Creativity Design Design Thinking Education Innovation Prototyping Startup Usability User Experience

What are the must read books on UX

You are going to be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read – Charles Jones

Ponmariappan, a hairdresser in Tuticorin, gives customers 30% off if they read books while waiting their turn.  He couldn’t study beyond the 8th standard, so he wants more people to read.  But there’s a catch.  You have to write the gist of what you read in a small book first. More power to him!

Reading books can inspire you, reduce stress, is good for the brain, develops your verbal abilities, helps you discover and create yourself.  Read books that will shape your thinking.

In this article, I share my learnings from below UI UX books –

ResearchThink Like a UX ResearcherDavid Travis, Phillip Hodgson
DesignThe Pocket Universal Principles of DesignWilliam Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler
UsabilityDon’t Make Me ThinkSteve Krug

I’ll be updating this list whenever I read new books that I think will help you in becoming a better researcher and designer. Do subscribe to my blog to get automatic updates.

Think Like a UX Researcher by David Travis and Phillip Hodgson

This book will encourage you to think beyond the obvious preconceptions of UX research. You’ll learn how to plan and conduct UX research, analyze data, persuade teams to act on the results.  You’ll develop a more strategic view of product design that helps you focus on optimizing the user experience. It shifts the popular dichotomy of quantitative versus qualitative into attitudinal versus behavioral data.  This helps you evaluate the strength of the evidence more critically.

Think Like a UX Researcher by David Travis and Philip Hodgson

1 – This book emphasizes the importance of psychology and experimental design
2 – User research implies a focus on users only. In contrast, UX research encourages a more strategic focus on what really matters – the user’s experience.
3 – Quantitative data simplifies complexity, qualitative data articulates it – Emmet O’Briain. Quantitative research in user experience shouldn’t be done at the expense of the more qualitative side. Sometimes speaking to a handful of people gives you much more useful information for your product than surveying thousands.
4 – Research is not just about cranking out methods and doing studies. Research is primarily a way of investigating and thinking about a problem. Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and think differently about the problems that you’re trying to tackle. Avoid being gullible, develop healthy skepticism, challenge things, sharpen your thinking faculties.

The Pocket Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler

This book is a penknife that includes great compilation of 150 design principles in the inter-related fields of engineering, architecture, design, and psychology.  The information presented is concise and diverse with at least one example for each principle.

The Pocket Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler
The Pocket Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler

Here are my 5 favorite design principles –

80/20 Rule80% of product usage involves 20% of its features
AccessibilityBe inclusive by making product usable by everyone
ControlPut the user in control of the system;  novice performs best with less control; expert performs best with more control
ForgivenessThe most forgiving design helps user avoid making errors;  If the user makes error, the design should provide the ability to recover from it quickly and easily without getting penalized
GamificationIncrease user engagement and hone human motivation by rewarding desired behavior, provide frequent meaningful feedback, illustrating achievements in visible ways

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

A classic. This book is your go-to source for anything on usability. Usability is a big part of UX, making this a great book to help you as a UX professional. Steve Krug states that good design is design where you do not have to think about how you should interact with the design.  Good design makes it easy for you to complete your tasks.

Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

Revisiting 7 principles from Steve Krug’s common sense approach to Web and mobile usability –

  • Your goal should be for each page or screen to be self-evident, so that just by looking at it the average user can say ‘I get it
  • Graphical user interfaces have long been built on principles of shifting focus – picking up a tool, opening and closing a window, etc. – but they still leave us staring at a cluttered screen. If something requires a large investment of time—or looks like it will—it’s less likely to be used. 
  • Get rid of half of the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.  Make it simple. Make it memorable.  Make it inviting to look at.  Make it fun to read.
  • As a user, I should never have to devote a millisecond of thought to whether things are clickable — or not
  • The main thing you need to know about instructions is that no one is going to read them
  • Occasionally, time spent reinventing the wheel results in a revolutionary new rolling device. But usually it just amounts to time spent reinventing the wheel. 
  • The only way to find out if it really works is to test it

Other factors to keep in mind with respect to usability –

  • The aesthetic-usability effect refers to users’ tendency to perceive attractive products as more usable. People tend to believe that things that look better will work better. Apple’s success is an excellent example of the competitive advantage of paying attention to aesthetics.
  • A mental model is what the user believes about the system at hand. This model is based on belief, not facts. Individual users each have their own mental model. Understanding the concept of mental models can help you make sense of usability problems in your design. When you see people make mistakes on your site, the reason is often because they’ve formed an erroneous mental model.
  • Consider adding a signature element.  The signature element of iPod’s design and user interface is the scroll wheel.   Yet, for usability and cost reasons, it has gone through four distinct generations in the short life of the product.   What is interesting is that the industrial design (ID) team, led by Jonathan Ive, has been able to accomplish this, and still preserve the essence of design language.

What has most value

Just like you can’t lose weight by reading a dieting book, you can’t achieve success simply by reading books written by the most wise and successful people of the world.  It’s the application of the knowledge contained in books, which plays a key role.  Practice what you learn from the books because the application of knowledge in the right way is the real knowledge which alone can lead you towards massive transformation.

Reading teaches you the best of what others already know.  Reflecting teaches you the best of what only you can know.  Writing helps you assimilate knowledge that otherwise you would forget soon.  Applying the knowledge gained through reading, reflecting, writing makes it stick with you, forever!

I’ll be updating this list whenever I read new books that I think will help you in becoming a better researcher and designer. Do subscribe to my blog to get automatic updates.

What books provided you breakthrough knowledge in UX research and design ?

Do share in the comments!

Like this article ? How about giving it a like and share ? Thank you!


By Ramesh Chandak

Principal Technical Program Manager

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