to guide for drawing, but more a way to help visualize and explain problems.
Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide, Todd Zaki Warfel
A good overview of creating and using prototypes. It’s main focus is an in-depth review of the prototyping tools that were around at the time of it being published, full of great tips and techniques on how to use them.

Design Blogs that I read

Some good user experience/interaction design/information architecture/graphic design blogs that talk about tools, techniques, resources and challenges:

Well known people’s blogs

Future Perfect – Jan Chipchase
Jan Chipchase was once described to me by one of his colleagues as the ‘Indiana Jones of the design world‘. He’s been conducting international ethnography research for many years now. His blog is generally a collection of photos and thoughts from all over the world. Great for remembering that there are other countries and cultures out there. He makes me jealous of his experiences, but grateful for being able to regularly sleep in my own bed.

Jacob Nielsen’s Alertbox
The blog from the self-styled ‘guru’ of Usability. Jacob Nielsen was one of the pioneers of web usability and has been preaching about his research findings and usability guidelines for years. While he can be criticised for focusing on a very narrow view of user experience and placing no value on design (his unchanged website design has been proof of this for years) he does still come up with some useful research based insights from time to time.

User Interface Engineering Brain Sparks
Another celebrity of Usability, Jared Spool has been blogging and talking at conferences about usability and interface design for years. This blog is a thinly veiled marketing vehicle for UIE conferences and seminars, interviewing industry experts about topics that they are about to present on. However, this doesn’t stop its articles and interviews from being worth listening to.

Good Experience
A blog from Mark Hurst who has been blogging about customer experience, user experience, human experience since before UX was called UX.

Ask ET
A discussion forum about Information Design, hosted by Edward Tufte, the guru Information Design.

Cooper Journal
A blog about design, business and the world we live in from the company that bears the name of Alan Cooper.

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