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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

41 Answers 41

up vote 205 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? –  OverMachoGrande 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

It is hard to recommend single book, we have some of most useful ones (for my crew) listed here so it might be useful for you to go through this UX reading list

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Usability Engineering by Jakob Nielsen

This is the staple for any UX designer, I believe there is no point trying to learn a specific area of design until you digest this

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One I'm really surprised isn't here is Jesse James Garrett's, The Elements of User Experience.

Also, About Face 3 – the book is good, very very detailed though. I really wonder about their site now, tho' ;-)

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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

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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Next to the GUI Bloopers mentioned above, I would strongly recommend Designing with the Mind in Mind, written by the same author, Jeff Johnson. This book really explains the 'why' of the rules that you can see elsewhere, with respect to how people read, recall, recognized, think, react, visualize, etc. and the related process in their brain. It may sound technical but it is definitely very easy to read.

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My favourite, and easy to read book, has got to be:

Simple and Usable: web, mobile and interaction design
by Giles Colborne (cxpartners)

This book is wonderful in how it covers a lot of great examples and stories on the authors experience in creating products. The way he explains his strategies to achieve simplicity is what grabbed me. The book itself has a beautiful design with photos communicating the message even stronger.

There's also a fantastic example he goes through in using 4 strategies to create simplicity by applying and showing the strategies on a tv remote control.

enter image description here

Some quotes from the book:

"Simpler than a bike, until you try to ride it."

"In my experience, roughly the first third of any project is spent trying to figure out what's really important. It's a nerve-wracking time, as complexity seems to spiral and there's no solution in sight. Sticking with it is the first and most important step in achieving simplicity. Don't rush into design. Understanding what's core takes time."

UX Booth did a great review on it here

Author's Website: http://www.simpleandusable.com/

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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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Nobody mentioned outstanding book by Jacques Bertin - Semiology of Graphics: Diagrams, Networks, Maps. It is a really MUST READ book for any designed who works with information. Tufte took many ideas from Bertin in fact.

enter image description here

http://www.amazon.com/Semiology-Graphics-Diagrams-Networks-Maps/dp/1589482611/ref=lp_B001K79076_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335199156&sr=1-1

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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

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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UX Basics - (Additionally which is not in the list)

Elements of User Experience - James Garett

Research based Web design and Usability Guidelines

Undercover User experience - Bowles and James Box

Designing with Mind in Mind - Jeff Johnson

Usability for the Web - Tom Brinck and others

Web Application Design Patterns - Pawan Vora

Never miss these books, since these are RAW and PURE elementary level books.

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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

These are some of my personal favorites. If I have time I'll come back and mention a few more later on:

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Interface and interaction design:

Designing Visual Interfaces: Communication Oriented Techniques

Dont be put off by how old it is. It has rock solid advice and extremely well organized.

The Essential Guide to Interface Design

Very synthetic. Great compendium of design principles, human psychological traits, design patterns, etc. Awesome reference when you need to find something fast in order to stimulate your thinking about a specific topic.

About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design

This is THE book for design principles. I have yet to find a principle in any other book that is not present in this one. Also has very a comprehensive design pattern library with great explanations that help you think for yourself.


For getting "the big picture":

Designing for the digital age

Covers all the typical steps in a UX project with very detailed explanations on how to structure the work, how to organize the team, how to deal with stakeholders, what questions to ask, what techniques to use to find great solutiones, etc.

Subject To Change: Creating Great Products & Services for an Uncertain World: Adaptive Path on Design

A must-read about design strategy and culture. This will help you question company paradigms and deal with business people.

The Elements of User Experience

To help you understand how different disciplines can fit together / complement each other in order to create great experiences.

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I read all the books mentioned above and would like to add two books about cognitive psychology. Why? Because it's fundament on which UI design is based:

  1. Designing with the Mind in Mind
  2. 100 things every designer needs to know about people

Also I think there should be some books about typographics in ui designer's must read list.

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The Windows User Experience Interaction Guidelines, also known as the Microsoft UX guide. Available in PDF. (you can find in on web layout too here)

You don't need to read it, but it's a must reference for Windows user interface design. It contains all thing you need to know.

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

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Wow, surprised the Cooper Book hasn't made the list yet: Designing for the digital age. I can't recommend it enough!

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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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Screen Design Manual:

Communicating Effectively Through Multimedia

by Frank Thissen

Amazon Cover Image

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

alt text

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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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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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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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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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