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7 Must-Read UX Design Books

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If you search on Amazon for books using the key phrase “UX design”, more than 1,000 titles will appear. That’s a lot of titles to wade through if you’re looking to read about user experience! One of the most difficult parts of making a list of the best UX books is that there are so many awesome ones out there. I could write a must-read list that goes on forever.

I chose the following UX titles either because they have played a significant role in the way I view my place as a UX designer or because they address foundational design topics that every UX designer should understand. I’m leaving out a fair number that have been published in all aspects of design, from usability and research to interaction design and how to present and speak to your design decisions. This reading list is intended for you to use as a starting point.

1. Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

Kathy Sierra’s book is all about the strategy for creating successful products and services. Badass: Making Users Awesome looks at how to look at a product or service from the user’s perspective.

So instead of relying on marketing tactics that might be unethical, we can create products that lead users to champion them with their friends and family. A win for everyone!

The design and layout of the book is unlike that of most — it lays out the argument with a lot of visuals. And it’s an easy read. This has led to some negative reviews complaining that the book is just a PowerPoint PDF. Lay that aside, and the message is strong. It’s a great look at the point-of-view statement and how a well-written one can be influential in creating awesome products that users love.

When you read this book, it will start to make sense why some products do really well in the market and why others don’t. It will help show you how to shift your design strategy so that it can be successful too.

2. Just Enough Research by Erika Hall

Erika Hall’s book on UX research is a joyful and informative read you could probably finish in a single day. 

This slim how-to manual, published by A Book Apart, walks the reader through the basics of user research, from talking to stakeholders in an organization through analysis and reporting. Hall’s writing style makes the topic — which can be dry in other books — fun and approachable. 

She’s also realistic in her advice to readers. She recognizes the constraints in time and budget that all UX designers face in their day to day jobs, so she proposes how best to navigate these situations and what alternative methods to employ.

Just Enough Research’s current edition was updated with a new chapter on surveys and why designers must be very careful about using these often-abused metrics in their research.

Even if you aren’t a UX researcher, this book explains how you can implement research in your process and spot your own biases so you can design a better user experience.

3. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

The Design of Everyday Things is a standard on most design-reading lists for a reason. This book was originally published in 1988 with the title “The Psychology of Everyday Things”. It was revised in 2013 with a major update to some of the examples to make it more relevant to today. 

Norman’s book lays the landscape for usability in human-centered design. In it, Norman lays out how human psychology affects everyday actions, why it’s natural for humans to make mistakes, and how technology can help rather than cause errors. Norman also explains human-centered design and proposes principles for good design.

I listened to this book on Audible, and a PDF accompanied the audio book so I could view the examples, which are especially helpful in understanding affordances and signifiers.

Vox produced a great video about one of the examples in the book — how doors are designed well, and how they are designed badly. If you’ve ever struggled with figuring out a door, sink, stove, switches, or other interface — the problem isn’t you. It’s the design.

Norman’s classic book explains why bad design happens, what good design is, and the constraints designers face when designing.

4. Designing with the Mind in Mind by Jeff Johnson

Sometimes designers follow a set of rules for designing user interfaces without understanding why certain patterns and methods work. This book changes that.

Jeff Johnson’s Designing with the Mind in Mind lays out the perceptual and cognitive psychology that are the foundation for intuitive interfaces.

For example, how does human perception work? How is the eye structured and how do we read? What can we do as designers to ensure that people can see the information we design?

Johnson walks through an explanation of human vision, attention, memory, and decision-making for a deep-dive into why we perceive the way we perceive. After reading this book, UX designers will have a better idea of why we have design rules so they can make educated decisions about tradeoffs between budget, time, and competing design rules.

5. About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design 4th Edition by Alan Cooper, Robert Reiman, David Cronin, and Christopher Noessel

About Face completely changed the way I think about interaction design. Admittedly, I’ve only read sections of the book, due to its length. Still, it’s a reference when I have questions about how to approach interaction design and UI design.

This book is broken into three parts. It starts with introducing goal-directed design and how to approach digital projects. Then it moves through designing for behavior and form. Lastly, it looks at the differences in designing for desktop, mobile, and web applications.

My read of the book focused on designing for behavior, and my biggest “ah-ha” moment came when reading about optimizing for intermediate users. Much of the struggle designers have is in how to manage the different needs between beginners and experts. This chapter explains that we should focus on intermediates. We should guide beginning users to become intermediates as soon as possible, and aim to provide opportunities for advanced users to use our products without holding them back.

This book includes a number of other useful concepts to consider when designing user interfaces. At 659 pages, it might be a little too much to read in one sitting, but it should be in the designer library.

6. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

Steve Krug’s classic book introduced me to usability and usability testing, and launched me into my current career as a UX designer. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability is now in its third edition. 

It’s short, easy to read, and a great manual for designers just getting started in usability testing. Krug wrote it based on his 30 years as a usability consultant for organizations including Apple, NPR, and the International Monetary Fund. Even if you already understand why you should do usability testing, chances are you work with people who don’t understand. This book is a great gift for those people. It explains why you should test, how to keep it simple, and how to keep it from being a budget suck. The newest edition has a new chapter about usability for mobile websites and apps, and all of the examples are updated.

If you want to take it a step further, consider Krug’s second book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems. This book explains everything you need to know to get started with usability testing with little or no cost. It includes how to recruit, how to conduct a test session, and how to involve your team. 

7. Change by Design by Tim Brown

IDEO CEO Tim Brown explains design thinking and how it should be used at every level of a business. This isn’t a manual for designers. It’s geared towards people outside of the industry, but I included it on this list because of the examples.

IDEO is a well-known human-centered design firm, and the examples Brown provides are straight from IDEO’s project list. While sometimes it feels more like a sales pitch, the case studies are interesting examples of how design thinking is applied.

UX designers who read this book can look at design thinking from a perspective outside the industry and use the examples to explain how design thinking can be used in every industry and in every discipline — it’s not just for designers.

Conclusion

I couldn’t include all of my favorite user experience books on this list. There are just too many amazing titles, and I already have about three times as many on my “to-read” list. These must-read UX design books are a great place to get started if you’re looking for some summer reading to help you advance your design career.


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UX Principles Every Designer Should Know

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I hold the role of Experience Design Lead for a technology company. Every day, I talk about theories and projections of how other people will experience something, which is ultimately impossible to know. Human behavior is unpredictable and ever-changing, nowhere more rapidly than in tech. Confounding variables affect how individual users might react to a planned experience. The best user experience designers I know are great at guessing—educated guesses, based on research, which then go on to inform crucial decisions in the technology development process. An experience designer’s job involves predicting how interactions will unfold, and how users will perceive them psychologically and emotionally. 

Designers do their jobs by challenging project ideas, providing counsel to stakeholders, and advocating for users’ best interests. Along with the role comes an obligation to serve the user through principled action. Bad interaction design can have consequences ranging from slightly frustrating to severely harmful. The UX design space is rapidly evolving, and designers must take a holistic view of all the various touchpoints, interactions, and environments—real and virtual—that the user navigates on their journey. Design artifacts, such as wireframes, personas, and all the other UX deliverables you commonly find listed, are just expressions of the user journey. They’re all different ways of answering the same question: “What will it be like for the user?”

With so many resources available on UX technical skills, it’s important to direct more attention toward essential human-centric concerns. Every successful UX designer needs to grasp the foundational ux design principles of empathy, clarity, feedback, and inclusivity.

Empathy

If you’ve spent time with UX teams, you’ve likely broached the subject of empathy. Particularly in the field of tech with all its innovations and disruptions, project contributors are accountable for the impact of their work. Empathy simply describes the act of considering that impact on people’s feelings, situations, lives, communities, and on society as a whole. It’s about seeing things from someone else’s perspective.

The field of user experience design contains common methodologies for building empathy with users. Based on research, user personas serve to focus project contributors’ attention on realistic user traits, so they can understand whose needs to meet. Those personas play central roles in user journey maps and problem statements, ecologies, blueprints, and storyboards. Design thinking activities and workshops bring subject matter experts together with stakeholders to focus on the user journey. All of the methods primarily serve as empathy-building tools for the contributors to better understand the user. The technology community through decades of collective trial-and-error (and more error, and even more error) has largely conceded that projects tend to fail when they don’t prioritize user needs. Empathy helps to divert the team from complacently executing software requirement specifications, and to instead focus on doing the right thing from the user’s perspective. 

Misunderstanding the principle of empathy can curtail a design process. Anyone who has ever scuffled with a frustrating product can attest that the creators should have spent more time talking to users. Building empathy isn’t just a box to check off in an early phase; it’s a principle that ensures meaningful impact through the development lifecycle.

Clarity

User experience design problems often revolve around the clarity of information and instruction. Successful designs make information as intelligible as possible, with clear indication of how to perform the actions you need to take. Designers make sure people can access and understand the interaction as it’s happening, and remain sensitive to its effect on the user’s cognitive load. Lack of clarity could have serious repercussions, as in the case of a healthcare application being used by a patient to access their treatment. 

A working knowledge of visual communication goes a long way. Design artifacts, even reports, benefit from a clear visual hierarchy. Even if the visual design of a user interface is a separate concern than the UX, in practice, UX designers have to collaborate with their counterparts in UI design to ensure that the interface communicates the right effect. To engage effectively on a cross-functional project with multiple team members, UX designers need to at least wield a practical knowledge of typography, color, and composition. Thinking in terms of these visual communication fundamentals allows contributors to establish a shared design language.

Clarity of communication can’t be underestimated. My company, like many global tech organizations, uses English as a primary language for everything from business discussion, to code documentation, to design critique. My international colleagues exhibit remarkable communication skills, especially considering English may be a second, third, or even eighth language. In today’s climate of remote work, it’s more important than ever to use video to enhance real-time communication—employing body language and facial expressions to underscore our words.

UX design is wrapped in written communication. The extent to which hiring managers weigh writing skills when evaluating UX candidates may surprise job seekers. It makes sense that client-facing discussions frequently focus on UX artifacts, and only astute writing can successfully document design ideas. For user research specialists, as well as generalists with user research among their responsibilities, writing is even more of a daily requirement. They design through the medium of research reports, interview takeaways, and executive summaries. Clear writing permeates the work, all the way down to the microcopy—the small bits of guiding UI text used in forms, prompts, buttons, and messages throughout an application. 

Feedback

Great user experience designers are still wrong all the time; they just use more feedback. Everything is a prototype, even early notes and doodles, that can evoke enough reaction from helpful sources such as usability test participants to inform improvements. All design fields solve problems through making things, actively creating new ideas to fill an existing void, and ample helpful feedback guides the solution in the right direction. Seasoned UX designers learn to apply this principle throughout their process, always scanning for meaningful feedback on everything they contribute.

Everywhere you look, there are products with design flaws that could have been improved through more user testing; not just apps and websites, but also physical experiences like vehicles, household items, or specialty equipment. Whenever a project is fast-tracked past user testing too hastily the consumer has to deal with the resulting deficiencies. Successful projects take a structured approach, testing prototypes methodically to identify problem areas. Product teams establish a feedback loop by observing user reactions, hypothesizing improvements based on those reactions, and rebuilding prototypes with new ideas to introduce into the testing cycle.

Accepting product design feedback and applying its learnings to a prototype may be a skill that takes time to develop; it’s easy to get emotionally attached to work we create, as if it were some precious thing to defend. When we ignore valid design criticism it’s the user who loses. Designers learn to separate themselves from their ideas, gathering feedback early and often, and become skilled in objectively discerning how to improve the work to make it even more clear and useful for others.

Inclusivity

People often base their first understandings of users on the lowest common denominator—mapping out an ideal “happy path” experience for a generic user. That ideal rarely reflects the multifaceted reality of human life, and that generic user is too often a reflection of the designer’s own personal traits or their company’s business goals. To design excellent user experiences, we need to step outside our own biases and recognize the diversity of human experience.

Including a broad radius of users in the design process isn’t only the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. When a service makes the effort to consider its customers with special needs, it tends to benefit a wider swath of customers. Wheelchair-accessible spaces provide a great example of this principle: the same rampways and automatic door openers which allow people in wheelchairs to navigate also make it easier for people pushing strollers, carrying armloads, and with other momentary physical restrictions.

Website design similarly recognizes the range of users navigating the virtual space. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a standard for designing interfaces which can be understood and used effectively by people with disabilities. Web and app designers rely on that guidance to ensure the display can be understood by users with a spectrum of visual impairments and blindness, and who may access the information using screen reader programs to synthesize speech or output to a braille display. Users with motoric impairments benefit from various assistive technologies such as a trackball mouse or voice recognition software. Across both physical and digital spaces, there are ample opportunities to design a better, more inclusive user experience that considers all possible customer scenarios.

The aim of inclusive design is to demonstrate respect for users by allowing them a dignified interaction with your service. Project teams would do better by incorporating the principle of inclusivity throughout their process. Upfront research and cooperative design with target users will help to avoid the pitfalls that lead to inaccessible products. Designers, engineers, and managers are all responsible for adhering to accessibility guidelines in the creation of useful tools, displays, and controls. Rigorous usability testing continuously refines the experience, and helps produce genuinely positive, inclusive interactions. 

Conclusion

The practice of user experience design challenges abstract notions and raises important ethical concerns. As UX designers, we essentially design actions, and all actions have consequences. Multiply that by the masses of users who are touched by scaling technology, and our design decisions become exponentially magnified. All designers should consider that gravity whenever approaching their work, and take conscientious actions based on human-centered design principles.

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User Experience Design Impacts Everyone — But What Is It?

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What is user experience design General Assembly

People often associate the term “user experience design” with visual design or the design of a digital interface, like a website or mobile app. But the truth is, user experience (UX) design is bigger than that, and it’s used across every industry, from software, to business, to schools, and beyond.

Successful UX design is why shopping on Amazon is addictive, ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft took off, and binge watching TV shows from any number of services has become the best way to spend a weekend indoors — skillful UX design has made it insanely easy to do. Even physical spaces—from retail stores to the checkout line at Trader Joe’s to office spaces—are impacted by UX design. And during COVID-19, UX has played a pivotal role in how we envision safe return-to-work and school policies.

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5 Ways to Inspire Your Design Teams

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2018 99u Conference General Assembly

Tyler Hartrich, faculty lead for General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course, leads a session at the 2018 99u Conference. Photos by Craig Samoviski.

As design educators, we at General Assembly prepare students for their careers — but how can we ensure designers continue to grow their skills beyond the classroom? Industry-leading work emerges from teams that persistently enrich themselves by fostering new skill sets and perspectives. But between deadlines, client fire drills, and day-to-day trivialities, a focus on growth can often be put on the back burner. In the long-term, this can result in uninspired designers who don’t grow to their full potential, and teams that opt for the easy way out instead of taking on risks, challenges, and explorations that drive innovation.

When Adobe approached General Assembly about leading a session at the 99u Conference — an annual gathering for creative professionals to share ideas and get inspired to help shape the future of the industry — we knew it would be a great opportunity to guide leaders in creating natural spaces for learning within their teams and workflows.

In our sold-out session “Onboard, Engage, Energize: Tactics for Inspiring a Crack Design Team,” Tyler Hartrich, faculty lead of GA’s full-time User Experience Design Immersive course, and Adi Hanash, GA’s former head of Advanced Skills Academies, shared insights on how directors and managers can structure spaces for learning within their teams, and encourage new approaches to problem-solving. The presentation was developed in collaboration with Senior Instructional Designer Eric Newman and me, GA’s director of product design.

At the event, we outlined the following five ways leaders can encourage their teams (and themselves) to keep learning and improving throughout their careers, including an exercise to spur creativity, reflection, and action. Read on to learn more, and find out how you can perform the exercise with your own team.

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Don’t Frustrate Users With Gaps in Your Product Experience

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There are countless steps where the product experience can break down.

There are countless steps where the product experience can break down.

There are countless steps where the product experience can break down. Have you ever been waiting at the corner for a ride-sharing pickup, and while the app swears the driver is right there, there is no car in sight? Or how about seamlessly ordering groceries in an app, then waiting well past the delivery window with no sign of your avocados? Ever called customer service by phone to learn they have no record of the two detailed chats you had with online agents about your issue? We’ve all been there.

As consumers who increasingly rely on technology to help us wrangle a vast range of goods and services, we’ve all experienced pain points when really good software doesn’t equate a really good experience. All too often, there’s a breakdown that occurs outside product screens, when a product or process hits the reality of the human experience or a user fails.

Take a peek at the diagram above, which charts the various user touch points that can occur with your brand in a product experience loop. Users interact with a product through many different channels and modes of communication, and bridging the gaps between them is essential to your product’s success. If you present users with a custom call to action in a social media ad, your customer service teams must be ready to respond. If you build an offer email that is redeemable at a brick-and-mortar retail location, the cashier will need tools to redeem it.

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The 6 Essential Tools for Every UX Designer

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UX

It can be extremely intimidating to any UX designer, particularly someone just starting out, to navigate the overcrowded world of design tools. There seems to be a tool for everything from user research to wireframing to prototyping.

So how do you know which tools to learn or least familiarize yourself with? Fear not! Below we’ve broken down some of the top industry tools for a variety of contexts and workflows. While this is not a comprehensive list, it will give newbies a sense of some industry musts, while providing some further suggestions for the more seasoned designers among us.

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6 Careers That Benefit From UX Skills

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user-experience-careers

User experience is an interdisciplinary field in its own right, but the concepts, tools, and techniques UX designers use trickle into neighboring professions as well. Understanding the core concepts of user experience can help improve your work in a variety of careers from web development to marketing and design.

Let’s take a look at a range of careers that involve and/or are affected by user experience.

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How Can UX Design Make Sense of Big Data?

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ux-data-blog-picjumbo

Big data is just what it sounds like; data so big that it’s not easily processed through conventional methods. However, once this large data set is eventually distilled down, user experience can play a huge role in making sense of the reports and leading the charge for user-centered solutions.

User experience (UX) is the bridge between big data analytics and the end user. The richness of big data being collected by all types of companies has unleashed a treasure trove of information for user experience designers. UX designers can create more robust solutions for users by analyzing these enormous data sets.

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What Makes for Great Product Design?

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User experience (UX) design separates a good product from a great product.

Harnessing skills like user research, wireframes, and prototyping, UX designers have a unique perspective when it comes to understanding the interactions between users, business goals, and visual and technology elements. For companies, their work fosters brand loyalty and repeat business. For consumers, it means frustration-free online experiences, intuitive mobile apps, efficient store layouts, and more.

Watch below, as design experts from The New York Times, PayPal, Zola, and other top companies share how they design simple, user-friendly, and beautiful products.

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Essentials of Usability Testing

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Intro-To-Web-Usability

I’m sure you’ve heard that great web products have great usability. But what does that even mean?

Enter, LEMErS. No, not the monkeys; the mnemonic device.

Usability is determined and understood by testing the following criteria:

  • Learnability
  • Efficiency
  • Memorability
  • Error Management
  • Satisfaction

These elements can and should be tested using usability tests.

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