By Armin Hofmann
“Armin Hofmann’s Graphic Design Manual is a classic in the field and a great resource for understanding basic design principles. I think anyone working in the field of User Experience would find value in it because it stresses economy and simplification for maximum impact.”—Warren Croce, Principal UX Designer at Gazelle and Principal at Warren Croce Design
By Allen Hurlburt
“By and large, most of my design reading has focused on graphic design, which was my major in college. The Grid was written in 1978, but is still a book I refer to now.”—Warren Croce, Principal UX Designer at Gazelle and Principal at Warren Croce Design
History of Technology
Our panelists found design inspiration in these books.
By Ted Nelson
“I highly recommend this book, which was written in 1974, the year before I was born. It really conveys Nelson’s enthusiasm for what computing could be. In case you’ve not come across Ted Nelson before, he is someone who has given a huge amount to computing and, while he has sometimes—to paraphrase Browning—found that his reach exceeded his grasp, that is, in itself, no bad thing. It’s how we progress as a species.”—Peter Hornsby, UX Manager at Distribution Technology
By Henry Petroski
“Henry Petroski is a terrific writer and, in his many volumes, has explicitly discussed how to design well or poorly. But my first, early exposure to his work was this daunting tome. It is wonderfully written, tying things together in improbable ways, as many historians have done since—in much the same way as James Burke’s Connections TV series, for those as old as me. In doing so, he has made the complexity of even simple things clearer and proven to me the necessity of understanding at least part of the complex chain of systems, so I can utilize them well in my design work.”—Steven Hoober, Interaction Designer and Owner at 4ourth Mobile
By Tracey Kidder.
“This book won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award many years ago. Something I am concerned about regarding a lot of UX designers is a lack of empathy with the engineers who make hardware or an understanding of that hardware. User experience is one layer in a very deep system. What this book does incredibly well is to describe the creation of a new computer. lt takes you on an emotional journey. Kidder talks about all levels of the hardware and how they were brought together, as well as the challenges and frustrations of developing an entirely new machine. It’s quite an old book now, but the writing and the emotions it evokes are timeless.”—Peter Hornsby, UX Manager at Distribution Technology
By Victor Papanek
“Perhaps the biggest influence on my design career was Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World, which was published way back in 1972. I read it around then—perhaps a couple of years after its publication. I was a young designer, not yet in college, and I was struck by Papanek’s impassioned plea for appropriate technology. The notion that we could reduce the amount of technological investment and creation, in service of solving the targeted problem, really resonated with my adolescent self. It still resonates strongly today, in the context of highly complex technical environments.
“Papanek continued his criticism of the industrial-design domain from the mid-1960s throughout his career. The main tenets of his arguments were as follows:
- Industrial design—and design as a human-centered activity in general—was obligated to solve real-world problems. We, as designers, are in a position to create solutions that reduce the suffering of humankind.
- Papanek criticized design in the 1960s because it had devolved into a competition of styling, which he traced all the way back to the 1930s and streamlined moderne. He lamented that adding aeronautical elements to teapots didn’t do a thing to improve the teapot or the user’s experience of making tea, all the while using up precious resources.
- Papanek documented case studies from his classes at Cooper Union, among many other universities, in which he and his students applied serious, deep design thinking to significant problems in developing nations—such as lack of power, limited access to fresh water, and the value of recycling whatever materials could be had into functioning technology.
“This single book still informs almost all of my design thinking over 40 years later. Can I find the least necessary technology to solve the problem at hand? While this may sound a lot like minimum viable product (MVP), it is anything but. Am I, through my design efforts and deliverables, contributing to improving the world? Are the companies for which I work and their business interests in line with the idea of appropriate technology? This is great stuff, and I urge anyone who hasn’t read this book to give it a read—or if it’s been a while, give it a re-read.”—Leo Frishberg, Principal at Phase II
By Henry Dreyfuss
“Designing for People and Design for the Real World—both written by important figures in the industrial design world—were highly influential in my thinking about interaction design as a profession and as a philosophy. They’re about balancing client needs with design work that is ethical, purposeful, pragmatic, and elegant with respect to users. Papanek’s book, in particular, inspired me to tackle tough design problems that make a real difference in improving the human condition and is, in part, responsible for my attraction to the healthcare domain, where design can truly have a direct and immediate effect on the quality of life of patients and their families.”—Robert Reimann, Principal Interaction Designer at PatientsLikeMe
By Victor Papanek and James Hennessey
In writing How Things Don’t Work with James Hennessey, Papanek continued his critique of industrial design.—Leo Frishberg, Principal at Phase II
By Don Norman
“I first read The Design of Everyday Things after it had been revised and renamed from its original title, The Psychology of Everyday Things. By that time, it was already a classic—perhaps the classic book on interaction design that predated the term interaction design. Don Norman precisely describes the great need for interaction design processes, practices, and principles that books such as About Face later addressed.”—Robert Reimann, Principal Interaction Designer at PatientsLikeMe
“I read Don Norman’s The Psychology of Everyday Things in 1991—the edition that preceded the title change to The Design of Everyday Things. For me, it helped crystallize the idea that making digital products and systems easier to use could be a discipline in and of itself rather than just a side effect of other work.
“At the time, I was an undergraduate, studying artificial intelligence, and the book fell into a bunch of reading I was doing around computer vision—because Norman tangentially, and somewhat inaccurately, discussed James J. Gibson’s concept of affordances.
“This book helped me reframe some of the development work I had done earlier in my career—as making systems easier to use—see how it related to cognitive psychology, and understand how humans worked rather than thinking in terms of technological advancement.”—Adrian Howard, Generalizing Specialist in Agile/UX
“I discovered The Design of Everyday Things late in my computer-science graduate school days. I had become frustrated by the gulf between the amazing technology that was being created and the typical user experience, so was thrilled to find a discussion of why that was happening and how to make it better. Door handles have never been the same for me since I read this book. I now enjoy quipping, ‘Well this design probably won an award.’ In all seriousness, though, this book verified for me that good design for the products we use every day is not a waste of time or a frivolous extra, but an extremely important endeavor, because technology is an extension of humanity.”—Janet Six, Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design
By Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, David Cronin, and Christopher Noessel
“After reading The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, I was eager to make technology easier to use, so I bought About Face 2.0 to better understand exactly what interaction design was and how to apply it. In this book, Cooper and Reimann describe the why and how of using goal-directed design to build products that are effective and easy to use. As someone who was classically trained in computer science and had spent many hours writing code, I greatly appreciated having this book, which integrated solid design principles with the tenets of computer science, with which I was already familiar.—Janet Six, Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design
By Paul Heckel
“Published a year before the first edition of About Face, this might have been the first book that attempted to describe principles of what would eventually be called interaction design. My favorite illustration in the book couples a quotation from Einstein with sketches of a baby wearing a diaper. In the first sketch, the baby’s diaper is fastened with a safety pin—‘Make things as simple as possible….’ It’s followed by a sketch of a baby wearing a diaper fastened with a straight pin—‘…but no simpler.’”—Robert Reimann, Principal Interaction Designer at PatientsLikeMe
By Jakob Nielsen
“Nielsen’s Usability Engineering provides a hard-nosed view of what usability is, how it’s measured, and why it matters. I consider this a foundational book.”—Gerry Gaffney, Director and Principal UX Consultant at Information & Design
User Experience Design
By Jesse James Garrett
“A book that I found extremely useful early in my career was Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience. To this day, I don’t think anyone has ever created a clearer, more accurate, more understandable description of user experience and how its elements fit together. I recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t already understand User Experience.”—Jim Ross, Principal User Experience Architect at Infragistics
By Ben Shneiderman, Catherine Pleasant, Maxine Cohen, Steven Jacobs, Niklas Elmqvist, and Nicholas Diakopoulos
“Designing the User Interface is one of the books I use most frequently. It is a classic textbook—now in its 6th edition—for HCI at many universities. Since I did not have formal training in user interface or interaction design, I sought out a great textbook in this area. This book gave me a good foundation in user interface design that I was able to integrate with my computer-science education. I frequently use Shneiderman’s ‘Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design’ in my work. Why do I harp on the basics? Because they are still not pervasive in today’s designs!”—Janet Six, Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design
By Apple Computer, Inc.
“The early editions of Apple’s Macintosh HIGs were one of the few places you could look to figure out how to go about creating visual style guides for user interfaces. This book was on my shelf for most of my early design career.”—Robert Reimann, Principal Interaction Designer at PatientsLikeMe
By Bruce Tognazzini
“The first time I stumbled across anything that codified what we were calling Web design, as part of a larger truth, was when I found a book someone had left behind at work: Tog on Interface. It’s a collection of old Bruce Tognazzini columns from the early Mac days. While it rambles, has excessively specific rants about stuff that no longer matters, is overly opinionated, and dismisses ideas and research he doesn’t like, it’s full of useful nuggets and how-to lists from design to hiring. Plus, it introduced me to many useful terms and concepts.”—Steven Hoober, Interaction Designer and Owner at 4ourth Mobile
“Bruce Tognazzini’s AskTOG blog was one of the first resources I found when searching online for more information about interface design. I would often find myself saying, ‘Yes! Yes!’ while reading his blog and was glad to have a collection of his columns from Apple in this book.”—Janet Six, Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design
By Alan Cooper
“This book has been fundamental to my career in User Experience. After reading The Design of Everyday Things, I knew there was a better way to design technology, but I encountered a significant obstacle: many businesses did not see a problem with the current state of technology. ‘These poorly designed products sell; why invest so much money in a better design?’ Alan Cooper’s The Inmates Are Running the Asylum makes a business case for interaction design. We can have the best product design in the world, but if it does not make sense for the business to implement it, the design will remain unrealized. Alan bridged the gap between design and business goals.—Janet Six, Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design
Visual Interface Design
By Kevin Mullet and Darrell Sano
“This book, sadly out of print, remains the best book on the detailed visual design of user interfaces that I have come across. In the early years of my design career, this was my go-to book for visual interface design. I wish someone would update it and put it back in print!”—Robert Reimann, Principal Interaction Designer at PatientsLikeMe
What About You?
Look for further discussion of what books have had great influence on our experts in Parts 2 and 3 of this Ask UXmatters series. And please share what books have inspired you and your work—whether books on UX topics or others—in the Comments section. We want to hear from you! And we hope you’ll support UXmatters by clicking a book link and buying one or more of these books on Amazon.