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I'm looking for a book that explains the basics of user interfaces and user experiences. I read Beautiful Visualization and Designing Interfaces from O'Reilly and I think they are very good. Can you recommend another one? Why?

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"List of..." questions that can't have one, correct (for the asker) answer aren't really what Stack Exchange is about. A certain number have been tolerated on other sites, but you should really try to avoid asking them. However, I can see value in this one. –  ChrisF Aug 10 '10 at 22:28
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Strangely enough, these 'must read books' questions are pretty much my favourite part of every stackexchange site –  Damon Mar 9 '11 at 17:48
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42 Answers

up vote 198 down vote accepted

Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug. The book is written in the way it preaches: very simple and easy to understand. The book covers a wide range of user experience topics. It's a must-read.

A new edition of this book as been released in early January 2014. Don't Make Me Think Revisited

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I knew that someone else would beat me to naming this book. It's true though. Don't Make Me Think is the must read when you want to learn about design and usability. –  Anne Schuessler Aug 9 '10 at 22:02
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Even if you are not a web developer this book is worth the effort. Very well written and insightful. –  Patrick Klug Aug 17 '10 at 0:24
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Everyone recommends this one, but I'm hesitant because it's "A guide to web usability" -- is it as applicable to desktop development, or development for a platform with a different usage model e.g. Silverlight? –  Fraser Aug 19 '10 at 22:43
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@Robert - While it is a book about web usability, it does contain many lessons/concepts that are applicable to anything from a Silverlight app to the dashboard on your car. Just common sense ideas about how people's brains work and how they interact with things they see. That said, if you have absolutely zero interest in web or application UIs it might not be up your alley. –  David HAust Aug 24 '10 at 5:54
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Don't forget the classic: Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things. Even though it is explicitly NOT about either web pages or computer applications, but about everyday things, there is so much there about common sense thinking about how people actually interact with things that I class it as a must-read.

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This is a great book and it breaks your brain. You can no longer look at common objects the same way, and your spouse will be angry with you for incessantly saying things like, "Why do I have to pour the contents of this thing out to find out that it contains salt? Would it have killed them to put a little 'S' on the outside?" –  Shane Mar 14 '12 at 22:55
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Universal Principles of Design

Brilliant design book, especially useful for interface design.

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This book was an optional book for my software usability course. Let's just say that of the two books, this is the one I kept. I would recommend it. –  Thomas Owens Aug 17 '10 at 1:32
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Currently reading About Face. Really thorough and goes back to the basics of UI design.

Edit: Oops, just read you already read the first, but I leave it to be included if this turns into a full list of books.

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About face is excellent, it covers do's and don'ts of interactive design but much more importantly teaches you to think about whether you actually need the interaction. There is no point in designing a really usable interaction for the sake of it. Its much better to try and make your system clever enough to make the interaction obsolete. –  ArchieVersace Aug 9 '10 at 22:55
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The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R Tufte is extremely useful for training your eyes to filter non-essential design elements and focus on the essence of the information.

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"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away" –  Mike Brown Oct 11 '10 at 16:29
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I'd be remiss not to mention Joel Spolsky's User Interface Design for Programmers. There's an online version but the printed book has about 50% more material.

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This is my prefered 'Read This First' suggestion. It contains the two great nuggets of wisdom: 1 - Users Don't Read the Manual. 2 - In fact, users don't read anything... –  PhillipW Apr 12 '11 at 9:37
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If you're interested specifically in forms, I can recommend Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks by Luke Wroblewski.

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I just finished this book. It was VERY worth my time. –  jessegavin Nov 7 '10 at 17:51
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Also, while these aren't books, you may benefit from browsing some design pattern libraries. Each of these shows common patterns and explains when they are appropriate to use.

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The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems by Jef Raskin

From the back cover:

This unique guide to interactive system design reflects the experience and vision of Jef Raskin, the creator of the Apple Macintosh. Other books may show how to use today's widgets and interface ideas effectively. Raskin, however, demonstrates that many current interface paradigms are dead ends, and that to make computers significantly easier to use requires new approaches. He explains how to effect desperately needed changes, offering a wealth of innovative and specific interface ideas for software designers, developers, and product managers.

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Some favorites:

  • Designing Web Interfaces by Bill Scott
  • The Inmates Are Running The Asylum by Alan Cooper
  • Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte (really any Tufte book)
  • Designing the Obvious by Robert Hoekman
  • Defensive Design by 37 Signals

  • The Humane Interface by Jef Raskin
  • The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman
  • Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug
  • About Face by Alan Cooper
  • Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks by Luke Wroblewski

Each of these books has taught me something new or given insight into how to do things better.

Top half not recommended by above posts.

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Jason, mind breaking out the entries in this list that aren't otherwise represented? Would be helpful to be able to vote up-down on the merit of individual entries -- the collection of works in the list aren't all tied for 1st, and some already exist as individual posts. –  Matt Sep 3 '10 at 22:33
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Surprised that Krug's Rocket Surgery Made Easy has not been mentioned, given that Don't Make Me Think is so widely praised. RSME is just as good and useful in UI design.

An excerpt from the back cover: In this new book, Steve explains how to -

  • Test any design, from a sketch on a napkin to a fully-functioning web site or application
  • Keep your focus on finding the most important problems (because no one has the time or resources to fix them all)
  • Fix the problems that you find, using his "The least you can do" approach
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I'm really surprised that GUI Bloopers 2.0 hasn't been mentioned yet.

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Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design by Jenifer Tidwell

Design patterns for user interfaces. A great reference.

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Take a look at sitepoint's The Principles of Beautiful Web Design. Also there are articles from this book here.

Smashing magazine published a book and it is a good one. take a look at it.

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I highly recommend Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge. It's an impressive (if overwhelming at first) collection of interviews, essays, examples and case studies by one of the pioneers of interaction / interface design.

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All books Edward Tufte

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Designing the Obvious: A Common Sense Approach to Web Application Design by Robert Hoekman Jr. is an excellent read.

From the back cover: Designing the Obvious belongs in the toolbox of every person charged with the design and development of Web-based software, from the CEO to the programming team. Designing the Obvious explores the character traits of great Web applications and uses them as guiding principles of application design so the end result of every project instills customer satisfaction and loyalty. These principles include building only whats necessary, getting users up to speed quickly, preventing and handling errors, and designing for the activity. Designing the Obvious does not offer a one-size-fits-all development process--in fact, it lets you use whatever process you like. Instead, it offers practical advice about how to achieve the qualities of great Web-based applications and consistently and successfully reproduce them.

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For web sites, Eyetracking Web Usability might also be nice to add to the mix after the initial Krug stuff ^^

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Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data by Stephen Few.

You can extend the design principles beyond dashboards per se, as they are ultimately reports and an interface to information.

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Designing Web Interfaces is the most practical book on Interaction Design.

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Well this isn't just for UI design, however I would recommend Designing for the Digital Age by Kim Goodwin (Former VP of Design at Cooper).

Alan Cooper describes it as the ultimate how-to book and I have to agree. It describes loads of methods and provides examples throughout. It goes through all the stages; research, modelling, requirements, framework, and design.

I have used it throughout my second year at university. It was great to understand the fundamentals of a usability method in class and then go to this book and be assured that every single detail would be available.

This book is huge! It is a great compliment to About Face 3 by Alan Cooper.

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Screen Design Manual:

Communicating Effectively Through Multimedia

by Frank Thissen

Amazon Cover Image

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  • The Humane Interface Revolutionary, concise, and complete. The reason I do UX today.
  • The Psychology of Human-Computer Interaction Arguably the book that marked usability as it's own discipline, cited by 4,362 academic articles. Know your classics ; )
  • The Essential Persona Lifecycle is an awesome book, a trimmed down version of the original bible of personas The Persona Lifecycle.
  • The Minimal Manual is not really a book, but the general style that came from the academic work of Carroll so fully revolutionized manuals back in the 80's it's now the de-facto standard. However, it's exposition of how people really use documentation is something everyone should know, it will save you from making all sorts of naive assumptions when it comes to how people learn to use software and documentation!
  • Handbook of Usability Testing The foundational bible of UI testing.
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One I'm really surprised isn't here is Jesse James Garrett's, "The Elements of User Experience."

http://www.jjg.net/elements/

Also, About Face 3 at http://www.cooper.com/#about:books - the book is good, very very detailed though. I really wonder about their site now, tho' ;-)

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The Laws of Simplicity has probably been the most important UX book in my career. Some companies/sites don't really deal with the level of data complexity to require this kind of resource, but if you do, it's essential.

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Currently my favourite list is:

Design in general

  • The design of everyday thinks
  • About Face 2
  • Made to Stick
  • Humane
  • Emotional design
  • The inmates are running the asylum

UI Design

  • Dont make me think
  • GUI Bloopers
  • Designing Interfaces
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My top 3:

  • Don't Make Me Think (Krug)
  • Effective UI (Anderson, Mcree, Wilson)
  • Designing Web Interfaces (Scott & Neil)

Above all, after reading any books I would go out and do field research. Check out top sites that have a nice, fluent interface to them. Using information from the book, ask questions about usability. Do they make you think too much? Are they visually appealing as well as functional?

Pick and choose the features you like to form your own standard based on what context you're designing in. There is no black and white answer to this as it's all interpretation.

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Tog on Interface should definitely be in your must read list.

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