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15 July 2020

8 Books Every UX Designer Should Read

Cutting-edge UX/UI expertise requires keeping up with your reading. We recommend some of the best reads for designers.

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What would tech be without great design? UX/UI Design is about solving problems and improving lives by making things easier for users through intuitive and appropriate design. And it doesn’t hurt to make it easy on the eyes either!

Perhaps you’re looking for a great book to inspire you to be the best possible designer you can be. We’ve picked some of our favorites that’ll teach you the basics, show you some industry-standard best practices, and open your mind to new ways of thinking about design.

1. Brand Thinking And Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman

“The notion of the brand, like any concept that dominates markets and public consciousness, is a challenge to define. Is it a simple differentiator of the cereals in our cupboards, a manipulative brainwashing tool forced on us by corporations, or a creative triumph as capable as any art form of stimulating our emotions and intellect?”

Many UX/UI Designers have a background in fine art, illustration, or graphic design. When you start designing for the tech world, it’s critical to understand the importance of brands. Even if you’re not designing the brand assets for the company, like their logo and color palette, you’ll be manipulating these elements to feature your designs.

This is a great book to pick up if you’re about to start job-hunting for UX/UI Designer roles, and to help you become work-ready!

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2. The Laws Of Simplicity by John Maeda

“Ten laws of simplicity for business, technology, and design that teach us how to need less but get more. Finally, we are learning that simplicity equals sanity. We're rebelling against technology that's too complicated, DVD players with too many menus, and software accompanied by 75-megabyte "read me" manuals. The iPod's clean gadgetry has made simplicity hip. But sometimes we find ourselves caught up in the simplicity paradox: we want something that's simple and easy to use, but also does all the complex things we might ever want it to do.”

As a designer, one of the biggest things you’ll be doing is advocating for simplicity. You’ll have a lot of stakeholders who will have a million different requests for the company website, and a whole bunch of ideas for things that could ‘be cool to have.’ By understanding the laws of simplicity in design, you’ll be able to advocate for keeping things…simple! Because you’ll be able to properly express why not every button needs to be in the dropdown, and why having a thousand different landing pages isn’t the best idea.

This book is an excellent choice for Junior Designers looking to take more ownership of their designs, and who are starting to work more with other departments.

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3. Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton

“​​The definitive guide to using typography in visual communication. Ellen Lupton provides clear and focused guidance on how letters, words, and paragraphs should be aligned, spaced, ordered, and shaped. The book covers all typography essentials, from typefaces and type families, to kerning and tracking, to using a grid. Visual examples show how to be inventive within systems of typographic form, including what the rules are, and how to break them.”

Typography is a nuanced art. It’s easy to get wrong, and it’s one of the first things people notice if you do. This is a great read for UI designers of all levels. 

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4. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

“Design doesn't have to be complicated, which is why this guide to human-centered design shows that usability is just as important as aesthetics. Even the smartest among us can feel inept as we fail to figure out which light switch or oven burner to turn on, or whether to push, pull, or slide a door.

The fault, argues this ingenious -- even liberating -- book, lies not in ourselves, but in product design that ignores the needs of users and the principles of cognitive psychology. The problems range from ambiguous and hidden controls to arbitrary relationships between controls and functions, coupled with a lack of feedback or other assistance and unreasonable demands on memorization.”

As a UX/UI Designer, your primary goal is to make something that people can actually use. Whether it’s through smart wireframing or intuitive front-end design, you need to make apps and pages that people can actually navigate.

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5. Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes

“Sometimes designed objects reject their users: a computer mouse that doesn't work for left-handed people, for example, or a touchscreen payment system that only works for people who read English phrases, have 20/20 vision, and use a credit card. Something as simple as color choices can render a product unusable for millions. These mismatches are the building blocks of exclusion. In Mismatch, Kat Holmes describes how design can lead to exclusion, and how design can also remedy exclusion. Inclusive design methods—designing objects with rather than for excluded users—can create elegant solutions that work well and benefit all.”

The smallest things can make the biggest difference, and without carefully considering the needs of all of your users, a designer can accidentally create something that singles a select group of them out. Designing for inclusion is a great skill to learn as a designer, and one which is a core skill for the future of the tech industry.

Read this book if you believe that building for everyone isn’t some added-bonus, but an integral part of your role as a designer.

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6. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk

“We design to elicit responses from people. We want them to buy something, read more, or take action of some kind. Designing without understanding what makes people act the way they do is like exploring a new city without a map: results will be haphazard, confusing, and inefficient. This book combines real science and research with practical examples to deliver a guide every designer needs. With this book you’ll design more intuitive and engaging apps, software, websites and products that match the way people think, decide and behave.”

Not many people outside of the space know how important psychology is to the art of design. But you need to understand how people think if you’re going to be making something for them.

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7. The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair

“From blonde to ginger, the brown that changed the way battles were fought to the white that protected against the plague, Picasso's blue period to the charcoal on the cave walls at Lascaux, acid yellow to kelly green, and from scarlet women to imperial purple, these surprising stories run like a bright thread throughout history. In this book, Kassia St. Clair has turned her lifelong obsession with colors and where they come from (whether Van Gogh's chrome yellow sunflowers or punk's fluorescent pink) into a unique study of human civilization. Across fashion and politics, art and war, the secret lives of color tell the vivid story of our culture.”

Kassia St. Clair provides, in her words, “something between a potted history and a character sketch” for 75 shades of color that give a glimpse into the history and meaning of color across millennia, while raising awareness about how our interpretation of color itself is tied to our cultural understanding. 

If your designer brain dwells on why some social media networks choose blue as their color, or how the off-white shade of Apple computer cases helped forge such a unique brand identity, this is the book for you.

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8. How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy

“Designers are quick to tell us about their sources of inspiration, but they are much less willing to reveal such critical matters as how to find work, how much they charge, and what to do when a client rejects three weeks of work and refuses to pay the bill. How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul addresses the concerns of young designers who want to earn a living by doing expressive and meaningful work, and who want to avoid becoming hired drones working on soulless projects. Written by a designer for designers, it combines practical advice with philosophical guidance to help young professionals embark on their careers.”

There’s no one-size-fits-all for any given career, and Graphic Design is a path for the self-made. Adrian Shaughnessy’s best-seller includes practical career advice, expert wisdom on creative processes, industry know-how and concise strategies to succeed as a designer.

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UX/UI Design is a broad field that touches many areas of expertise, from the technical side of customer experience to the most artistic face of user-centered design, and this selection of books will widen your perspective. If you itch for more, check out our UX/UI Design bootcamp!


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