Whether you’re just getting started or an old pro in user experience, there is always more to learn and new ideas to explore. Because user experience can encompass so many different fields, it’s crucial to cast a wide net and learn broadly. To that end, I’ve put together a list of essential books for UX practitioners across a variety of topics. These aren’t the only great choices, but they are a great starting point. Looking for more? Be sure to check out the UX Library.
These books are classics for a reason. They have helped to define user experience practice, principles, and process from the beginning. Don’t Make Me Think is a frequent gateway book, drawing scores of errant developers and unsuspecting business analysts into user experience with its easy-to-read style and great examples. You can’t read The Design of Everyday Things without looking at the world around you with new eyes, thinking about everything that could be made to work better. Akin to a religious or philosophical treatise, The Elements of User Experience skirts the line between practical and theoretical, laying out why user experience exists and how to practice it. About Face is an exhaustive study of interaction design, featuring general principles of good design, guides to the design process, and smart insights on common patterns.
While deliverables are only a part of the user experience role, they often constitute the bulk of what our work is judged on. Designing for Interaction will take you from strategy to tested prototype, exploring common approaches, principles, and even potential future interaction methods along the way. Designing Interfaces is a great reference to many common patterns, exploring the what and why of many elements we take for granted. In Prototyping, you’ll learn the process, principles, and common tools for making great prototypes and how to test them. Walk through almost any kind of UX project from start to finish with A Project Guide to UX Design, with great in-depth exploration of the many different types of deliverables and how to present them.
If the deliverables are what your clients and colleagues see of your work, research is how you get to the right deliverables. Rocket Surgery Made Easy is the perfect guide for anyone to start running usability tests. Research is more than just usability testing, and Just Enough Research is a quick and insightful guide to other helpful research methods. Once you’ve dipped your toes into doing research, eventually you’ll need the Handbook of Usability Testing, which is both thorough and practical. And after you master research with individual users, dig into heaps of data and understand the bigger picture with Quantifying the User Experience.
To design more effective sites and products, we need to understand people: their motivations, their stresses, how they think and why. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People will help you understand what motivates people, why they act the way they do, and how you can use that knowledge to build more engaging designs. When we design only from our own experience, our work can often fail in unexpectedly painful ways for some users. Design for Real Life looks at how we can plan and test for stress cases and bake kindness into our process and products. By creating Mental Models, we can better map the way people think and work to the way products and sites function. Finally, the habit loop in Hooked can help you build truly rewarding products that brings people back for more.
The crux of any great product or site is most often its content. How to Make Sense of Any Mess will help you think through structure, navigation, and organize your content in a way that makes it easy to find and read. The Elements of Content Strategy will introduce you to the principles, process, and craft of thinking through the content for any project. Nicely Said gets into the nitty gritty of writing great content, particularly for the web and digital products. And On Writing Well is one of the best guides to improve your writing, no matter what kind of writing you do.
Great visual design is the icing on the cake of a great user experience. The books above will help you craft more aesthetically enjoyable designs. The Elements of Typographic Style is considered the authority on great typography. Envisioning Information is a masterpiece on making information visually relatable and easy to assess. In digital products, visual appeal isn't just how something looks, but how it feels and moves. Designing Interface Animation will give you the tips and techniques to make your interface move naturally and help transition users from one state to another. Finally, level up your skills in the latest power tool for visual designers with The Sketch Handbook.
Some will argue that designers should code, and others will argue that developers should design. Personally, I think it's always a good idea to expand your horizons and learn new skills. Whether you're a novice or an expert, the books above cover a broad range of important development topics. Adaptive Web Design is a great guide to user experience and the principles of progressive enhancement from the development perspective. HTML5 for Web Designers is a great introduction to the many improvements to HTML that are now supported. Make the web more accessible makes it better for everyone, and Inclusive Design Patterns offers a comprehensive look at how to think and develop for more accessible sites. Responsive Design: Patterns & Principles takes a look at several common problems when designing and developing responsive sites and explores the best patterns to solve them.
Finally, there's the business of design to consider. How can you make your company, culture, and potentially even clients a more design-friendly environment? Rework is a complete rethinking of the typical business book, both in its advice and in its novel format. The concise, beautifully illustrated chapters will leave you thinking far longer than it will take you to read them. You can learn how Pixar approaches creativity, culture, and more in Creativity, Inc. which is equal parts corporate history and practical advice. In Design is a Job, you'll learn the tricks of the trade for winning clients, defending yourself with contracts, and presenting and defending your work. Finally, The Lean Startup will get you motivated to start testing ideas and building products more quickly and iteratively.