Over the course of a year, I talk to hundreds of students and young professionals interested in the field of UX and looking to start a journey through reading.
1. For those looking to pursue this as a career change, I will caution that books won’t be enough – most design jobs require a full portfolio and review. Where for entry-level programming you can demonstrate knowledge of key computer science principles and reasoning, in design you’ll need to show examples of your work and the process you used to get to your final results. But books are a great way to get your feet wet and to see whether you might want to invest the time and money in some classes or project work.
2. As you begin to read these books, many of the solutions and guidelines will seem like common sense. But though they make sense once thought about, these details are often overlooked by system designers. Small details (like reversing the order of ZIP code and city fields) can cause you huge problems down the line. Interaction designers must learn to ask questions that sometimes seem obvious, and the best-designed systems will just “make sense”.
3. Interaction design is a field that draws heavily from three other fields – computer science, cognitive psychology and visual design. The books I list below deal with the field as a whole, but you may also benefit from pursuing material from those individual fields.
And without further ado, a few recommendations:
The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition
by Don Norman
This book is a great starting point. It won’t tell you the “how”, but it will tell you the “why” of design. There are many compelling examples of both design gone right and design gone poorly – sometimes with life and death consequences. It’s a classic that’s been used in the field for decades, but now boasting updated examples.
Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design (Interactive Technologies)
by Bill Buxton
Another book more on process than theory, but with a bit more modern focus. His book covers a wide variety of examples and gives a peek at the “big picture” of applied design – and is a pleasure to look at as well. Bill is a very well-respected design veteran at Microsoft.
Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (3rd Edition) (Voices That Matter)
by Steve Krug
This book is more of a practicioner’s handbook and has been through several revisions over the years. The focus is web design, so it won’t be as applicable to app designers or folks in NUI, but most of us have our roots in web design and there will surely be things you can take away.
A Project Guide to UX Design: For user experience designers in the field or in the making (2nd Edition) (Voices That Matter)
By Russ Unger & Carolyn Chandler
This book takes a more practical approach, looking at the project lifecycle and UX’s role within the process. Appropriate for folks looking to incorporate some informal UX into existing processes, or for teaching beginning design.
Microinteractions: Full Color Edition: Designing with Details
by Dan Saffer
Dan’s book covers the little details that can make such a difference. A fraction of a second, a subtle sound effect, a tweak to colors – attention to detail can make a big difference, and not every decision a designer makes will be immediately visible.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
by Edward Tufte
Another aging classic which is not so much about the process of design as it is the presentation of information. Particularly in the design of enterprise software, data visualization is becoming more and more critical. We’re dealing with vast amounts of data and our computers need to do a better job helping us interpret that data. One thing you’ll learn quickly from Tufte’s book is how easy it is to (un)intentionally manipulate perception of data by choosing the wrong presentation for it.