To stay connected with the UX industry, you could attend retreats or live events, join a UX community, Facebook groups, and so on. But there’s another strategy that some designers don’t set aside time for—reading UX design books.
The best UX design books provide a unique way of understanding the origin of UX, its process, methodologies, etc. Some books are so insightful and practical that you may feel like you’re taking a UX design course all over again.
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Why should you read UX design books?
In an industry as dynamic as UX design, isolating yourself is one of the easiest ways to render your skill set obsolete. User needs and preferences are constantly changing. As UX designers, we must be able to keep up with these changes. One of the best ways to achieve that is by reading UX design books.
Some books will help you understand how users think. Others will give you fresh perspectives on approaching UX design. Some even share practical research-backed tips on creating pleasant user experiences. Put simply; the best UX design books will enrich your learning journey, helping you become a better UX designer.
But it’s not all about improving your UX design skills. A few UX design books go beyond user experience design to teach you about business and entrepreneurship. This is critical if you want to take your UX design practice to the next level.
We’ve done the heavy lifting to compile the different types of UX design books that every designer needs to read. Of course, we’d love to see you read all the books on this list since they all bring something new to the table. But there’s no pressure. You can pick one and start your journey from there. The best part is that most of these books are quick reads, so they shouldn’t take too much of your time.
About Face by Alan Cooper, David Cronin, Robert Reimann, and Christopher Noessel is one of the most influential books in interaction design. We lovingly refer to it as the UX Bible. This book will help you understand how to create awesome, user-friendly designs.
Alan Cooper (also known as the “Father of Visual Basic”) also shares his Goal-Directed Design Method in this book. The method focuses on the three Ps; principles, patterns, and processes. You’ll learn how to understand users’ needs and behaviors. You’ll then be taught how to create a product design that actually meets the users’ needs.
About Face also introduces designers to a fourth P in the sixth chapter called Practice. You’ll find this chapter very useful, especially if you’re managing or building a team of designers. Cooper shares the strategy he uses to hire designers for his firm in this section. You’ll learn about the two unique roles of designers, “Generators” and “Synthesizers.” He’ll also explain why a successful UX design team needs both. It’s all pretty enlightening stuff.
In our opinion, this book is a must-read for all designers. Too many creatives struggle with talking about and presenting their designs. That’s a real shame because your work will only be recognized if you can actually garner support for your designs. That’s what this book will help you with.
Articulating Design Decisions by Tom Greever teaches designers how to better collaborate with and talk to stakeholders. It comes packed with actionable tactics on how to present your designs.
For example, you’ll learn how to prepare your slide deck and how to do the actual design presentation. You’ll also learn to empathize with stakeholders and see things from their perspectives. Your explicit and implicit listening skills will improve significantly after reading this book.
Think about this; you can’t really scale your design career if you can’t hold productive meetings with stakeholders. You also can’t operate in a silo—you need to interact with other people. This book doesn’t just teach how to hold these interactions. You’ll learn how to get the most out of them, which should ultimately help you create delightful designs and a prosperous career.
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman is a timeless classic. This book was first published in 1988, but it remains a favorite among most UX designers to this day. Sure, a lot has changed since 1988, but most of the principles discussed in the book are still relevant.
The Design of Everyday Things walks readers through the special relationship between designers and users. It also shows you how the design of simple devices can leave users questioning their intelligence. Think the “Norman door” that leaves people feeling dumb after pulling a push door or vice versa.
The entire concept of the book is actually perfectly captured in the book’s cover, which shows a kettle with the spout facing the wrong direction.
The revised book will leave you questioning some design choices. Like, should push doors have handles at all?! But, this is not just a mysterious book that’ll leave you with questions. Don Norman will also show you that creating usable designs is perfectly possible.
The Design of Everyday Things is a must-read for all UX designers (and aspiring UX designers!). The book focuses on the design of physical products, which makes sense since it’s 30+ years old. But since UX applies to both digital and physical experiences, most of the gems shared also apply to the design of modern digital products.
Creative Confidence was written by David Kelley and Tom Kelley. The two brothers explore the “creativity myth.” It’s an unfortunate myth that we all intrinsically know about. This myth has many people believing that creativity is something that only a select few possess. Creative Confidence shatters that myth, showing readers that there is no such thing as “I’m not the creative type.” Everyone has a creative side in them, period.
Just like the title says, this book gives you the confidence you need to explore your creativity.
David and Tom Kelley share several exhilarating stories throughout the book. They talk about their experiences working with different clients at IDEO. They also discuss the struggles and the fun side of innovations. You’ll learn how to use the everyday things that bug or annoy you to identify design opportunities.
Creative Confidence is an excellent read for aspiring designers and anyone else struggling with their creativity.
Start With Why is not a UX design-related book. However, it is a book that will expand your mindset and help you become a better UX designer.
As the title suggests, this book emphasizes the “why.” Why do people do what they do? It helps readers find their purpose, driving them to do better and become more successful.
The author, Simon Sinek, shares multiple examples of leaders and companies that focused on the “why” and how that influenced their success. He talks about Steve Jobs and Apple, for example—how the company focused on why they were creating their products. He then explains how that mindset elevated them into one of the largest companies in the world.
We’d recommend Start With Why to anyone, not just designers. For new and aspiring UX designers, this book will challenge you to ask yourself why you want a career in this field in the first place. Beyond that, it will teach you the importance of starting with “why” when creating a particular design. This mindset will help you create better product designs that actually deliver value and solve real problems.
Being presented with a vast number of options sounds good on paper. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in a position where they can choose between dozens of great careers, vacation destinations, etc.? It’s easy to assume that more options mean more freedom and better satisfaction. But guess what? That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Several experts, including Dr. Swartz, argue that the more options we have, the more doubtful, anxious, and overwhelmed we become. That’s the paradox of choice.
In this book, psychologist Barry Schwartz makes a counterintuitive argument that consumers don’t need too many options. He advocates for the limitation of choices and the elimination of unnecessary options. In doing so, he explains that consumers are likely to experience a greater sense of gratification with their choices. Fewer choices will also eliminate anxiety and self-doubt.
The concepts in this book will help you better understand human psychology. You’ll learn how to refine your designs with the user’s needs in mind—not their wants. Because while users may believe they want more options, in reality, more options will only overwhelm them. What they need is a pleasant and meaningful experience, which you can deliver in a simpler design.
Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden demonstrates the importance of prioritizing the product experience over deliverables. It teaches you to integrate UX design, product discovery, product management, and agile methodologies to create excellent solutions.
You’ll also learn how to create your designs in shorter iterative cycles. These cycles make it easier to assess and ensure your designs align with the users’ or business’s needs.
One thing I love about Lean UX is how practical it is. Gothelf shares some real-life case studies about how firms in different industries have implemented the tactics shared in the book. Make sure to have a pen and paper handy to take some notes.
Lean UX is a brilliant read. It’s especially helpful for folks who are already in the industry.
100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People is more of a reference guide than anything else. That’s why you’ll probably end up reading it over and over again.
Written by Dr. Susan Weinschenk, this UX design book takes you back to the basics. It teaches you how people see, think, read, and helps you better understand their motivations. Dr. Weinschenk also shares some tactics on how to utilize the latest research on social, perceptual, and cognitive psychology to create successful UX designs.
Moreover, the book will give you some priceless insights. You’ll understand what grabs and holds people’s attention. You’ll also learn the impact of central and peripheral vision, the perfect length for text, and how to make memories stick.
The knowledge and tactics shared will help you create better user experiences. Additionally, you’ll be able to build products that hold users’ attention and deliver higher conversion rates.
100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People is a must-read for beginners. Intermediate and experienced designers will also find it really helpful as a reference point.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is a best seller on Amazon with over 9,000 reviews. In this book, Ries provides a new approach to developing startups. He argues that most startups fail due to mistakes that can be avoided through the lean startup approach.
Instead of creating an elaborate business plan, Eric makes what used to be a counterintuitive argument that you need an agile and flexible approach. That’s what the lean startup approach is.
This book teaches entrepreneurs how to use “validated learning” and rapid experimentation to determine what works and what the customers really need. Through this approach, companies can adapt, adjust, and shift direction quickly based on what seems to work.
But it’s not just about companies or startups. According to Ries, the approach can work just as well for new product launches in companies of all sizes.
As you can tell, The Lean Startup doesn’t specifically talk about user experience, user experience research, usability, or any of that stuff. This book is more about how to build a new product or startup successfully in an environment full of extreme uncertainty. However, many of the principles shared in the book can be used during the UX design process. You’ll also find it very useful if you ever decide to launch your own business.
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without including Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. This masterpiece is wonderfully written with great utilizations of imagery and humor that are guaranteed to keep you hooked.
Written more than 20 years ago, the book is as educational as it is entertaining. It primarily focuses on usability. The author shares practical tactics for creating intuitive designs. Some of these tactics appear like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how easy they are to overlook.
Steve Krug also provides some tips on creating usable websites and the mistakes to avoid. For example, he talks about reducing the text on your design because it bores users. He makes his point using billboards as an example.
When people drive past a billboard, they’re likely to scan or skim through it in seconds. They don’t have the time to read every word. Similarly, websites only have a few seconds to capture the users' attention. That can’t be achieved with a text-heavy design. That’s why a solid UX design requires concise and clear text.
We also like that Steve Krug backs his tactics with examples and case studies throughout the book.
Every book on this list offers something unique that will help you grow into a polished UX designer.
So, whether you want to learn the principles of a good UX design or how the human psyche works, you’ll find the right book here. Also, most of the books on this list are perfect for designers of all skill levels.