UX Beginner Reading List

NOTE: THIS IS A READING LIST YOU’LL ACTUALLY FINISH

to skip straight to the reading list, click here. Or you can listen to my (helpful) rant. 

Most UX reading lists are awful. They overwhelm you with an endless barrage of titles with no context and no clear explanation why you should the books they’re recommending. Let’s stop the madness.

But Oz, books can get outdated so quickly. Why don’t I just read blogs or buy video courses?

I’m glad you asked.

Why Read Books in the First Place? 

One of my favorite books, the Alchemist, was published by Paulo Coelho in 1988. The lessons and stories in the book are so timeless that I reread it, year after year.

The basic theme of the book is pretty simple: pursue your dreams with an earnest heart, and enjoy the process along the way.

What if someone just told me that’s the lesson, and I don’t need to read the whole book?

You know that’s hogwash.

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The human brain is wired to remember stories, and books are far more likely to contain a story arc than other formats, helping you remember important information. Books allow space for the author to build a relationship with the reader through voice, tone and storytelling.

For UX Beginners, a good book will ground you in UX fundamentals and help you learn the lingo. There’s a difference between casual reading and taking the time to study a topic. And anything worth doing – switching to a UX career – requires study.

There have been interviews where colleagues and I wondered “Has this applicant even read a UX book?”

I guarantee that reading books will make you seem more knowledgeable to others.

3 Principles Behind this Reading List

Reading books may seem like a pain in the ass, but I’ll make this process easier for you with 3 Principles in this reading list:

Principle 1: Order

The list starts with easy, enjoyable books. There’s no point starting your journey with a huge academic read. That’s like running a marathon to train for a 5K. So we’ll start off with books that are useful, have stories you can remember, then move on to some bigger, reference-type books.

Principle 2: Context 

There will be a concise summary of why I think each book is important and why you should read them.

Principle 3: Repeatable

All the books in this list I’ve gone back to time and time again. The best books are repeatable – the more you reread them, the more mastery you’ll gain.

Without further ado, let’s get started. Here’s my top 10.

The UX Reading List (10 Books)

Don’t Make Me Think

ux-beginner-reading-list-dont-make-me-think-steve-krug

You know how products often claim that they’re “easy to use?” Steve Krug’s classic actually explores what makes websites easy (or difficult) to use with tons of examples and neat illustrations.

Don’t Make Me Think helps UX Beginners get away from the vague notion of “making positive user experiences,” by anchoring UX in the study of usability.  I recommend this as a first read since the content is so applicable to design projects.

  • Topic: Web Usability
  • Why Read It: Extremely practical and quick read. You can read the book in a few hours or over a weekend.
  • When to read it: When you’re stuck on a web design project
Web Form Design

UX Beginner Reading List Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewski

I guarantee you that in almost any user-facing digital product you work on, you’ll have to deal with forms. Signing up for something. Sending a message. Increasing the contribution amount on your 401k. Web forms on their surface sound boring, but Luke Wroblewski will change the way you look at them forever.

Checkout forms are how ecommerce vendors close deals—they stand between people and the products or services they want and between companies and their profits.Luke Wroblewski

One of the tricks to learning something so broad like UX is to hone in a subtopic like web form design; the principles learned here will translate to other areas of UX.

  • Topic: Web Forms & Usability
  • Why Read It: Another short, fun and practical read. This book will make you a more effective designer who can help increase conversions through better form design. This is stuff that makes businesses money!
  • When to Read it: It’s good knowledge to have upfront (now), but particularly useful whenever you have to deal with user input of any sort.
Designing for the Digital Age 

UX Beginner Reading List Book Designing for the Digital Age

I’ve waited until the 3rd recommendation to drop a big ass book on you. Kim Goodwin’s Designing for the Digital Age is a thorough handbook that walks you through the entire design process, from setting goals, to research, to design.

This is one of those books where it makes sense to take an a-la-carte approach – read the sections that interest you.

If you’re right at the beginning of a huge project, starting from the beginning to end will guide you in the right direction. This book is a required read for some UX classes.

  • Topic: General UX reference book that covers design process in depth
  • Why Read It: Not a quick read, but gives you deeper understanding of the field. This is the type of book that gives you a sense of the design process that many UX hiring managers are looking for.
  • When to Read it: After you’ve read some quick, fun books on UX. Meant for repeated reference.
Design is a Job

UX Beginner Reading List Book Design is a Job

Mike Monteiro is a boss. His has one of the clearest, no-bullshit voices in the design industry and is known to tell it like it is.  Even though I’ll read anything Mike comes out with, Design is a Job is on this list because of the career advice he shares.

Monteiro reminds us that designing is about people: this book is full of advice like how to present yourself as a designer, working efficiently with clients and how not to be an asshole in this field. I also find this book deeply inspiring, and will be returning to its book again and again.

  • Topic: Design career advice, people
  • Why Read It: Quick read that is full of LIFE LESSONS, sage knowledge about working with people, and some laughs. Reading this will make you want to meet Mike Monteiro.
  • When to Read it: For anyone who expects to present their designs or work with clients. Particularly useful if you work at an agency or are trying to start your own.
Just Enough Research

UX Beginner Reading List Book Just Enough Research

Mike Monteiro’s other half at Mule Design, Erika Hall, is an equally rare breed of human. She really clarifies how research can make your projects better successful, and doing it without much time or budget.

You, however, are not a professional researcher, which means you need a book written for you— a book that covers a lot of useful ground in few words and makes some of the basic concepts and techniques more accessible. That’s this book. Erika Hall
  • Topic: UX Research
  • Why Read It: Explains what design research is + how to do it in an actionable format
  • When to Read it: When you’re unsure about the direction of a project and need more insights…you need more research = time to reference this book

If you read just one book on UX research, read this one.

The Elements of User Experience Design

UX Beginner Reading List Book The Elements of User Experience Design

I’ve saved this book for #6 because it’s a bit heavy on theory. But it’s good theory. Jesse James Garrett provides a wonderful framework for thinking about user experience in his 5 Planes model, which I’ve referenced a couple times in this blog.

  • Topic: UX Strategy, general UX
  • Why Read It: Explains what design research is + how to do it in an actionable format
  • When to Read it: This is one of those reads that makes you step back and reevaluate your work, and the way you work.

Reading this book gives you depth. While most people spend time arguing about how UX is not UI (which is true), you see deeper than they do. You see projects in the five layers of strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, and surface – which the author covers in great depth and clarity.

It’s Not How Good You Are

UX Beginner Reading List Book It's Now How Good You Are

God I love this book – Paul Arden writes with the type of clarity that inspires. This book has some of the best one-liners ever, like “Do not seek praise. Seek criticism.”

When I’m feeling low, uninspired, or doubtful about my future (will I be “successful?”), I pick up this book. And you can finish it within an hour.

  • Topic: Creativity & Motivation
  • Why Read It: Explains what design research is + how to do it in an actionable format
  • When to Read it: When you’re feeling a creative block or uninspired

Even though the book is written with a focus on the advertising industry, it’s a must read for any creative professional.

 

 

The Design of Everyday Things

UX Beginner Reading List Book The Design of Everyday Things

You were probably expecting this book to show up at some point in this list. I consider Don Norman one of the “fathers” of UX because he popularized the term with his job title at Apple – VP of User Experience.

Reading The Design of Everyday Things – especially the intro and end of the book – helps you understand the context of the UX industry and how it came to be.

  • Topic: Human Centered Design
  • Why Read It: Makes you see human-centered design (or lack thereof) in everything, not just apps and websites.
  • When to Read it: If you ever get jaded about the design industry, this book is a good reminder that design is about people (and how to better serve them)

I put this book as #8 because Don Norman can get a little wordy sometimes. Don’t be afraid to hop around the book and skim quickly through sections when he gets verbose.

But, I consider this book to be a seeing book, which is my weird way of saying that you will see the world around you differently after reading.

 

Universal Principles of Design

UX Beginner Reading List Book Universal Principles of Design

Dude. I almost don’t want to share this book because it is the secret weapon of some of the best UX Designers I know. This book gives you usability laws and design principles to defend your designs – which can come in very handy in collaborative environments and UX interviews.

In fact, one of my blog posts, How to Remember the 3 Vital UX Laws, highlights usability laws from this book.

  • Topic: Usability Laws + Design Principles
  • Why Read It: Gives you ammo for design debates, rationalizes design decisions
  • When to Read it: When you doubt the usability of your product or a particular feature

Make no mistake that this is a reference book. Hop around the book and dip into the sections or laws that are relevant to you. And then feel more confident when you can rationalize your designs :)

The War of Art

UX Beginner Reading List Book The War of Art

Becoming a designer can be a path of self-doubt. Impostor Syndrome. Being too hard on yourself. Feeling stuck with a blank canvas in front of you. So we wrap up #10 on this list with an inspirational read.

Regardless of whether you’re a designer or not, if you’re in the business of making something with your creative talents, Steven Pressfield’s book is worth 10x its weight in gold.

This is because of the one central message that Pressfield drives home: The only way to get better is to increase your output and keep making stuff, no matter how shitty.

But Pressfield says this much more eloquently and with a more powerful force than I can express. Read it.

  • Topic: Creativity, Design & Creative Inspiration
  • Why Read It: Gives you not a nudge, but a powerful shove in the right direction. Tells you how to approach the creative process.
  • When to Read it: When you have any type of creative block

I actually enjoyed parts of the book that read more on the spiritual side. This might be a little “woo-woo” for some, but Pressfield expresses how we, as creators are vessels, and sometimes we need to be humble and remind ourselves to summon the creative gods (whoever they might be) to tell us their story for them, rather than forcing out of it ourselves.

Now that the pressure is off from you, just rely on the creative gods to do your work :)

I hope that this book lifts you up and keeps the creative fire burning.

Now that’s the list for 2015. It may change next year, or it may stay the same because I can see myself re-reading these books over and over again.

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