User experience design is a rapidly growing industry and there’s always room for more talent. You might want to learn UX design just for your own projects or to help your web design clients improve their websites.
That’s where great UX books come into play, and for this post I’ve curated my top 20 picks for the best titles covering everything UX from the basics and beyond.
Anyone brand new to user experience design may not be sure where to start. I personally recommend The UX Book since it’s heavily focused on practical exercises rather than theory.
This book is absolutely massive reaching almost 1,000 pages long. It’s really the best book to learn the ropes and start putting UX design principles into action.
The story mapping process isn’t something talked about in many UX design circles. It’s mostly a top-down approach to user design with a unique vision structured for each project.
You can break this vision down into goals and specific actions which users have to perform themselves. User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton is the de-facto book on this subject and it’ll force you to consider how story mapping should be done with your project(s).
One thing about story mapping is that it’s not specific to any end goal. You can follow these techniques for mobile apps, websites, or desktop programs. Anything that requires user interaction should have its own story map.
And this 320-page book can take you from a complete novice all the way to a story mapping superstar.
It does help if you already have experience with agile development but it’s certainly not a requirement.
My #1 favorite book on UX is also one of the oldest out there. Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think has been around for years and it’s still a staple for all web and mobile designers.
This book talks about how users interact with websites and general interface elements. It forces you to think differently when designing projects. You’ll have to get into the user’s mind and consider exactly what they see on the screen.
Is your interface immediately usable? Does it encourage interactivity? Are some screens more actionable than others? Your job is to remedy any problems the user faces by making it stupid-simple.
Steve Krug’s book is not a long one but it is brilliantly written. It’s also merely the first step on a long UX journey that can go so much further than basic usability.
I still recommend this to every single UI/UX designer and I think it’s a must-read book even for frontend developers too.
When planning your design it’s a good idea to work up a user experience strategy. This defines user targets and goals along with how you should create an interface to achieve these goals.
In the book UX Strategy by Jaime Levy you’ll confront all these ideas and think about how they apply to your projects. You’ll learn how to conduct sample testing and reviews of different market segments, plus how people respond to different business models and UX funnels.
There is no single “correct” way to design a user experience. But you can learn a lot by writing down ideas and running A/B tests to see which of your ideas convert into the best KPIs.
With Jamie’s expertise you’ll learn how to work with your funnel and devise strategies for the experience before you ever wireframe a page or design a mockup in Photoshop. At first glance this may seem like a verbose read but it does cover a lot of topics most UX designers gloss over.
User research is another huge subject related to user experience design. It’s crucial to know your audience and understand what they’re looking for. That’s why the UX Research book is another fantastic choice to consider adding to your bookshelf.
This is a newer title so the information is most definitely up to date. But user research never goes out of style and it’s always been part of UX design.
You’ll find dozens of chapters split into four different sections: introduction, planning, performing research, and analyzing data.
Typically when you’re running tests on a UI you’ll loop through these sections multiple times to find a winner. There are many ways to perform user research and this book illustrates them all in great detail.
You’ll also learn how to communicate your findings to a team and how to use research as a benchmark for your design’s success.
The world of interaction design is fairly new and mostly came about from the growth of touchscreen devices. Now that smartphones and tablets are the norm it’s impossible to escape interaction design(or IxD).
About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design touches upon the growth of IxD and what it means for web/mobile app designers. You’ll learn about how consumers interact with devices and what they expect from a well-functioning interface.
Digital interactions are not just about what the user does. They’re also about how the interface responds to the user’s behaviors.
And this book is one of the few titles that helped coin the term “interaction design” as part of every day UX vocabulary. Currently in its 4th edition with a massive 700+ pages, I guarantee you won’t find much else as detailed on this subject.
Whether you’re a newbie UX designer or a fairly experienced one the philosophies and resources in this book are well worth the time spent reading.
We all know the term “user experience” but not everyone stops to think what this actually means. What typically makes up the user experience? Is it the button on the screen? Is it a user clicking that button? Or is it their response to the entire interaction?
The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett is a phenomenal read for all designers. It was first published over a decade ago and has since become another staple in the UX design community.
This book looks at the experience from two levels: what you want to happen, and what the user expects to happen.
You need to design interfaces that fulfill both goals while simplifying the entire process. I can’t guarantee this’ll be easy or that you’ll pick it up right away.
But having this book at your side will make the process a whole lot easier.
I’m also a huge fan of Microinteractions by Dan Saffer for the level of precise detail and clarity in writing.
Mobile applications rely on microinteractions to create a feedback loop to the user. When they tap or swipe something it’ll animate or move in a certain way to create the expected effect. These aren’t just interactions. They’re very small microinteractions that make a big difference in the feeling of the interface.
This is a newer term in the UX community but it has caught on like wildfire. And I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon so microinteractions are likely part of the future of interface design.
You should pick up this book if you’re already comfortable designing interfaces but want to take them to the next level.
It’ll be most useful to mobile app designers but web and desktop designers can glean some insightful knowledge here as well.
It’s only been in the past few years that “product design” has applied to digital work. Design Sprint: A Practical Guidebook for Building Great Digital Products looks into the factors of great design and what differentiates that work from poor-quality interfaces.
By following these lessons you’ll learn how to clarify intent and create an experience where users know exactly what they’re looking for. This book is pretty large with 270 pages covering each step of the process.
Using live examples and case studies you’ll learn about planning, divergence, convergence, and prototyping to create an interface that just works.
The techniques are incredibly practical and they’ll be even more useful in larger teams where productivity seems like a rarity.
You can learn a lot by studying the most addictive websites like Reddit and Facebook. You’ll learn what gets users coming back and which features/behaviors keep them engaging with the website.
The book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products was first released a few years ago and centers around the user’s psychology while using a product. This looks into different cycles that users follow to end up “hooked” on a certain product.
You’ll find research from decades of scientific experiments along with anecdotal evidence from users. Examples include larger sites like Twitter and Pinterest so you can see what they’re doing right and how you can mimic those techniques.
Hooked isn’t strictly a UX design book. However it does cover user psychology in a way that UX designers should understand to improve their work.
Ready to dive into building websites/apps and start getting users? Then you’ll want a copy of UX for Beginners.
This massive crash course into user experience design is a brilliant 250+ page book on everything you’ll need to know. It’s most definitely geared towards beginners and it takes a look at the user design process from a simplistic point of view.
If you can minimize the steps between a user’s goals and their actions you’ll be more likely to keep them on the page.
But understanding user behaviors and building a process to design around these behaviors can be the toughest job in the world. It’s one reason why UX designers get paid so much!
Anyone who feels lost or confused about the benefits of user experience should definitely nab a copy of this book. It’ll change the way you design interfaces and it’s one of the best titles out there for all skill levels.
There’s a general idea in Silicon Valley that you should create the absolute bare minimum experience for your app, launch it, then gauge user feedback to see what you should fix.
This idea is fleshed out in the book Validating Product Ideas by Tomer Sharon. By going through these lessons you’ll learn to understand user behaviors and get into the minds of your typical user.
How can you tell if people understand the product’s purpose? What can you do to clarify that purpose? Is one part of the interface throwing off the entire thing?
These questions are some of the few you’ll learn to ask yourself as you go through this book. User validation is a huge process with a lot of moving parts. If you keep this book by your side you’ll see a lot of growth in the long run.
Content sites like blogs and company pages always need to consider information architecture. This is the process of organizing content in a way that makes it easy to find and easy to consume.
The O’Reilly book Information Architecture is all about this topic focusing on the web and typical content-heavy websites. The authors delve into typical prototyping and how you can organize content for a cleaner user experience.
Navigation menus and search pages are the two primary methods of finding information. But when you have a large page you might also want to include a table of contents, or simply organize your pages with jump links near the top.
With a total of 486 pages this book covers a lot about information architecture from a UX point of view. If you can think about designing pages for the user you’ll have a much easier time getting stuff done that actually works long-term.
Remember that great user experience is all about simplicity. This is why Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience can be such a valuable book to keep nearby when designing your own sites.
The whole book was inspired by the Agile development process where you’re constantly updating and innovating on ideas you’ve already created. Many chapters look into how you can best collaborate with a team and how larger-scale environments can go off the rails without a clear UX strategy.
Lean UX teaches you how to frame ideas, approach them wisely, and design Minimum Viable Products(MVPs) that give you an idea of where the UX is currently at.
Going lean is a complete workflow change so it’s not something you can do overnight.
But with the tips in this book you should be able to pick up some quality pointers and apply them to your workflow over time.
You may be surprised to learn that marketing is a huge part of UX design. Marketers know how to encourage user behaviors and this is exactly what UX designers want to do.
In the book Evil by Design you’ll learn how marketing, psychology, and UX all come together as a trifecta for user engagement.
You’ll learn about typical user behaviors and how people typically act when confronted with certain types of content. This book isn’t too large with just about 300 pages of in-depth content. It’s also written in plain English so that anyone can understand.
You do not need to be a marketing major to pick up the lessons in this book. It’s definitely a simple read and it would be valuable to any UX designer.
Going the opposite way of “good” user experience is the book Tragic Design: The Impact of Bad Product Design and How to Fix It.
This book explains how you can spot bad design in the wild and how it can affect your project’s life cycle. If you notice other designs that don’t work you’ll learn to make notes and apply this to your own design work.
You’ll go through real case studies from live examples to see how bad design drastically affects the user experience. This includes a lot of industry interviews and in-depth discussions about how the design process works.
Dark patterns, infuriating bugs, and targeting emotions are all topics discussed in this book. It’s one of the newest UX design books from O’Reilly and it is well worth picking up if you struggle to create professional-looking designs.
This is also awesome for skilled UX designers who want to avoid pitfalls in future projects.
The vast majority of UX designers understand the importance of sketching and wireframing. This process lets you visualize your interface and plan the major details before getting into the minutiae.
Sketching User Experiences is a massive 270-page workbook teaching you how to sketch and visualize ideas without a mouse & keyboard.
You’ll start with very basic sketching exercises that slowly lead into more detailed examples using photos and visual designs. You’ll learn how to reverse engineer existing designs and how to sketch these ideas down on paper to see how they might’ve been architected.
You can take these exercises with you on the go long after completing this book. It gives you all the tools you need to learn interface sketching from scratch for rapid prototyping.
This should absolutely be on your shopping list if you take UX design seriously.
So many people discuss the principles of HCI but don’t consider how it changed with touchscreens.
Now that websites are fully responsive it’s easier for everyone to access them on touchscreen devices. This means interaction design principles have made their way into the HCI world of studying metaphors and cognitive behaviors in the interface.
Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction covers digital conceptual models for planning HCI and how this applies differently to mediums like web vs mobile.
Later chapters get into data analysis to help you perform user testing and find the best behavioral styles for your interfaces.
This book is absolutely incredible for interaction designers but it’s also rather advanced. You should already know a good amount about IxD before picking up a copy.
Looking for a massive user testing guide with all the best tests and solutions? Then you should take a peek at the Handbook of Usability Testing currently in its 2nd edition.
The book spans a total of 380 pages with dozens of tips for testing user behaviors.
Early chapters explain the concepts behind usability so you can understand why interfaces need to be usable. This helps later when you get to testing chapters explaining what you should test and why you should make the time for these tests.
Moderated tests, digital testing, and even topics like heat maps are all covered in great detail.
Usability is a massive subject but this book sets it all in a clean easy-to-follow writing style. Definitely grab a copy if you’re stuck on user testing and don’t have any idea where to begin.
I think this book is the best introduction and reference manual for every UX designer. It is a massive tome of knowledge with 968 pages covering usability, design requirements, planning user testing, and so much more.
The UX Book is not just an intro guide(although it plays that role well!). This is also a great book to reference in future projects as you scale your sites or apps to larger audiences.
The book wastes no time getting into detail on metrics, targeting, prototyping, and user testing for specific goals. Intuition plays a big part in UX design but raw data also has its place.
Learning the actual UX design lifecycle is crucial to mastering this field. You need to brainstorm ideas, put them down on paper, pick the best idea and run tests, then use that data to make changes that work best.
This book is the only one I know that covers everything with tons of diagrams and visuals to go along with every chapter. Absolutely worth every penny no matter what your experience level.
Last but certainly not least is an interesting book combining user psychology with the principles of user experience design.
Bottlenecks: Aligning UX Design with User Psychology teaches you how to work with psychological ideas of scarcity, perception, memory, and social influence. This works for all industries and the book’s goal is to help companies reach their KPIs through user experience design.
Interestingly enough this book works well for both designers and entrepreneurs who want to learn more about their users. You’ll learn about how perception controls everything and what you can do to skew the perception of your visitors towards a direction you want.
Motivation is also a big topic in this book and it’s something you need to consider if you’re going to design usable interfaces.
This may be a bit too much for newer UX designers but I think it’s worth saving for future reference.
No matter what your skill level or what you’re trying to create there’s plenty of good reason to study user experience design. And these books are surefire resources to help you grow as a designer.
Both of these are excellent places to start learning UX and how to apply the basic principles into your everyday design work. But take another look over this list and see if any specific books grab your attention.