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The top 6 UX design books that every designer should read

Where do you start, and keep, learning about user experience design? UX Goodies creator Ioana Teleanu shares the six UX books at the top of her list. Research, feedback, communication, emotion—it’s all here.

UX design and analysis

Last updated

13 Dec 2022

I have this problem, and I think it’s one we share: what should I learn next? 

When it comes to UX, I’ve spent years reading all the recommended books and resources I could find. Like you, I often started from lists of the top UX design books. Those gave me lots of ideas, but I also noticed a couple of things. 

First, all of the lists looked pretty much the same. They all included books like The Design of Everyday Things, and Don’t Make Me Think. Both of those are great classics, but nowadays they’re not necessarily the best place for budding designers to start. 

Second, they were often long lists that lacked context about who specifically would benefit from reading them and why. This often left me feeling more overwhelmed than directed.

So I’ve put together a very short list of my absolute favorite books for UX designers, along with who they’re for and why they are must-reads. And you don’t even have to scroll down to find them. Here they are:

  1. Just Enough Research, by Erika Hall

  2. Ruined by Design, by Mike Monteiro

  3. About Face, by Alan Cooper

  4. Articulating Design Decisions, by Tom Greever

  5. Discussing Design, by Adam Connor & Aaron Irizarry

  6. Designing for Emotion, by Aarron Walter

Below I'll step through the key aims and messages of each book, along with links and other context to keep in mind. And at the end, I’ll share how I decide what to read next—one of the most challenging decisions with so many great books out there!

Like building great products, it all starts with research.

1. Just Enough Research

If I had to pick just one book for UX designers, this would be it. It’s one I always come back to. 

Why does a list of UX design books start with a book on research? Because you can’t do great design without understanding your users, and this starts with great research. 

Just Enough Research will help you ask better questions and think harder about the answers, which ultimately helps you to build better products. You’ll learn all kinds of research methods and analyses, along with tips for how to get stakeholder buy-in for UX research. It’s practical, and it’s also clever and a joy to read. 

  • This book is for: all UX designers, anyone who wants to better understand UX. research, and everyone working closely with UX designers and product development.

You’ll learn: what UX research is, what it isn’t, when you’ve done enough, and so much more.

2. Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It

Ruined by Design starts with a catchy—if not terrifying—title, then lays the foundation for how we as designers should think about our role in the world. It’s a must-read for all designers.

This book raises questions of ethical and unethical design that will help you build a solid design mindset. Think of it as the design world’s version of the Peter Parker principle: with great power, comes great responsibility. 

Monteiro dives into well-designed products that do harm in the world, like guns, the combustion engine, and Facebook’s privacy settings. You might not feel comfortable with all of the discussions, and that’s okay. It will give you the motivation to care, and the tools you need to make better design decisions. 

This book is a little more theoretical, but it comes with plenty of practical insights. When you finish this book, you’ll feel respect for, and be excited about, the great power—and responsibility—that you as a designer have in this world.

  • This book is for: all UX designers, including UX writers and graphic designers.

  • You’ll learn: practical skills for working with diverse teams; how to use data and storytelling to present and defend your ideas; how to frame concerns, and say ‘no’ when you need to.

3. About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design

For me, this book is the UX design Bible. Anyone interested in interaction design, or UX design generally, should be familiar with Alan Cooper’s work. He’s widely recognized as the "Father of Visual Basic,” and he was one of the first software developers to ask the now obvious question: “How do users interact with this?” 

About Face brings this question front and center. It dives into mobile apps and touch-screen interfaces. It unpacks the expectations of users who have come to expect good design—and who loudly voice their disapproval when website and app design falls short. 

Be warned: this isn’t the kind of book you read over the weekend, or toss in your backpack for a day on the beach. It gets into some technical aspects of interaction design, but it’s really useful for all designers.

  • This book is for: UX designers at all levels of experience.

  • You’ll learn: the foundations of interaction design; how to understand and deliver products that meet user expectations.

4. Articulating Design Decisions

Trying to communicate design decisions is something that most designers, at all levels of seniority, tend to struggle with. And even good communicators still have things to improve. 

In Articulating Design Decisions, you’ll learn how to communicate your designs and the reasons supporting your decisions. I love this book because it’s full of super actionable tips and tactics for presenting your work—to other designers and also to non-designers.

It’s got everything from preparing better slide decks to improving your listening skills. You’ll also learn how to communicate with stakeholders, and how to collaborate with different teams. 

Building a successful design career is as much about interacting with diverse teams and stakeholders as it is about creating great designs. The bottom line: to be a good designer, you need to be a good communicator.

This book is for: UX designers at all levels, from junior to senior. You’ll learn: how to empathize with your audience; how to prepare and present your designs; how to communicate and defend your ideas.

5. Discussing Design

One of the most intimidating things for a designer is to open their work up to other designers for critique. But when done right, this feedback process is hugely rewarding and leads to better products. 

This book touches on some similar themes as Articulating Decision Decisions above, but they’re not the same. Discussing Design touches on communication skills generally, but it really hones in on internal design team critiques and ceremonies. It’s like a cheat sheet for design team collaboration.

One thing I love about this book are the stories of well-known people in the design community. This makes the feedback process—both struggles and benefits—more relatable. 

  • This book is for: all UX designers.

  • You’ll learn: a framework for giving feedback; how to be more persuasive with stakeholders; tips for dealing with difficult people.

6. Designing for Emotion

Why do we do all the research, and go through the sometimes painful design critiques? To delight people. 

Designing for Emotion explores that layer of delight. It talks about what makes people happy when they interact with our products, and it gets you excited to play your part in this delight. 

Aarron has held top design positions at InVision and MailChimp, and has worked with the White House and Resolve to Save Lives, so he brings a wide understanding of what it means to deliver pleasurable emotions. 

This book is full of interesting case studies that bring the point home. It also gets into topics like empathy and inclusion, which are foundational for all good design. 

  • This book is for: all UX designers, and anyone who needs a refresh on why great design is such a wonderful thing.

  • You’ll learn: the hierarchy of user needs for digital products; how to understand people’s expectations; how to deliver delightful experiences.

People often ask me how I decide what to read or listen to next. My answer to this question shifts over time, but it’s always a mix of deliberate planning and intuition. 

Sometimes I grab a book because I need to learn a skill or because I want to create something. So I might read about interaction design or overcoming common UX challenges because I feel weaker in these areas, or because I’m creating content around these topics over at UX Goodies.

But I also let intuition guide me. I might buy 10 books that grab my attention for some reason, and then feel it out from there.  

So you might map out your career, and plan your learning path that way. Or you might just go with your gut. Like with most things UX, there’s no clear answer.

But one thing is for sure: getting insights from reading is essential, but the real magic happens when you start putting it into practice. 

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