I'm looking for the Book that explains the essentials of user interface and user experience design.

I read Beautiful Visualization and Designing Interfaces from O'Reilly. I think they are very good but, I'm still looking for the one.

Please provide your recommendation and why it stands as the essential reference.

  • 10
    "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
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 22:28
  • 47
    Strangely enough, these 'must read books' questions are pretty much my favourite part of every stackexchange site
    – Damon
    Commented Mar 9, 2011 at 17:48
  • Hello, the OP means to say "the one", the definitive one, along with the "Why" of it. Each reader can have his own "the one", with his own reasons. So, no "list of..." as such.
    – Kris
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 12:00
  • I am surprised that "Designing Web Usability" by Jakob Nielsen was not been included on the answers list. It is very pleasant to read and along with Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think", they are the only two usability books I've read from end-to-end.
    – sergiol
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 2:18

41 Answers 41


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

  • 5
    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. Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 22:02
  • 2
    Even if you are not a web developer this book is worth the effort. Very well written and insightful. Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 0:24
  • Agreed - it is one of the best books on the topic I know of, and a very easy read. Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 2:37
  • 2
    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? Commented Aug 19, 2010 at 22:43
  • 1
    @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.
    – Dhaust
    Commented Aug 24, 2010 at 5:54

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.

  • And his later books, where he changes his mind on some things. Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 5:53
  • This is one of the books I had to read for one of my HCI courses. Highly recommended Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 19:37
  • I agree. I liked the first half of the book better, but it's still a really good and revelatory read. I actually re-read a couple of months ago and realized that it hasn't lost any of its value. Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 21:09
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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
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 22:55
  • 1
    Heads up - there's an revised edition from 2013, which should fix some of the qualms mentioned in the comments. At least the examples feel up to date (including things like Nest, smartphones, etc.). Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 12:47

Universal Principles of Design

Brilliant design book, especially useful for interface design.

  • 1
    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. Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 1:32
  • This is a great reference book that's easy to understand.
    – Ambo100
    Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 21:22
  • Agree, I have this one in my library and reference it so much. Lot's of valuable info in there.
    – Adriaan
    Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 14:00
  • beautiful book. how did i not spot it before. so useful and exactly what i needed.
    – Felipe
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 3:49

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.

  • 7
    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. Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 22:55

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.

  • The other Tufte books are worth reading as well - actually, don't just read them - study them.
    – Bevan
    Commented Aug 19, 2010 at 20:57
  • "...and focus on the essence of the information." Then, hopefully, it inspires you to go back, identify the elements that were "non-essential," and remove them.
    – Matthew
    Commented Sep 3, 2010 at 22:31
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    "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away" Commented Oct 11, 2010 at 16:29

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.

  • 4
    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
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 9:37

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.

  • The Krug book is covered in a separate entry - would you mind editing it out?
    – Matthew
    Commented Sep 3, 2010 at 22:30
  • The UIPatterns website is companion to Jennifer Tidwell's Designing Interfaces I believe. Commented Oct 11, 2010 at 16:27

If you're interested specifically in forms, I can recommend Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks by Luke Wroblewski.

  • 2
    I just finished this book. It was VERY worth my time.
    – jessegavin
    Commented Nov 7, 2010 at 17:51
  • Happy to hear it :)
    – Dan Barak
    Commented Nov 9, 2010 at 17:30

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.


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.

  • 2
    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.
    – Matthew
    Commented Sep 3, 2010 at 22:33

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

I'm really surprised that GUI Bloopers 2.0 hasn't been mentioned yet.

  • Agreed. It is a good book if you want some dos and don'ts with clear examples. If you need to design user interfaces and you need to read one book, this is a good choice.
    – Carlos
    Commented Sep 10, 2010 at 18:32

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.


Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design by Jenifer Tidwell

Design patterns for user interfaces. A great reference.


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.


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.


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.


All books Edward Tufte


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' ;-)


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


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.

  • 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.
  • I must look into these!
    – Mark C
    Commented Nov 1, 2010 at 2:11

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.


Screen Design Manual:

Communicating Effectively Through Multimedia

by Frank Thissen

Amazon Cover Image


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

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.


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

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