12 Best UX Books You Must Read to Up Your Design Game

Maria Lystopad
December 5, 2022
11-minutes read
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You can never read all the books in the world, but if some of them can help you succeed in your career, don’t hesitate to (at least) save them to your to-reads.

In this article Tenscope team share the books that shapes us as UX professionals. But first, let us give a couple of general tips on reading books that help your career.

How reading about UX can help improve your design skills?

If you’ve opened this list, you probably already feel like reading a book or two would be helpful to grow your expertise.

The benefits of reading professional literature are obvious:

  • you learn from world-class designers and the most successful stories
  • you expand your general understanding of design and UX
  • you appear as a high-level professional to our clients and colleagues
  • even if you are not a designer yourself but work in a digital product field, books on UX help you understand your design team and build better products

At the same time, it takes lots of time and concentration to read professional books. So, here are some tips that can help you stay motivated and read efficiently.

  1. Don’t feel bad if you  don’t finish the book. Many of them are not meant to be read from the first page to the last. Read the chapters that seem more interesting at the moment and come back later.
  1. Leave the book if you don’t like the style. Many of the books about UX design do not contain exclusive knowledge. The reading will be easier when you find the author you like.
  1. Check for alternatives. Not all of this list is suitable for an audiobook, and not every book can be summarized in one article, but some can. And it will save you lots of time.

To make it easier for you to navigate the list, we split it into topics: how to understand users, research, UX design, business, and design in general.

Understanding users 

Bottlenecks: Aligning UX Design with User Psychology

David C. Evans
“A good book to better understand the user-centric approach and have well explained the concept of the meme” Abhinav Agrawal,Goodreads

Each UX designer needs to understand the basic principles of psychology. These principles help to predict people’s behaviour and create the best user experience.

David Evans is both an academician working on experimental psychology and a senior manager of consumer research at Microsoft. In the book, he explains psychological processes in relation to digital experience, using case studies from various digital products, including video games and TV series.

Read if you want to know how to hack users’ behaviour and make them fall in love with your app.

Understanding how research works

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

Mike Kuniavsky, Andrea Moed, Elizabeth Goodman
“This book makes an excellent field guide to user research” Michael, Goodreads

With this book, one can conduct a good user research campaign even without any previous experience. It has a detailed description of various techniques, including surveys, diary studies, focus groups, and usability research. Lots of examples and practical tips make it a great hands-on guidebook for both beginners and medium UX designers.

The first part describes the role of user research in product development, the second tells about different techniques, and the third one gives advice on the implementation of user research results in product design.

It has 600 pages, but the structure allows selective reading: if you are interested in recruiting users for an interview, you can read just one chapter. However, we highly recommend reading the whole text as it gives good arguments for advocating user research to the executives.

Read if you need practical instructions on conducting user research.

The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide

Leah Buley
“A great handbook for the lone UXer. Leah has written what equates to a UX survival guide” Ryan Boone, Goodreads

Reading some of the books on UX design can leave designers from small companies frustrated, as they often provide an idealistic view and suggest methods that only large companies can afford. Leah Buley's book covers a topic that is not very common in UX guides: what to do when you are the only one pioneering UX in your company?

The first part of the book is about the philosophy and history of UX. Most books about UX design focus solely on practical advice, so this information is not typical. This a good opportunity for designers to gain a deeper understanding of UX.

Read if you are the only UX professional on the team.

Understanding business

The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

Eric Ries
“I appreciate the applicability of this book and recommend it to everyone.” Nguyen Linh Chi, Goodreads

While this book is not directly aimed at UX designers, it contains a lot of useful information about product design. Eric Ries explain show to get the most out of the MVP and avoid failures by testing the product early.

Many startups nowadays follow Lean principles, and for the designers working in such a company, it is essential to know what it’s all about.

Read if you want to understand what the founders of your product have on their minds.

Start with Why: How Great LeadersInspire Everyone to Take Action

Simon Sinek
“The book's name is "Start With Why", so let's first start with why you should read this book - it's inspiring, it will nudge you to think about your purpose/your why for things you do, it will empower you, because it's a quick read Need I say more!?” Swati, Goodreads

This is one of the books that open the whole point in the title. So, if you’ve got enough of “why”, move on to the next one. Only if you are interested in “how” and “what”, should you read Simon Sinek. If you are in doubt, watch his TED talk first.

Read if: you need inspiration and want to understand how Apple became Apple.

Understanding UX design

About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design

Alan Cooper
“Unbelievably thorough examination of all aspects of how to design digital products, mainly software.”, Adam Wiggins, Goodreads

Having survived four editions since 1995, “About Face” contains a lot of useful information about the principles of design. The last edition offers way more than just a book: materials for corporate training and a dedicated website that expands further on the examples from the book.

Alan Cooper was the first one to introduce such concepts as goal-directed design, user personas, and others. The style is close to a textbook. Although it is a part of university reading lists, it will be useful also for medium designers who have some years of experience in the field.

Read if you want a comprehensive overview of interaction design.

Smashing UX Design: Foundations for Designing Online User Experiences

Jesmond Allen, James Chudley
“Great instructive book. Don't require anything else after this.” Vishal B, Goodreads

A book from the authors of the Smashing magazine. If you like Smashing Magazine, you’ll probably like this one, as well.

The book claims to be the complete UX reference manual. Though no single book can contain all the essential info in 400 pages, this one covers well a big chunk of UX knowledge.

In the book, you’ll find theory and lots of real-life cases. Many of them are about e-commerce, so the book will be highly helpful for designers working in this niche.

Read if you have to plan a UX project or if you are building a website and are looking for the appropriate UX techniques. 

Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction

Yvonne Rogers, Helen Sharp
“Having re-read it in detail I cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone who wants a detailed understanding of Interaction Design processes” Mike, Goodreads

This book is often used in university courses, so think of it as a solid textbook. In addition to all the examples given in the text, there is also a website with extra materials and case studies. The book includes a number of interviews with designers, which makes it more entertaining than a typical theory-examples book.

Read if you missed your degree in human-computer interaction design and feel the need for some more academic approach.

The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web

Jesse James Garrett
“This is a must-read book for anyone involved in web development.” Haider Al-Mosawi, Goodreads

This book will be useful not only for creating websites but for other digital products, as well.

In such a dynamic field as UX design, a sign of a good book is that it doesn’t get outdated in a few years. “The Elements of User Experience” was first published in 2022, and the second edition appeared in 2010. Don’t be afraid: you won’t be traumatized by awkward 2000s design examples inside. The book is more about methodology than examples, and that is why it remains so relevant after two decades.

Read if you want to dig deeper and find out how to build the basis of the product, that part of the iceberg that is below the visual interface.

Understanding design

“The Design of Everyday Things”

Donald A. Norman
“I highly recommend this book to anyone. You absolutely must read it if you will ever be in a position to create something (i.e. software, a chair, a cardboard box). If you don't, I will curse your name every time I am forced to use your product!” Goodreads, David

This is not atypical book on UX design. Actually, it is not even about UX design but design in general. If normally you wouldn’t trust a book that was first published in 1988, this one gives a great view of the history of design, and the scope of design. The author reflects on his experience of working in design in those times when people just started to worry about ecology and how we are ruining this world.

The best recommendation is to say that Donald Norman is the founder of the famous Nielsen Norman Group, whose website is like a little Wikipedia for UX designers.

This book really gives readers a different point of view on everyday things. After reading it, you realize that a door or chair is designed in a certain way for some reason, and you will look at that door with a designer’s eyes.

Read if you like to find out something new about the things that you thought you knew everything about.

The 99% Invisible City: A FieldGuide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design

Roman Mars, Kurt Kohlstedt
“This book is for any curious person, city dweller, detail fanatic, designer, engineer, creative, or nerd. If you're not one of those things, this book is probably still for you, too.” Alyssa Zimmerman, Goodreads

This book tells amazing stories about different things that you pass by every day in the city: fire escape stairs, drinking fountains, street signs… Just like “The Design of Everyday Things”, it gives you a new lens to look at the world around you, but The 99% Invisible City is easier to read.

The authors are the producers of the 99% Invisible podcast, which is also highly recommendable to all designers. There are so many things out there that cant each us more about user experience design. Just to give one example, a card on the plane with illustrations that explain how to behave in case of emergency. It tells us a great story about usability and research.

Read if you like good stories and want to understand how important the design is. As a bonus, you get a handful of fun stories to share over a drink.

Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design

William Lidwell, Jill Butler, KristinaHolden
“The book by itself so wonderfully realizes all the concepts of designing and to design, in its own format, structure and presentation, that the book's presentation itself can serve as one of the example on a great design” Anthoney, Goodreads

This long title really sums it up. This book takes a wider look at the design: not just interface or graphics, but all facets of it. 100 principles that designers should take into account whenever they create something for people.

The book is for those people who understand that design is not just about arranging visual elements in the most aesthetic image, but more about how humans interact with a design object. It tells us the rules that shape human perception, and that is exactly what every designer needs to understand.

Read if you want to understand better how humans see the world and why they see it in a certain way.

What else could you read?

All the books on the list provide highly valuable information for UX designers, but reading 12 books would take a long time that very few of us have. So, how do you choose the ones that will be the most valuable for you?

There is one pro tip: even when you read ten books on UX design, there is little opportunity to use all the knowledge in practice if your colleagues don’t share the same views. To convince the executives, you have to understand their values. The easy way to do that is to read the same books that they love (and learn the philosophy and methods that lead their decision-making).

Final thoughts

If you are one of those who have trouble finding enough time to read, start with small steps. Save this list, pick the one that intrigues you the most, order a copy, and keep it around. Maybe tomorrow you’ll open that book instead of the morning newsfeed? And even if you don’t manage to reach your reading goals, don’t worry: sometimes reading a blog article is no less useful than reading a fat book.

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