We often get asked “What is UX, anyway? How do I go about designing user experience?”
These questions appear from all sorts of directions – from a student making first steps in the field, to a product strategy team trying to understand how to incorporate UX thinking into their project.
For any and all who are interested to enter the world of user experience, we came up with four books to get you started. We love these books because each of them is essentially a gate to a unique aspect of the world of UX. As user experience is such a vast and varied field, we didn’t include in this list any of the many books that dive deeply into specific aspects of UX such as gamification, wireframing or user testing, but rather compiled this list of books that employ a wide angle approach of the field.
Don’t make me think
This Steve Krug classic (now in its third, updated, edition), will especially suit those who are making their first steps in the UX world. It is considered one of the most enjoyable entry-points into user experience, and is located on top of every list of recommended UX books.
The title pretty much sums up the book’s message. Krug repeatedly emphasizes that the most important aspect of UX design is assisting users in completing the task for which they approached the product. In order to do so, we should help the user to understand the product and its role in completing the task at hand, while dismissing any and all distractions and obstacles along the way.
Krug, a user experience advisor, drives his insights from a varied list of fields, among which you can find cognitive psychology, decision making research and design. Through these fields’ perspectives, he analyzes the baseline principles of user behaviors. Krug looks at basic terminology such as scanning, navigation, hierarchies and affordance, and applies them onto websites and different situations.
The book focuses on entering the user’s mind. Throughout the book, readers will find numerous examples to how users read, think and feel while interacting with different interfaces. These examples usually appear in comics-style illustrations, walking the reader step by step through the average user’s thought process. The book is worth the read for this part alone, as it is highly beneficial for UX newcomers.
In addition, the book lays out a practical toolbox for all who want to implement usability principles into their project. Whether it is a product manager in need of new lenses to test interfaces through, or a designer wanting to incorporate user experience insights and principles into their design.
Krug wrote Don’t Make Me Think while applying the same principles he preaches for. It is readable, coherent and amusing. The book is strewn with catchy, witty headlines (the book’s copywriter deserves a medal of some kind), comics and illustrations which aid in understanding the content in an enjoyable manner.
Bottom line: This book will be great for beginners who are in for a fun, practical and quick intro, or advanced UXers in need of a good example of how to get new people into UX.
For the Big Picture
Another frequently asked question is how do we actually execute a UX project. It is common knowledge that a serious UX project includes many stages, people and roles. In this book, the authors, among which you can find Alan Cooper, founder of Cooper (one of the world’s most prominent and veteran UX agencies), present a full mapping of a user experience development process.
The book is comprised of three main sections. The first presents the main design stages in the design of goal and user oriented digital product – from client research to mockups and user testing. The writers place a great deal of influence on real life conduct of projects, team building and communication.
The second section lays out basic principles of designing interactive product. It asks directing questions such as ‘what are social products?’, ‘what is a considerate product?’, ‘what differs between product design in different platforms and contexts?’, ‘How does one design an error-oriented product?’. Most of the principles are presented alongside examples derived from different products and platforms (from desktop UI to a car’s dashboard).
The third and final section is a sort of pattern library, which looks at the components of user experience throughout different platforms. Readers can go through various lists of controls, different navigation types, input and output measures (specified down to the differences between different button and list types). Each element’s meaning and usability is explained thoroughly.
This book will benefit seasoned UXers who are interested in deepening their knowledge and abilities, professionals from neighboring fields (such as product managers and developers) who want to take their first step in the field, as well as companies trying to incorporate UX work processes and need an eagle eye view of how they are done. The large scope and clear structure of the book allow quick access to the information (as well further reading when needed). This may be overly descriptive, with over 700 pages of term definitions, diagrams and examples.
Bottom line: An excellent map for the UX profession. If you’re working in the field, better keep this book at reach for reference.
To Understand How Users Think
The design of everyday things
How many times have you stood helpless facing a new product with no clue how to operate it? How many times have you tried to open a door in the wrong direction or confused the gas switches operating your hob? Don Norman, a professor of cognitive psychology, one of the founders of Apple’s UX department, and an avid product users, has been in those and many other confusing usability predicaments, so he wrote this classic book, explaining the processed through users understand (or don’t) how to use a product.
Unlike other books in the field, who tend to place the focus on work processes, platforms and patterns, The Design of Everyday Things (TDoET) looks at principles that could and would benefit the understanding and improvement of user experience for any and all who are interested in designing a product, physical or digital. This book remains relevant to this day, in the world of VR and smartphones, the same way it was relevant when the first edition came out of print, in the Casio watches and ATM times of the eighties.
The starting point for TDoET is the understanding that users are required to learn, often alone and without guidance, how to use any product. Every user is met with a product and based on that introduction, they build a model of the product’s usability processes. A product designer’s job is to create a learning process that allows for intuitive usage, relieves cognitive loads, uncertainty and avoids failures.
Norman lays out a framework that facilitates this proper usage learning process. He presents basic principles such as: Mapping – the manner in which the user associated the product’s structure and its actions; The manner in which certain Limitations assist users in deciphering their next step; Natural Markers and their use in order to show the user’s choices of action (pushable buttons, for instance), and the importance of Feedback, which enables learning.
One of the book’s core issues are mistakes. Norman emphasized that most users blindly feel their way through our product, acting out of uncertainty, and experiment with the product without knowing what the exact outcome will be. A good product is built in a way that is empathetic to the user’s plight and errors. It should facilitate and assist the user in completing actions, and in learning from the user’s usage mistakes. A good example is the autocomplete function in a search engine, which teaches the user the best usage practice of the search field, presents relevant searches and optimal phrasing.
The book is incredibly well-written, interesting, thought provoking and indicates that Norman must be a riveting public speaker and a friend of the written word (the book is generally very textual and does not include a lot of images or illustrations). It manages to combine vast amounts of information from different content worlds into a small number of terms and worktools, which compiles a very applicable set of ideas.
Bottom line: The book to explain to you how users understand (or don’t) your product.
For Incorporating in Lean Work Processes
The vast majority of contemporary product companies work in Lean and Agile oriented constellations, foregoing lengthy planning processes for short, fast paced development rounds and evolving products. This new of work poses quite a serious challenge to the UX professional community – how can one fast forward over planning right to the design, when we have yet to define the product’s parameters?
The authors, Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden, created this book as a complimentary UX point-of-view to Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, by relying on their first hand experience dealing with the challenges of Lean work processes as UX designers. This book rarely touches upon actual UX principles, choosing to focus on creating workflows that allow the creation of better products quicker while not sacrificing the happiness of your team.
Gothelf and Seidan translate the core principles of Lean Startup into the design world, calling for a new frame of mind in relation to what is a design process. They propose a world where we abandon the quest for the perfect design, but rather engage in a constantly evolving process of trial and learning. They take designers out of the studio and place them in the actual design and experience development process, alongside with the rest of the product development team – from the CEO to the QA intern.
The book lays out many principles and their application in actual work – from constructing the right team, designing the right workspace down to the project’s schedule. They place a great emphasis on inter-team communication best practices, and on how to incorporate testing elements into the design process, as well as prototyping.
In addition, they do not hesitate to point where these new work processes conflict with producing quality design, and the inherent frustration this causes for designers. According to Seiden and Gothelf, most designers have chosen their profession out of an ambition for perfect appearance and experience, there is an inevitable collision between the requirement to come up with products quickly, and the need to produce in-depth work. They agree that quality design takes time, thought and at times seclusion, and present an adapted Lean method which assists design processes rather than go against them.
Bottom line: This one’s for any and all UX designer or managers who is interested in working Lean and wonders how to combine it with successful design processes.