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7 Books That Will Improve Your UX Skills

The following books range in subject matter. Some are more focused with forming better habits while others tackle skills to have a better design process. All have effective skills inside and should be considered for reading.


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Jon Haines

3 years ago | 5 min read

As the world retreats inside during the global pandemic, books may provide a good refuge, especially in the case of learning new skills or improving old ones. Becoming a better designer doesn’t just mean making good prototypes and mockups — it means taking time to understand for whom you’re designing.

The following books range in subject matter. Some are more focused with forming better habits while others tackle skills to have a better design process. All have effective skills inside and should be considered for reading.

Atomic Habits

James Clear’s Atomic Habits is not a book just for designers, but for everyone. What this book gets across is that habit building works the same was as compound interest. If you aim to improve just 1% every day, you will become 37 times better by the year’s end. On the other hand, dropping 1% every day has the opposite effect — never skip a new habit two times in a row.

The reason why many people fail in working towards building new habits is that they come with the wrong approach. They focus on goals instead of the system itself. Building what he calls an effective system is how to rightly approach forming new habits. Clear’s best quote gives us insight into why perhaps the reason why our habits don’t stick is that we have the wrong lens when trying to make them stick.

You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.

Why it’s included in this list: Spend time with your projects. Your users need more time to be understood. While designers will take on sprints to show their work, the real challenge of skill improvement is a marathon.

Thinking, Fast And Slow

Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast And Slow is a psychological journey through the mind of people. His book deals with the two types of thinking —fast versus slow (or as he calls them Systems 1 and 2). The main idea behind these two systems is that System 1 is our brain on autopilot.

It’s our ability to recall things without much deep thinking. System 2 is a slower approach that requires more energy on our brain’s part. Our brain doesn’t like this at all. It wants to do as little energy as possible in solving specific tasks. This is a brilliant way to understand why your users aren’t using your product the way you assumed they would.

Kahneman’s talk at Google is a great listen as well.

A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion… In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.

Why it’s included in this list: To understand your users, understand how their minds work.

Creative Confidence

IDEO super brothers Tom and David Kelley wrote Creative Confidence to reveal the sleeping giant within each of us. The notion that solving creative problems requires a creative is a myth. Rather, creative problems can be tackled with anyone that possesses the right kind of confidence and the ability to reframe the problem. This book may be the perfect read for anyone experiencing some sort of creative block.

Many of the ideas are also passed along in David’s TED talk.

Noticing that something is broken is an essential prerequisite for coming up with a creative solution to fix.

Why it’s included in this list: To understand your customers, build empathetic relationships and make sure they’re meaningful.

Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams

Gothelf and Seiden’s Lean UX book gives real examples (such as PayPal, meetup.com, and Dropbox) of how to execute UX tactics in real life situations. The best part about this book may be the extensive amount of images and diagrams that show effective design tactics like journey maps, user personas, and others.

This book is all about changing the approach from what your team is current using to something more streamline.

Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.

Why it’s included in this list: As the quote above suggests, a team is as strong as each of its members. Use your team to learn, gather feedback, and execute as much as possible.

Hello World: Where Design Meets Life

Alice Rawsthorn’s Hello World: Where Design Meets Life touches on examples throughout history where design has played a part in assisting the non-designers. She uses examples that deal with Leonardo daVinci, Apple, and dog breeding, proving real world examples are an excellent source of thought-provoking material.

Rawsthorn’s RSA talk provides extra context.

Design must also become more diplomatic. Designers can be excellent communicators, as they have proved over the centuries in the symbolic coup of the skull and crossbones, and all the maps, signage systems and visual languages that have guided, enlightened and protected us

Why it’s included in this list: Rawsthorn’s usage of inventors and pirates show how design is truly worldwide and historical. Paying attention to trends that may not be as obvious at first glance.

Evil by Design

Chris Nodder’s Evil by Design takes a look at the dark side of design. How are companies using tactics to manipulate their users. Are you one of them?

This book is creatively organized by each of the deadly sins, and how each plays with our emotions .

… after we find sufficient information, we stop. We don’t tend to seek out information that might prove us wrong. This is known as confirmation bias.

Why it’s included in this list: Evil methods for appealing to a user shouldn’t be celebrated, but it’s always good to realize what’s happening psychologically when using a particular product.

Start With Why

Simon Sinek’s Start With Why completes the list, while like the first couple books, has little to do with design and more with psychology. As a UXer, you understand your role in solving a user’s problem, but the more important step would be to understand your why.

UX projects run on empathy. To put yourself in someone else’s shoes, figure out why this someone else is having a problem in the first place. It’s not the problem that needs to be solved. It’s the purpose behind why you’re solving this problem.

Sinek’s main principles can be found in his fantastic TED Talk.

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.

Why it’s included in this list: Like many of the books on this list, Start With Why is all about approaching a problem from the right lens. If you understand why you are doing what you’re doing, you’ll have an easier time connecting to your users.

Keep up the good work and stay healthy.

Thanks for reading! I’m a UX Designer in NYC. You can see more of my work here.

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