I'm a java developer and in the last few years I've been doing more and more gui coding and design with Ajax toolkits. I've seen a real need to improve my skills with CSS and javascript in wanting to get to expert level in this area, so I've focused on that of late.

However, I've got this nagging feeling that I need more studies with UI and UX design, as well, even though it hasn't been a requirement for any jobs that I've applied for.

So as far as a business concern, do I just read up on things from articles I find on the internet or buy some books on the subject (for study and a reference) and really take some time to focus on this subject as a developer wanting to make meaningful improvements on his skills?

The reason I ask is I've read book reviews on UX design and it seems I keep hearing that UX is just "common sense stuff" and you don't need books for it.

I don't like to make blanket assumptions like that because it seems to come back and haunt you. For example, I used to have the attitude that javascript wasn't a real full blown programming language for developers. I've since totally reversed my views on this as a result of my work with Ajax.

  • 6
    "UX is just 'common sense stuff' and you don't need books for it" Haha!
    – Rahul
    Feb 8, 2012 at 17:46
  • I've seen that comment more than once, but for me, I didn't agree with it! It reminds me of when I work with something new in development, once I figure it out and get it working it looks easy, but not always before that point!
    – user9533
    Feb 8, 2012 at 17:49
  • It depends on your style of learning. May 19, 2015 at 18:15

4 Answers 4


You need both.

Books are great for learning the fundamentals and generally have a more through, thoguhtful approach. Books are also great as they more often provide research to back up their statements; sometimes good, academic HCI or psychological research, sometimes personal research or experience that they have found.

Books will teach you the basics well, and most UX newsletters/ect will assume you've already done your homework (and for good reason). If you haven't read The Design of Everyday Things or Don't Make Me Think, you're going to be missing out on what some people are talking about.

Blogs and websites are a necessary supplement to books; blogs give you the current state of affairs and ongoing research; for instance Nielson's Alertbox recently compiled a nice report on usability issues with the Kindle Fire. There's lots of development for the Kindle Fire but no books are going to contain KF specific information yet. UX is a living field and you need to be up to date to provide the best experience on emerging platforms like mobile.

Despite what outsiders often believe, UX is not "common sense". Even Usability is not common sense. I'm not sure how to convince you beyond that; if it were common sense Why is most UX crap? If it were common sense why is UX one of the hardest job fields to fill?

UX incorporates a great deal of common sense and a great deal of guidelines, but it's just as often a case where you need to make critical decisions regarding whether "common sense" or specific guidelines apply. Sometimes they don't.

User Experience is something you need to care about. If you find it easy to dismiss as "common sense" you and your users are going to suffer for it. I don't think you honestly believe that though, otherwise you wouldn't have asked.

Do read books, do read blogs, and do ask questions. This is a field where you have to ask questions, have to learn, and have to care to do anything well. You have to do all of them or it won't be enough.

  • 3
    +1 for "usability is not common sense". Something you don't really learn until you do research, sit down with users, and look at cold hard data.
    – Rahul
    Feb 8, 2012 at 17:52
  • Good answer, that really puts things in perspective.
    – user9533
    Feb 8, 2012 at 17:57
  • 2
    Common sense: "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts." = a big part of UX. Heuristic evaluation, for example, is mainly common sense. GRANTED, it's common sense from someone that knows what to be looking for and has experience with the subject matter. I think it's fairer to say "UX isn't just common sense"
    – DA01
    Feb 8, 2012 at 18:11
  • 'Common' sense is only common sense - AFTER you've understood it. This is called HIndsight Bias - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindsight_bias
    – PhillipW
    May 19, 2015 at 16:27

In my opinion the best UX comes from common sense. If you have common sense you will not create a sluggish form or an error message that can be only understood by a hard-core developer. You simply don't. Why? Because of 2 things: you're passionate about the user and because you use your brain. You feel. You think. Of course there can be situations where there are several concepts that make sense. To find out which one works you can do user testing.

  • 1
    The problem is that your "common" sense may be a mystery to the end user. Most of us human-types have a hard time seeing outside of ourselves, so I definitely think it is important to have some kind of research or user testing to back up your decisions... whether you use an expert or just read articles seems to depend more on budget and scope.
    – ph33nyx
    Sep 5, 2013 at 17:56

I'm going to stereotype here: Java dev's struggle with front end work.

I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it has to do with most of the major Java frameworks using models that put most of the front end rendering logic in back-end code. For instance, I work with a JSF team at the moment, and I'm horrified bu the fact that in 2012, I'm dealing with a web framework that still spits out 3 dozen onclick attributes on every page.

ASP.net suffered from that for years as well, though eventually .net warmed up to MVC and jQuery and the like.

So, anyways, you probably have your work cut out for you. ;)

A big part of UX is common sense--but common sense combined with context. You need to have the common sense thinking of the business and your users and apply solutions all in the context of the user's objectives.

All that said, reading anything helps. Book or web sites or what have you. Conferences are great as well.

  • Have you tried to make a GUI in Java? shudder Even Android can be painful for front end and they have IDE integrated tools for front end work. That's why it suffers.
    – Ben Brocka
    Feb 8, 2012 at 17:51
  • @Ben that's my job right now. I do front end mobile dev for a JSF team. Which means my day is spent mainly writing hacks to get around the clumsy markup and JS that JSF spits out. ;)
    – DA01
    Feb 8, 2012 at 17:52
  • I agree with the stereotype. When I first started, the web designers did all the gui stuff for us, so we didn't have to. We focused on the other code and looked down on the graphic guys. I've since changed my opinion on that after running into some difficult CSS challenges.
    – user9533
    Feb 8, 2012 at 17:53
  • Yes, I'm fortunate that as the front-end dev, I am a part of the java team...which is critical. Front end and back end has to be built together...not separately. Now if we could only get our UX team to touch code once in a while we'll be set! ;)
    – DA01
    Feb 8, 2012 at 18:09
  • As for my experience, the struggles in the past have been with CSS. Not being expert in CSS prevents a developer from getting at expert level with Ajax. If you get stuck on a problem that takes CSS to do a quick fix and you don't know it, something simple takes a lot longer trying to fix it using just the toolkit.
    – user9533
    Feb 16, 2012 at 22:07

As Ben suggested you need Both.

I have been studying a lot of UX books but the type of knowledge you gain from online communities, webpages and magazine articles is very useful to get you ready for the job, getting a view of what is really happing out there. The book themselves can be categorised to more practical, experienced based books (e.g. Lean UX) or more scientific abstract (e.g. Experience Design-see below). The first category is good when you want a quicker, more hands-on way of learning about UX, if you want to dig deeper, and learn the real meaning of 'experience' and why we care about it, I suggest the latter category.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. One book that I recommend is The UX Book that includes all the basics you need to know from processes to tools and methods (hands-on book). I like this book since it covers both usability as one part of UX, and more subjective aspect (referred in the book as emotional impact)
  2. Another classic you should read is About Face 3 by Cooper. The book is older but includes the principles of IxD and UX.
  3. If you want to learn more about the philosophy of experience, and experience design I suggest the articles and books by Marc Hassenzahl. His view is further away from 'software development' and is more generic but can definitely give you a broader view on 'why experience matters'. One of his books I enjoyed reading is Experience Design: Technology for all the right reasons. Hassenzahl has a phycology and research back ground so I think learning his view can be a useful mix with the more hands-on magazines and books out there.
  4. Another great book, similar to Hassenzahl's is Experience-Centered Design by Wright and McCarthy. More abstract level but very insightful.
  5. If you want to learn more about the emotional aspect of UX( which is still less explored than the 'instrumental' aspect such a usability) you can read 'emotional design' by D. Norman, or a simpler, easier to read book like Design for emotion by Edie Adams.

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