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Books on UI design and usability testing

These are books that I have found useful. Jump down this page to a category: Customer research, Web design, UI design (general), UI design (advanced), Design & business, Usability testingeCommerce, General designColor in design.    

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Customer research

book coverOutside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business , Harley Manning & Kerry Bodine (Forrester Research). You want to understand your customers' needs, whether you're designing a mobile app or a business process. Learn how to define business processes to make customers happier (and you know where that leads).

book coverInterviewing Users, Steve Portigal. There's nothing like talking with real (or potential) customers. We've learned about features that we needed to add, and some we shouldn't add. This book is a good introduction to the entire process.

book coverStorytelling for User Experience: Crafting Stories for Better Design, Whitney Quesenberry, Kevin Brooks. Telling stories and listening to people telling them is important in everything we do. You'll benefit from this book if you do usability testing or customer visits.

book coverDesign to Thrive: Creating Social Networks and Online Communities that Last, Tharon W. Howard. If you're building a social network or an online community, this will help you understand the difference and what you have to do to make it successful. Howard uses RIBS as an acronym for his four important factors: Remuneration, Influence, Belonging and Significance.


book coverCustomer Visits: Building a Better Market Focus, Edward F. McQuarrie. Helps you understand why visiting customers is important. It also helps you build a team, plan your visits, conduct them and think about what you learned. Useful for pros and novices alike.

book coverThe User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web, Steve Mulder. Personas are a great tool for understanding who's using the software we design, how they'll use it and more. To convince someone that this is an important step, or to plan and conduct a personas project, or if you just want a refresher, read this book.

Web & mobile design

book coverDon't Make Me Think, Revisited, Steve Krug. This is a great overview of user experience topics, but the best thing is the title. "Don't make me think" really sums up the goal of good product design: let the customer get right to work without having to figure anything out. it's a great introduction to what you should know, whether you're a UX designer or you work with one.

book coverResponsive Web Design, Ethan Marcotte. Learn about creating Web designs that adapt to screen and device sizes. Marcotte developed the name "responsive Web design" and wrote this book to demonstrate it. It contains CSS and HTML tips for designing for multiple devices. This is part of the A Book Apart series from A List Apart.

book coverSimple and Usable Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design (Voices That Matter), Giles Colborne. As the title itself suggests, this is a simple and usable book. Each spread illustrates one point, in text on the left and in a photo on the right. It's great for designers and the people who work with them.

book cover Designing Interfaces, Jennifer Tidwell. A great resource for design patterns. Web design is all about building upon what others have done and this is a great way to start. Look through examples of search UIs, forgot-your-password UIs, charts and more.

book cover Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks, Luke Wroblewski. A great description of form design with explanations and examples. Good information for novices and experienced designers. It's great to have all this information collected in one place.

book cover Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works Ginny Redish. A great book on writing for the Web. But it's more than how to break text into paragraphs. There are words on all of your Web pages, so she covers everything from the home page to the page with the information that a user wants. It's good for everyone involved in Web development.

book coverHomepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed, Jakob Nielsen. The authors review many of the Web sites you know and tell what is good and bad. Good guidelines for evaluating your own home page. One technique is to evaluation the space allocated to things like navigation, whitespace and general information. While there are no right percentages is right for each, it's a technique that I've used for years as a way to start talking with clients about what's on the home page.

Designing With Web Standards, Jeffrey Zeldman. When I checked this out at the library, the clerk said "Really, there are Web standards now?" Well, it is a new idea, and this book is a good place to start. "Standards" refers to separating layout from content, using CSS (cascading style sheets), not worrying so much about browser and platform variations, and more.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites, Lou Rosenfeld & Peter Morville. How to present information for display on the Web. Not about graphics as much as text and overall site organization.

Designing Web Usability, Jakob Nielsen. A good book on Web design.

Writing for the Web C. Kilian. This will help you write better Web copy. The requirements are different from other writing styles.

UI design, general

book cover Paper Prototyping: Fast and Simple Techniques for Designing and Refining the User Interface, Carolyn Snyder. Paper prototyping can save your project money and time. This book has great descriptions of all parts of the process, including usability testing. (Some of our work is featured in the book.)

book coverSearch User Interfaces, Marti A. Hearst. All you need to know about search UI, whether you've been designing them for years, or are just starting. Great descriptions of search strategy, query specification, result presentation and more. And of course faceted navigation (also called "guided navigation"), which the author has done research on.

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper. Excellent information on using scenarios (called "personas" here). Also, a discussion of why software is so annoying. Ideas on limiting features appeal to me. (See also Scenario-Based Design, below.) says it's out of print, but you might find a used copy.

The Usability Engineering Lifecycle, Deborah Mayhew. An excellent overview of the process of UI design. It can help you set up a design group or integrate design into your development process.

Designing Visual Interfaces, Kevin Mullet & Darrell Sano. The first book to address graphic design and UI design together. It was way overdue.

Designing the User Interface, Ben Shneiderman. A good general purpose UI text.

UI design (more advanced)

book coverThe Media Equation, B. Reeves & C. Nass. Discusses people's tendency to treat computers and other electronic media the same way they treat people. We've evolved to interact with each other in certain ways, we try to use those methods when we are working with out computers. How well does it work?

book coverDon't Think of an Elephant, G. Lakoff. Written to convince political progressives that conservatives do a better job of getting their point across. Whichever end of the spectrum you're on, it's a great reading if you're presenting any kind of information. Lakoff talks about listeners and readers having a frame of reference, which is like the mental model that our users have of computer interactions.

Scenario-based design, John Carroll, ed. Wiley, 1995. Articles about using scenarios in doing UI design. Scenarios are a great way to think things through and make sure everyone has the same assumptions. I reread this book whenever I do a group prototyping or brainstorming session. says it's out of print, but you might find a used copy.

Design & business

book coverWeb 2.0: A Strategy Guide: Business thinking and strategies behind successful Web 2.0 implementations, by Amy Shuen. What made Flickr and Netflix work? Read about the business side of Web 2.0 companies, not the JavaScript or Ajax implementation.


Usability testing

book coverA Practical Guide to Usability Testing, Joseph S. Dumas & Janice C. Redish. Lots of good tips on testing, from recruiting to evaluating the results.

Usability Engineering, Jakob Nielsen. Learn to do your own usability testing.


book coverWhy We Buy: The Science of Shopping, Paco Underhi

ll. Mostly relates to physical stores, but many ideas relate to eCommerce. In particular, I like the idea of a "transition zone." In a store, it lets you walk in without being bombarded by signs and merchandise; online, it's a home page that helps you get oriented to the site rather than making you wade through tons of stuff on the first page.

General design

book coverA Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander. A book about architecture, but easily adaptable to other disciplines, and good reading. "Patterns" are easily recognizable problems with reusable solutions.

book coverTypography, Referenced: A Comprehensive Visual Guide to the Language, History, and Practice of Typography , by Allan Haley, et al. New enough to include mobile examples and very new fonts, while still paying appropriate respect to the history of type, which is so important. Fun to page through.


The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman. Design is everywhere, but sometimes people don't pay attention when they make things. Ever walk up to a set of doors and been unable to open them? Then you'll appreciate this book. (Out of print, but still available.)

Visual Explanations, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, and Envisioning Information, Edward Tufte. Beautiful books on presenting information in general. Not specific to UI design, but you'll learn a lot and enjoy reading them.

Color in design

book coverInteraction of Color Josef Albers. I believe this was meant as a teacher's manual, but it's good to read what Albers wrote about his ideas on color. Read more about Albers and how to use his ideas in UI design.

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