Digital Reading: A UX Bookshelf for Beginners

Anne KostickIf the subject of user experience and interaction design has started to interest you, you may want to read and learn more about it. This starter set of books, listed below, is culled from “best-of” lists posted by web designers, usability experts and interaction designers as well as recommendations and reviews by readers. Some are considered the “canonical” books in the field and date back to the Dark Ages—the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Many are inspirational—they help us change the way we think and make us aware of how we absorb information and use objects.

There are hundreds of titles in print in the overlapping areas of interaction design, usability, user experience and the many other terms in use. There are also articles, slide decks, blogs and videos. (Not surprisingly, the amount of material dedicated to digital book design is quite small, but that will change.) There’s so much great information and explanation available that it’s best to limit choices (a usability principle); here are just five books.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman (Basic Books)

First published in 1988 and revised and reissued as recently as 2002, this book applies the theory and principle of “human centered design” to the objects in our world. It’s not a technical book, but it definitely can turn your head around, making you see and examine how we use things (both man-made and natural) in a new, critical way. Donald Norman is a professor, consultant and lecturer in cognitive science, design and usability, one of the first in the field, and a prolific author. He’s since published several more books, so if you like his writing, there’s lots more.

Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte (Graphics Press)

This book, first published in 1990, is not an easy read, but it is a beautiful object in itself. Tufte, a professor (now emeritus) of information science, shows by example how information can be enlightening or misleading by the way it is presented. This gorgeous tome was followed by several other gorgeous tomes, each one addressing another aspect of information design. Tufte famously examined PowerPoint’s shortcomings in a memorable essay. There’s much more about Tufte’s theories and many more products at his website, and it’s worth a visit.

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug (New Riders Press)

Krug’s book on Web usability, published in 2000 and now in its second edition (2005), was a best seller in the field.  Eminently readable (see the title), its principles apply to more than just Web sites.  Krug is a usability consultant, and his newer title, Rocket Surgery Made Easy, is about usability testing.

About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Cooper, Reimann, and Cronin (Wiley)

This book, in its third edition (2007), is referred to as a complete handbook of “goal-based” interaction design, and is far more technical than you may want for an overview or introduction. But it presents a complete picture of the work, thinking, and focus on detail that goes into digital design.

Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services by Kim Goodwin (Wiley)

Goodwin’s book is the most recently published in this list (2009) and was highly praised by practitioners.  As a handbook of interaction design it is extremely thorough and very clear about the process. Goodwin’s book also clarifies for the newly initiated how very multidisciplinary the practice of digital design has become.

The Nature and Art of Workmanship by David Pye (A&C Black)

This short book on craftsmanship and design was a surprise entry in one list and reminded me that inspiration comes from many sources. Pye’s book was first written in 1968 and is the antithesis of digital—it’s about making things. Pye was a professor of furniture design at the Royal College of Art in London, as well as an architect, industrial designer and craftsman.  Pye’s viewpoint seems more relevant than ever now, as we consider how to transfer our craft wisdom from making print books to making digital books.

NOTE: DBW has launched an Editorial Forum on LinkedIn, a sub-group for editors and others working in trade publishing to discuss standards, workflow, best practices, and the general Qs that most print people feel when confronted with terms like “workflow.” The Forum is moderated by Anne Kostick and David B. Schlosser. Anne’s weekly column, Digital Reading, discusses the field of User Experience and explores what it offers to trade publishers.

Anne Kostick is a partner in Foxpath IND, a digital-print-web consulting and services company specializing in the transition to and from traditional content development, management and publishing. She is also the editor in chief of Dulcinea Media, an online publisher in the educational market, and is the current president of Women’s Media Group.


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