Great UX books you’ve probably never heard of | by Nikita Fomin | Ipsos UX | Sep, 2022

A vision for how we might find new books (Credit to Chris Dodge for the illustration)

Hi, my name is Nikita and I’ve been in UX for about 4 years now and still can’t stop admiring this field. Before joining the talented Ipsos UX team in Russia, based in Moscow, I worked as a UX researcher in the educational and banking spheres. Here, at Ipsos, I’m concentrating my efforts on conducting expert reviews, usability tests, and ideation workshops mostly. But I also realize the importance of going beyond the capacity of current knowledge and skills. That’s why I want to share my thoughts on how we all can expand them a bit.

Have you ever been in a situation when you want to find a unique book full of useful insights, but everybody suggests the same list of popular books? It happens to me regularly.

These popular UX book lists are great when you are a novice entering the field looking to learn from the best. But what happens when you’ve completed that list? When a flowing river of knowledge gradually becomes a swamp? In academia this is referred to as a point of saturation — when you are unable to find new information to enrich your knowledge.

So what can you do when you feel you want to keep this river of knowledge flowing? How do you find those books that could freshen up your perspective?

Here’s some tips to help, but be prepared to:

  • Travel back to the future
  • Become a Jack of all trades, and a master of ONE
  • Find the hidden treasure

Being a part of a large global UX community at Ipsos, I wanted to suggest some books not only from my perspective, but from the perspective of my global friends too. You’ll find below a collated list of books from our talented, experienced UX team who work across the multiple markets.

An illustration of a car traveling to the past in a search of books

“Most of all, perhaps, we need an intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has anything magical about it, but we cannot study the future.” — C. S. Lewis

First and foremost, you can start traveling through time. No, you don’t need Dolorian and Emmett Brown aka “Doc” from the Back to the Future movie for these purposes, just a simple search function in your favorite browser. Unfortunately, we can’t enjoy the luxury of traveling to the future yet, but we can definitely travel to the past and the past has a wealth of information to draw down on.

Author: Jakob Nielsen; Year: 1993

You’ll get a deeper understanding of usability and various methods used in late 1993 to evaluate products. This book, from Jakob Nielsen, a pioneer in the field, reveals how it all started.

Author: Robert S. Weiss; Year: 1995

You’ll discover timeless principles of conducting qualitative interviews. Tons of precious information for those who want to learn from strangers.

Authors: Larry Gonick, Woolcott Smith; Year: 1993

Understand the core ideas of modern statistics and how to apply them. It’s a book that makes learning a complicated subject easy and fun.

Author: Christopher Alexander; Year: 1979

You’ll find out that the best places are not created by architects, but real people who have a need. This book introduces and highlights the importance of design patterns.

These books will help you rethink the present and the future using knowledge from the past. It might feel that these are outdated but these books contain timeless gems of information.

An illustration of a person expanding T-shaped skill-set

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” — Ronald E. Osborn

Being a ‘Jack of all trades’ has a bad rep, but more and more leaders talk about the importance of a T-shaped skill-set because it makes us better problem solvers. A T-shaped person is one who has deep knowledge in one field and general knowledge in a wide range of fields.

We acquire skills through the learning process, right? So we can apply the same principle here by focusing on UX, but also widening our perspective to exploring new areas too. It’s like exploring the world when you are a baby, you can’t concentrate on just one thing because there’s so much new information around! You can’t even imagine what field could bring new insights and add dimension to your vision. So what fields can you explore?

Author: David Mamet; Year: 1992

You’ll get better at storytelling which is one of the most important skills we need as researchers. It’s our job to tell the story of the users /data and David Mamet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and has some useful tips for you to improve this skill.

Author: Scott McCloud; Year: 1994

Further enhance your storytelling by learning how to create supporting designs and visuals. It’s a great source of inspiration for designing storyboards and understanding UI design at a deeper level.

Author: Michael Freeman; Year: 2007

Improve your sense of style and layout composition. It’s important not only for those in the UX/UI design field but for all who work with graphics and documentation.

Author: Andrew Causey; Year: 2016

Get better at drawing and start thinking about design and UX in a much more integrated way. This book gives a depth and grounding to everyday research methods.

These books can improve your problem-solving skills, and your ability to communicate with people from diverse fields, whilst also expanding your worldview, and shifting your perspective.

An illustration of hidden treasures on an island

“Secrets aren’t secret. They’re just hidden treasures, waiting to be exploited.” — Stephen White

Just like people, not all books are treated equally. In elementary school, teachers thought my friend wasn’t smart enough because he wasn’t active in the classroom. But when they tried to test his abilities and ask complex questions, he always gave the smartest answers in the class. The same thing happens with books, some books get all the attention and some are forgotten and lost. It doesn’t mean they are bad and don’t deserve to be read. In fact, these books can often hold the best insights. These books are like hidden treasures, we just need help to find them.

Author: John Selby; Year: 2007

You’ll be more fluent at understanding the human world: mood, motives, goals and needs. This book is really useful in helping us quiet our minds and really hear other people.

Author: Sam Ladner; Year: 2019

Mixed Methods provides you with a holistic understanding of qual and quant. It provides you with guidance on how to choose the right method and when to combine multiple methods together for more impactful insights.

Authors: Deff Gothelf, Josh Seiden; Year: 2017

Learn how modern organizations are changing to create products and services people really want and need.

Author: Jeffrey Bardzell; Year: 2018

Get a sense of what critical theory is and how it’s relevant to current-day design work. Some books make you feel really smart whilst reading them, this is one of those books.

These books give you the ability to look behind the ratings and good reviews and find the gems that other people haven’t read.

Now you have a list of books to enjoy and a framework for thinking about your next book list.

If you have any books you think are lost or hidden treasure, please leave a comment below.

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