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Are you looking for the best books to help you take a deep dive into the world of UX design? Look no further! In this article, Colman Walsh, the CEO of the UX Design Institute and Dejan Karin, one of our senior UX designers here at the institute, share their top reads on the subject.

From amateur enthusiasts to senior experts in UX design – we’re sure you’ll find something below to pique your interest and broaden your knowledge of UX design theory.

Colman has focused on classic books on UX design theory, whereas Dejan gives his recommendations for the top books that were most useful to him over the last 6 months.  

Colman’s picks:

1. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

The Design of Everyday Things

First published in 1988 by Don Norman, a cognitive scientist and considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of the modern conception of UX design; The Design of Everyday Things is known as the bible of usability.   

A must-read not only for UX designers but really for anyone who designs anything to be used by humans, the book’s main theme explores the relationship between a user and an object’s design. It highlights that although we’re often keen to blame ourselves when objects appear to malfunction, it’s rarely the fault of the user but rather that of poor design.

Its cover boasts that “It could forever change how you experience and interact with your physical surroundings, open your eyes to the perversity of bad design and the desirability of good design, and raise your expectations about how things should be designed.”

Colman bills it as “A dense but classic read from one of the godfathers of UX with a lot of golden nugget takeaways worth unearthing.”

Read the updated 2013 revised edition online

2. The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity by Alan Cooper

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum

Alan Cooper is a software designer, programmer and founder of Cooper – a leading interaction design consultancy. He created the Goal-Directed design methodology and pioneered the use of user personas as a practical interaction design tool to create digital products.

A flavour for what you’ll find in the book;

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum argues that the business executives who make the decisions to develop these products are not the ones in control of the technology used to create them.

Insightful and entertaining, the book uses Cooper’s experiences in corporate America to illustrate how talented people continuously design bad software-based products and why we need technology to work the way average people think. Somewhere out there is a happy medium that makes these types of products both user and bottom-line friendly; this book discusses why we need to quickly find that medium.”

Colman’s take;

“A fascinating read from a man who recognised that fundamentally, the way we make software is broken. In this manifesto of sorts, Cooper lays out a better way of doing things and improving the design process through the use of user research and personas.”

Read sample pages from The Inmates are Running the Asylum online now

3. The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web by Jesse James Garrett

The Elements of User Experience

Following on from Norman’s and Cooper’s seminal works, Colman recommends taking a look at Jesse James Garrett’s book which he likens to “putting structure on the structure of UX design principles”.

Jesse James Garrett is the co-founder and president of Adaptive Path, a UX design consultancy. Aside from The Elements of User Experience, his contributions to the field include developing the Visual Vocabulary, a notation system for documenting user experience design; and defining Ajax, an approach to creating Web applications.

From the book’s blurb;  

“Successful interaction design requires more than just creating clean code and sharp graphics. You must also fulfill your strategic objectives while meeting the needs of your users. Even the best content and the most sophisticated technology won’t help you balance those goals without a cohesive, consistent user experience to support it.

With so many issues involved—usability, brand identity, information architecture, interaction design— creating the user experience can be overwhelmingly complex. This new edition of The Elements of User Experience cuts through that complexity with clear explanations and vivid illustrations that focus on ideas rather than tools or techniques. Garrett gives readers the big picture of user experience development, from strategy and requirements to information architecture and visual design.”

Read The Elements of User Experience online now  

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

Don’t Make Me Think

Written with the goal of creating a text that could be read by an executive on a two-hour airplane flight, according to Wikipedia; “Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is a book about human–computer interaction and web usability. Its premise is that a good software program or web site should let users accomplish their intended tasks as easily and directly as possible. Krug highlights that people are good at satisficing, or taking the first available solution to their problem, so design should take advantage of this. He frequently cites as an example of a well-designed web site that manages to allow high-quality interaction, even though the web site gets bigger and more complex every day.”

Colman’s take;

“I think Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is a great place for people to get started with UX design. It’s kind of like reading a very well-written, punchy comic book. With a snap of the fingers, you get it. You understand UX – what it’s about and why research is so important. The book uses a lot of real-world analogies that illustrate how UX can make products and people’s lives so much better.”

Check out Don’t Make Me Think online now

Dejan’s picks:

1. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

Dejan’s first recommendation 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People as well as its follow-up 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People are for anyone interested in the psychological and cognitive side of UX design.

Dr. Susan Weinschenk has over 30 years of experience as a behavioral psychologist and applies neuroscience to predict, understand, and explain what motivates people and how to get people to take action. She is also the founder of the Weinschenk Institute and she teaches, speaks, mentors, and consults with Fortune 1000 companies, start-ups, non-profit agencies, and educational institutions.  

In this book (and its follow-up), she offers her expertise based on research to help steer designers into making better decisions. From the book’s blurb;

“We design to elicit responses from people. We want them to buy something, read more, or take action of some kind. Designing without understanding what makes people act the way they do is like exploring a new city without a map: results will be haphazard, confusing, and inefficient.

This book combines real science and research with practical examples to deliver a guide every designer needs. With it you’ll be able to design more intuitive and engaging work for print, websites, applications, and products that matches the way people think, work, and play.”

Download 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People now

2. Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction by Jenny Preece, Helen Sharp & Yvonne Rogers

Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction

After recently completing an MSc. in UX Design himself, Dejan’s next recommendation is an invaluable resource for students of UX design looking for a solid academic textbook.  

Written by Jenny Preece, Professor and Dean Emerita in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland; Helen Sharp, Professor of Software Engineering and Dean in the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at the Open University; and Yvonne Rogers, Professor of Interaction Design and Director of the Interaction Centre at University College London –  Interaction Design: beyond human-computer interaction is “hugely popular with students and professionals alike. It is an ideal resource for learning the interdisciplinary skills needed for interaction design, human–computer interaction, information design, web design, and how HCI relates to topical issues in AI and data science.”

Order the 5th edition of Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction here

3. Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research by Elizabeth Goodman, Mike Kuniavsky, Andrea Moed

Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research

Looking to hone your research and interviewing skills to help really put yourself in the shoes of the user? This book does exactly what it says on the tin and gives a practical guide to user research straight from the horse’s mouth (AKA practicing UX designers).

“The gap between who designers and developers imagine their users are, and who those users really are can be the biggest problem with product development. Observing the User Experience will help you bridge that gap to understand what your users want and need from your product, and whether they’ll be able to use what you’ve created.

Filled with real-world experience and a wealth of practical information, this book presents a complete toolbox of techniques to help designers and developers see through the eyes of their users. It provides in-depth coverage of 13 user experience research techniques that will provide a basis for developing better products, whether they’re Web, software or mobile based. In addition, it’s written with an understanding of product development in the real world, taking tight budgets, short schedules, and existing processes into account.”  

Buy Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research now

4. Delft Design Guide: Design Methods by Annemiek van Boeijen, Jaap Daalhuizen, Roos van der Schoor & Jelle Zijlstra

Delft Design Guide

Another book that Dejan found incredibly insightful and useful during his studies in UX design was the Delft Design Guide. Written by members of TU Delft, the guide “details roughly seventy strategies, techniques, and methods taught at the Delft University Faculty of Industrial Design in a practical one-page text, illustrated for further clarification and enriched with further reading suggestions. The high quality of their research and teaching at the TU Delft is renowned, making it one of the top universities in the world.”

Find the Delft Design Guide: Design Methods online here

Ready to learn more about UX design?

If you read all of the books mentioned above, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a UX pro. Want a certification to back up that knowledge or turn your interest into a career?

Did you know that we offer the world’s only online, university credit-rated Professional Diploma in UX design?

Study online at your own pace and in just six months you’ll emerge with a certificate and a career-ready portfolio of UX work.

Check out our Professional Diploma page to find out more.