10 Books for User Experience Designers

User experience design can make or break a product. Computers understand things differently than we do. Unless we want to pay all of our attention to a device (which we usually don’t) we need to design the way a person interacts with a device.

The following are ten books I keep going to again and again as I do UX Design. I’m going to outline why I find them so useful below:

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  1. Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things
    by Donald A. Norman

Emotional technology can be something that’s beautiful to look at and something we want use. Norman also argues that objects that are designed to be beautiful as well as functional seem to work better, even if they function just like other less beautiful objects. This book is all about how we can love or hate objects with identical functions just because of design. This book is essential for understanding how to create products that work with people instead of against them.

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2. The Design of Everyday Things
by Donald A. Norman

When was the last time you used an object that you absolutely hated? What was it? A shower knob or a change machine? Maybe you were buying a ticket online and had a difficult time? This book is all about noticing and understanding why things are designed the way they are. It is our role as designers to make things easier to use for people, and this book can help you understand just how important and possible that can be when you pay close attention.

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3. Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook
by Bill Buxton

This book will prepare you to sketch pretty much any experience under the sun. This is a great way to learn the shorthand that user experience designers use — wireframes! For designers who want a lot of practice wire-framing, get yourself this book, stat! Then dive deep into it. It will keep you busy for days.

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4. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
by Steve Krug

The title says it all — how can we make usable web applications that allow us to get the most done in the least amount of time? A great web app leads us into what we need to do next. It doesn’t put us on pause, or as Krug says — “makes us think”. Learn all about it with this book! Some thinking is great, but excess thinking is wasted time. Great design is getting people to their goals and then back on with their lives.

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5. Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design
by William Lidwell

This book is full of interesting tidbits why people react the way they do to certain interfaces. Want an example? Let’s examine Lidwell’s entry on the Savannah Preference:

“People tend to prefer savanna-like environments — open areas, scattered trees, water, and uniform grassiness — to other natural environments that are simple, such as desert; dense, such as jungle; or complex, such as mountains. The preference is based on the belief that early humans who lived on savannas enjoyed a survival advantage over humans who lived in other environments. This advantage ultimately resulted in the development of a genetic disposition favoring savanna environments that manifests itself today. It may be no coincidence that the parks, resorts, and golf courses of the world all resemble savannas — they may reflect an unconscious preference for open spaces.”

Your cluttered designers might be triggering a primordial fear response in your users. Give them some space! If you remember the Savanna Preference you might be able to put them more at ease.

This book is chock full of similar tidbits and insights that can help you make fantastic websites and products. A complete essential.

(Update: There’s also a pocket version!)

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6. Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become
by Peter Morville

I was hooked on this book from the moment I read the title. Morville’s fascinating book gives you insight into how people discover and search for information and how you can design experiences for people that remove frustration and improve efficiency (and joy!).

7. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People
by Susan M. Weinschenk

Repeat after me: User Experience is about people! Yes, you’re going to have to do client presentations and please your stakeholders first, but people are the eventual point of why you do what you do. And don’t forget it, because if you do, people will abandon your product.

This book gets you reoriented with how people experience the world, and can help you imagine yourself in their perspective. User experience designers must have many eyes and many brains to design effectively. This book will help you gather that brainpower.

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8. Calm Technology: Designing for Billions of Devices and the Internet of Things
by Amber Case (shameless plug!)

“The best technology is invisible, it gets out of the way and lets us live our lives”. -Mark Weiser

How can we design technology that becomes a part of a user’s life and not a distraction from it? This book explores the concept of calm technology, a method for smoothly capturing a user’s attention only when necessary, while calmly remaining in the background most of the time. You’ll learn how to design products that work well, launch well, are easy to support, easy to use, and remain unobtrusive.

This book was inspired by essays from Xerox PARC’s Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, two people far ahead of their time. Mark Weiser is not around to tell his story today, and this book is one attempt at bringing his work into the next generation.

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9. The Inner History of Devices
by Sherry Turkle (Editor)

Psychologist and social scientist Sherry Turkle is one of my favorite thinkers, and her books are gems for social research. This book is a collection of fantastic essays on the relationships people have with their technologies. One story includes a relationship stored in an old phone. Another involves records, and yet another explains why casinos and gambling are so addicting to play.

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10. Designing Interactions
by Bill Moggridge

This is the penultimate book of examples and tutorials related to interaction design. Bill Moggridge puts together a massive set of information for you. Although reading this book end-to-end might be fun, even more exciting is randomly opening the book to a story and then fully absorbing it. This book will expand your attention to design and detail through the histories and designs of widely used objects. And the stories are told by the designers themselves. Think of it like downloading the design brains of a bunch of superheroes.

Conclusions

What are your favorite resources for UX Design? What was the first book that really caught your attention and changed how you viewed the world?

Written by

Design advocate, speaker and author of Calm Technology + Designing With Sound. Research Fellow at Institute for the Future. Caseorganic.com

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