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Books That Have Influenced Our UX Careers, Part 2: Applied UX Research

Ask UXmatters

Get expert answers

A column by Janet M. Six
March 27, 2017

For the centennial edition of Ask UXmatters, I asked our expert panel to tell me about the books that have had the greatest influence on their career—including books about User Experience and other topics. I received so many stories about books that had an impact on our experts that I decided to publish this column in three parts. Part 1 covered design books. Now, in Part 2, we’ll focus primarily on books on UX research—covering books on both user research and usability testing—but we’ll also cover some books on applying the findings from UX research through user-centered design. Next month, Part 3 will consider books that, while not about User Experience, have greatly influenced our experts’ thinking.

AnnouncementUXmatters is now an Amazon Associate, so you can support UXmatters by initiating a shopping trip on Amazon by clicking a book link in this column, then buying the book or any other products on Amazon. Thus, by making purchases on Amazon, you can—at no additional cost to you—help UXmatters cover its operating expenses, fund our ongoing Web-development efforts, and defray the recent $90,000.00 cost of completely rebuilding our site to implement our responsive design. Please show us that you value UXmatters and want us to continue delivering high-quality, free content to you every month. Thank you! UXmatters plans to launch a new Books section on our Web site, recommending helpful books to our readers about User Experience and other topics of interest to UX professionals.

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In my monthly column Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers our readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, or research or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].

The following experts have contributed to this edition of Ask UXmatters:

  • Stephen Anderson—Chief Experience Officer at BloomBoard
  • Carol Barnum—Director of User Research and Founding Partner at UX Firm; author of Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set … Test!
  • Dana Chisnell—Co-Director, Center for Civic Design; Co-author of Handbook of Usability Testing
  • Warren Croce—Principal UX Designer at Gazelle; Principal at Warren Croce Design
  • Gerry Gaffney—Director and Principal UX Consultant at Information & Design
  • Steven Hoober—Mobile Interaction Designer and Owner at 4ourth Mobile; author of Designing Mobile Interfaces; UXmatters columnist
  • Peter Hornsby—UX Manager at Distribution Technology; UXmatters columnist
  • Adrian Howard—Generalizing Specialist in Agile/UX
  • Ben Ihnchak—Co-Founder at Fuzzy Math
  • Caroline Jarrett—Owner and Director at Effortmark Limited; UXmatters columnist
  • Tobias Komischke—Director of User Experience at Honeywell
  • Cindy McCracken—User Experience Research Consultant at User-View
  • Whitney Quesenbery—Director of the Center for Civic Design; Consultant at Whitney Interactive Design; Author and Expert at Rosenfeld Media; UXmatters columnist
  • Jim Ross—Principal User Experience Architect at Infragistics; UXmatters columnist
  • Janet Six—Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design; UXmatters Managing Editor and columnist
  • Daniel Szuc—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.
  • Jo Wong—Principal and Cofounder of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd.

Important—You can buy any of the books we’ve mentioned in this column on Amazon now. Just click the book’s link—either a book-cover image or a book title. UXmatters will receive up to 8.5% of whatever amount you spend during that session on Amazon.

Note—I’ve organized many of the books into topics and ordered the categories alphabetically.

Designing with Words

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works

By Janice (Ginny) Redish

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That WorksSecond edition

“Ginny Redish wrote a masterful book on writing, Letting Go of the Words, which is now in its second edition. I regularly buy this book by the dozen to give away when I’m teaching writing workshops.”—Caroline Jarrett, Owner and Director at Effortmark Limited

Practical Speech User Interface Design

Practical Speech User Interface DesignBy James Lewis

“James R Lewis’ Practical Speech User Interface Design was great when I was working on voice user interfaces.”—Gerry Gaffney, Director and Principal UX Consultant at Information & Design

 

Information Design

Information Design

Edited by Robert Jacobson

Information Design“As I moved into managing teams, I had to come up with ways that we could formally approach what we were doing and justify them. I started researching methods, going to conferences, and reading. I wrote down notes about principles and methods that I still have today, many of which I still use in some form or other. One of the smartest books I read back then was Information Design, edited by Robert Jacobson. Information design is still a word I use every day. To me, it’s a layer between user interface and information architecture. But it’s an older practice area that is based on library science, invites a lot of introspection, and offers much to learn. This book is a collection of articles, papers, and essays by a variety of authors. The foreward is by Richard Saul Wurman, and it gets better from there, as Robert Jacobson edits the collection into a narrative that obscures its anthological nature.

“The most useful part of this book is Brenda Dervin’s article on sense-making, but my favorite thing is that the cover is not an illustration, but an actual map of the book’s contents. This book is still largely relevant today.”—Steven Hoober, Interaction Designer and Owner at 4ourth Mobile

Envisioning Information

By Edward Tufte

Envisioning Information“Not only has Edward Tufte collected an amazing variety of information-visualization methods, he also presents them in a way that inspires many designers to create beautiful, effective work in information organization every day. We used Envisioning Information in my graduate research lab to help build a bridge between technology and people—in a beautiful way, no less. I also had the good fortune to take one of his courses and came away inspired by methods I could apply immediately in my work.”—Janet Six, Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The Visual Display of Quantitative InformationBy Edward Tufte

“I recommend The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte. I went to see him speak about twenty years ago. He was an incredibly engaging speaker, and his books are classics.”Warren Croce, Principal UX Designer at Gazelle and Principal at Warren Croce Design

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Designing User Interfaces for Children

Design for Kids: Digital Products for Playing and Learning

Design for Kids: Digital Products for Playing and LearningBy Debra Gelman

“Debra Gelman’s Design for Kids was really useful for working with children.”—Gerry Gaffney, Director and Principal UX Consultant at Information & Design

 

 

Steve Krug’s Books on Usability

Don't Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability    Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

By Steve Krug

Third edition

Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems

By Steve Krug

“Who wouldn’t have Steve Krug’s books on their list?! Steve gave us the mantra for usability with his first book Dont Make Me Think—now in its third edition—then went on to demystify usability testing for the masses with Rocket Surgery Made Easy. Not only does he simplify the approach and the process in these books, his inimitable writing style make them a joy to read and re-read.”—Carol Barnum, Director of User Research and Founding Partner at UX Firm

“I read Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug, when it first came out. I loved the fact that he didn’t use a ton of jargon. I hate jargon.”Warren Croce, Principal UX Designer at Gazelle and Principal at Warren Croce Design

“Steve Krug’s brilliant Don’t Make Me Think is a great exposition of the fact that regular people really don’t care about the technical stuff. It’s almost a call-to-arms for simplicity in design. It’s also the sort of book you can give to a product manager, CEO, or pretty much anyone else to explain why what we do is important.”—Gerry Gaffney, Director and Principal UX Consultant at Information & Design

Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug, immediately jumps to mind. The book is a wonderful mix of principles, theory, and real-life examples, but most important—in my opinion—is how approachable it feels. It’s rich with lessons to be learned, tips and tricks, best practices, and so much more, but it never feels as dense as it actually is. I first read it in 2003, and it’s still as relevant today as it was back then. I’ve tried to borrow as much of Steve’s easy approach to explaining the whys of UX as I possibly can, and put it into use in my day-to-day work life.”— Ben Ihnchak, Co-Founder at Fuzzy Math

“There are so many reasons to recommend Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery Made Easy! My favorite reason is that it makes the practice of usability testing and how to approach the resulting redesign work accessible to developers. Not every company can afford to hire UX designers—and there are some that are not interested in doing so. Therefore, making usability testing and solid design methods accessible to the people who sometimes end up doing this kind of work has a large, positive impact on the software products that people use every day. Thank you, Steve Krug!”—Janet Six, Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design

Storytelling

The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling

By Annette Simmons

The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling“Whether you’re trying to lead a team, sell your new idea, get that promotion, or whatever—these lessons on storytelling are timeless. Simmons explains things like the ‘six stories you need to know’ and why people believe stories before they believe facts. As would be expected, it’s an entertaining read, but one I’ve had to stop every few pages, then start again, because of all the ideas it triggers!”—Stephen Anderson, Chief Experience Officer at BloomBoard

Usability Testing

A Practical Guide to Usability Testing

By Joseph Dumas and Janice (Ginny) Redish

Second edition

A Practical Guide to Usability Testing“Ginny and Joe coauthored the first how-to book on usability testing, A Practical Guide to Usability Testing, in 1993. Although it was hugely influential on the usability profession in general, when I was looking for a textbook to inform my own practice at around that time, it wasn’t easy to find in the UK—before Amazon, before Google, and—from my point of view—almost before the Internet.”—Caroline Jarrett, Owner and Director at Effortmark Limited

Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests

By Jeffrey Rubin and Dana Chisnell

Second edition

Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests“I wonder if others will say something similar. A book that has had a special influence on me was the book for which I cowrote the second edition with Jeff Rubin: Handbook of Usability Testing. I had been a technical writer early in my career and gradually transitioned to doing user research and usability testing. I’d been doing that work for several years by the time I got an email message from Jeff asking me if I might be interested in talking about possibly coauthoring the second edition of his book. When we both got to Yes, that catalyzed all kinds of good and interesting things for me.

“First, Jeff was a joy to work with. We had wonderful conversations about methods and techniques, and the importance of clear examples. He was gentle about entertaining some of my crazy ideas and wise about what he thought were true improvements versus personal style preferences. Most importantly, he helped me through the struggle of trying to write about practices that I had automatized. I had probably run more than a hundred usability studies between 1999 and 2007, when we finished the manuscript for the book. When you do something a lot, it can be difficult to teach your skills to others because they’re just not available for introspection. Jeff gave me excellent critique on my work and respectful, helpful feedback about my opaque writing. It turned out that he was teaching me, just as I was trying to help others learn.

“Second, I realized through writing the book that pretty much anyone can learn to do respectably useful usability tests. I’ve carried that realization through the rest of my career to date. For example, I’ve taught thousands of government workers, especially local election officials, how to test their own voting materials—whether they’re program managers, developers, or county clerks.

“Third, I got to know Jared Spool, who wrote the foreword to the book. It started with a conversation about what should be different from the first edition in the second edition and led eventually to us marrying. Yes, the pillow talk is very nerdy.”—Dana Chisnell, Co-Director, Center for Civic Design

First edition: “Jeffrey Rubin’s Handbook of Usability Testing, which I read in 2000, was my turning point in understanding that I needed to develop some systematic processes for doing user-research work. I’d been doing ad-hoc usability testing for a few years. I thought I was pretty good at it! This book showed me that I had many holes my practice, driving the lesson home that there were people out there who had been doing this for years, from whom I could learn a lot. It got me looking outside my immediate circle of acquaintances and started my connecting to the larger user-research community.”—Adrian Howard, Generalizing Specialist in Agile/UX

User Research

Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research

By Elizabeth Goodman, Mike Kuniavsky, and Andrea Moed

Second edition

Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner's Guide to User Research“Your first job in a field—while exciting—can be overwhelming. When I started as a UX researcher in 2008, having previously worked as a designer, I was experienced in usability testing, interviewing, and survey techniques, but wanted to fully understand the research landscape. So I picked up Observing the User Experience: A Practitioners Guide to User Research, and it became my go-to book for deciding what type of research to use for any given circumstance. This book—which was updated in 2012—introduces research methods, one by one, and discusses when to use each technique, how to apply it, and how to analyze its results. It’s a super-practical book, too, covering everything from the particulars of putting together a research plan—including scheduling and budgeting—to tips for working with stakeholders and getting their buy-in on projects. All the details make it easy to apply what you learn. Though I don’t use this book as often now, I still turn to it for details when I try new or infrequently used methods. It always comes through for me.”—Cindy McCracken, User Experience Research Consultant at User-View

User and Task Analysis for Interface Design

By JoAnn Hackos and Janice (Ginny) Redish

User and Task Analysis for Interface Design“JoAnn Hackos and Ginny Redish’s book, User and Task Analysis for Interface Design, from 1998, is probably the book that has the most misleading title of any in my collection. But, by the time this book came out, I was already online and communicating regularly with other people doing usability things. In those days, much of my work was in what we’d now call enterprise user experience—the design of systems for people to use in their everyday work. So, if that book came out today, I’d suggest a title like How to Do User Research for Enterprise and Caseworker Systems.

“This isn’t a book about watching the general public use Web sites or apps. It’s about learning about how people within organizations use their technology, day in and day out, to do their jobs. This isn’t a book about user interface design. It’s about the user research you have to do to learn whether a potential or actual system meets users’ needs. It’s too easy to miss the subtle word task, in the phrase task analysis in the title. This is a book about understanding the tasks that people within organizations have to do all day.

“The book helped me greatly with my own user research within organizations, and it’s been really handy to be able to say to others who are just getting started: ‘Just do what Hackos and Redish tell you to do in this book, and you’ll be fine.’

“Nearly 20 years later, it seems that the trend toward digital transformation is bringing user experience within the enterprise back into focus. Although this book is no longer in print, you can easily find a second-hand copy, for a reasonable price.”—Caroline Jarrett, Owner and Director at Effortmark Limited

“When I first started out in human-computer interaction (HCI), User and Task Analysis for Interface Design, by JoAnn Hackos and Ginny Redish, was my bible on how to conduct user research and apply that knowledge to design. I relied on it heavily in conducting user research for my capstone project for my Master’s program in HCI, at DePaul University. Before I could rely on practical experience, that book was my guide, and I suppose it led to my love of user research.”—Jim Ross, Principal User Experience Architect at Infragistics

Contextual Design: Design for Life

By Karen Holtzblatt and Hugh Beyer

Second edition

Contextual Design: Design for LifeContextual Design was enormously useful and practical when I started doing serious user-centered design work. It has detailed information about how to conduct research, analyze findings, and derive design solutions. The second edition just came out in December 2016, and I’m looking forward to revisiting the updated version.”—Gerry Gaffney, Director and Principal UX Consultant at Information & Design

Our Experts’ Journeys into User Experience

Some panelists recounted the stories of their journeys into User Experience, sharing information about the books that influenced them along the way.

Steven Hoober’s Story

“I got into User Experience in a roundabout way—in no small measure because I started doing this work before the term existed, years before the UPA chutes and ladders chart, and so on,” says Steven. “By all rights, I should have been a human-factors engineer, and gotten a degree in cognitive psychology, but no one told me about that until years later, so I ended up with an art degree and doing lots of design work.”

Tobias Komischke’s First UX Books

Psychology of Everyday Things    Usability Engineering    Human Factors in Product Design

“I’ll out myself as an old-schooler,” replies Tobias. “But Don Norman’s Psychology of Everyday Things, Jakob Nielsen’s Usability Engineering, Daniel Rosenberg and William Cushman’s Human Factors in Product Design were the first three books I ever read about User Experience, and they really provided a very strong foundation to build upon.”

Stephen Anderson on Classic Books and Other Influences

The Inmates are Running the Asylum    The Design of Everyday Things

“While there are a handful of classic UX books that I could recommend—for example, The Inmates are Running the Asylum and The Design of Everyday Things—the books that have had the biggest impact on my UX career aren’t explicitly about User Experience,” answers Stephen. “Rather, these books speak volumes about human nature, explore concepts that cross disciplines, and address values that are increasingly important to our modern culture.”

Gerry Gaffney on Reading

“I’m always a little surprised when I meet UX professionals who don’t read books, but depend on blogs or podcasts for their knowledge,” says Gerry. “It seems to me that to get the appropriate depth, it’s necessary to read deeply. Having said that, I do enjoy interviewing authors on uxpod.com, and I often find that they can sum up a lot of key points in just a half-hour chat!”

Whitney Quesenbery’s Books, Plus Her Favorites

In addition to mentioning her own books, Whitney provided a very substantial list of her favorite books by other authors—many of them classics on their topic.

“Writing three books was important because each forced me to grapple with different aspects of User Experience, and I got work with different writing partners,” says Whitney. “Great experiences!”

These are Whitney’s books:

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User ExperiencesA Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences

By Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery

 

 

 

Storytelling for User ExperienceStorytelling for User Experience

By Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks

 

 

 

 

Global UX: Design and Research in a Connected WorldGlobal UX: Design and Research in a Connected World

By Whitney Quesenbery and Daniel Szuc

 

 

 

“Here are some of the first books on the field of usability that I read—early books on usability testing,” continued Whitney. “Later books delved into a topic and came up with not just a pile of recommendations, but a new way of looking at a problem, even if a little tangential to User Experience.”

User and Task Analysis for Interface DesignUser and Task Analysis for Interface Design

By JoAnn Hackos and Janice (Ginny) Redish

 

 

 

A Practical Guide to Usability TestingA Practical Guide to Usability Testing

By Joseph Dumas and Janice (Ginny) Redish

 

 

 

 

Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan Design, and Conduct Effective TestsHandbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan Design, and Conduct Effective Tests

By Jeffrey Rubin and Dana Chisnell

Second edition

 

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That WorksLetting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works

By Janice (Ginny) Redish

Second edition

 

 

Forms That Work: Designing Web Forms for UsabilityForms That Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability

By Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney

 

 

 

Simple and Usable Web, Mobile, and Interaction DesignSimple and Usable Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design

By Giles Colborne

 

 

 

Sources of Power: How People Make DecisionsSources of Power: How People Make Decisions

By Gary Klein

 

 

 

Tales from the Field: On Writing EthnographyTales from the Field: On Writing Ethnography

By John Van Maanen

 

 

 

Universal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through DesignUniversal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design

By William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler

 

Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise UsedFlawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used

By Peter Block

Third edition

 

 

Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout DesignJust Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design

By Shawn Lawton Henry

 

 

 

Daniel Szuc and Jo Wong’s Recommendations

Dan and Jo shared a list of a few books that had significant impact on them, plus some books that Dan coauthored.

The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and BeyondThe Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond

By Jesse James Garrett

Second edition

 

Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner's Guide to User ResearchObserving the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research

By Elizabeth Goodman, Mike Kuniavsky, and Andrea Moed

Second edition

 

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling InsightsInterviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

By Steve Portigal

 

 

 

Global UX: Design and Research in a Connected WorldGlobal UX: Design and Research in a Connected World

By Whitney Quesenbery and Daniel Szuc

 

 

 

The Usability KitThe Usability Kit

By Gerry Gaffney and Daniel Szuc 

 

 

 

 

Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixAs Principal of Lone Star Interaction Design in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research. Janet is the Managing Editor of UXmatters.  Read More

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