Home - UX - UX Books: Essential Must-Reads in 2021

UX Books: Essential Must-Reads in 2021

There’s a lot of information on UX out there. If you want to learn more about UX, become a UX designer, or just improve yourself as a designer reading a book can be of great help. With that many books available, knowing where to begin can be difficult. Our reading list of top UX books and recommendations is a great place to start.
UX books. 5 essential must-reads.

There are a number of great books on UX design you can read. We’ll provide a list of essential books you can read first in 2021. Once you have read these books, you can consider yourself to have a basic understanding of UX theory.

After that, you can pick books from our more advanced reading lists. We’ll be providing them at the end of this post. Good luck!

Table of Contents

The benefits of reading books on UX

There are a couple of routes you can take in starting your career as a UX designer. Some of them are either expensive, like online courses or bootcamps, while others are very time-consuming, like joining a university to get your master’s degree in UX.

Another option might be to read a nice book on UX, UI, or perhaps usability. Just think of it. You can read books in your own time, at your own pace, and in a place of your choice. This could be in your garden while enjoying a nice cup of tea, on a train to work, or just before you go to bed.

Books are a lot cheaper and less time-consuming as well. You can listen to an audiobook while you’re at work or while you take a walk.

Even in 2021, in the era of working-from-home and online collaboration, reading books can be your go-to choice when you want to become a better designer. While bootcamps and courses are either online or postponed, you can still order one or two books to read. You will not be delayed in your learning journey.

Essential UX books in 2021

Let’s start at the beginning. There are a few top books we believe are a must-read regardless of your current position, goals, or experience as a UX designer.

The books we are about to recommend should be a part of any UX reading list as these books will help when you’re an experienced designer but also when you want to become a UX designer.

Here’s our reading list of the best books every UX designer should read. As we mentioned before, this is regardless of experience. These books are recommended for both experienced designers as well as beginners.

The Design of Everyday Things

The Design of Everyday Things

This book is an all-time classic in the world of UX design. It is a must-read for every UX designer. Written by Don Norman in 1988, this book is still relevant today. It aims to teach you basic principles on designing useful products that are delightful to use.

One of these principles is the idea of affordances. This is a real UX 101 subject that every designer must know. Other important subjects are the introduction to user-centered design, the Norman Door, and design thinking. In other words, go read this UX masterpiece!

Do you want to know more about this book? We wrote a review on The Design of Everyday Things. Go check it out!

The Design of Everyday things explains how design acts as the bridge between an object and the user. It helps explain how good design can make the interaction between users and objects enjoyable. After the initial release, this book has received a major update in 2013. Because of this, the book is relevant for every UX designer today.

You can get this book on Amazon.

Don’t Make Me Think

Don't Make Me Think

Yet another classic book on UX. This book is your go-to source for anything on usability. As you might know, usability is a big part of UX, making this a great book to help you as a UX professional.

Steve Krug states that good design is design where you do not have to think about how you should interact with the design. Good design makes it easy for you to complete your tasks. Just like The Design of Everyday Things, this book has had several updates. The most recent one being in 2013.

Don’t Make Me Think is an easy book to read. With just over 200 pages, it is quite short as well. You could finish the book in just a few days. The book focuses on classic design rules like the 3-click-rule and whether or not it should be applied today. There’s a lot of humor in the way of writing as well which makes reading the book a breeze.

You can get the book on Amazon.

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People

100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People

You design your applications to be used by people. It is in the name of user experience design. To do this effectively, you must know who your users are, what they want, and how they work. This book takes a closer look at the psychology of how we work. Because of this, UX researchers will also benefit from reading this book.

Understanding your users will benefit the quality of your design greatly. This book will help you with just that; understanding your users.

The book talks about how human beings function on a very deep primal level. For example, we’re unconsciously triggered to focus on someone’s face. Other examples include how we can have a fight-or-flight response for any object we see.

In time, we have learned new associations to colors, branding, and more. As a UX designer, you can make great use of the things this book teaches you. Therefore, this book is a must-read and should be on the reading list of every UX designer.

You can get the book on Amazon.

Smashing UX Design: Foundations for Designing Online User Experiences

Smashing UX Design

Smashing UX Design is a book that takes an in-depth look into UX. With well over 400 pages, this book is nothing to take lightly!

You can divide Smashing UX design into four parts with the first being an introduction to UX. This makes the book an interesting read for beginners as well. The other parts focus on UX research, the tools you will need as a designer, and specific design cases.

The structure of Smashing UX Design is very clear. The book starts at the beginning and builds on that with every chapter that passes. Do you want to learn about a certain type of workshop, specific tools for designing a great landing page, or an introduction to UX research? This book has you covered.

To summarise, the book provides you with everything there is to know on UX. That’s all there is to say on Smashing UX Design. If you have a UX-related question, this book is for you. However, one thing to keep in mind is that the book is primarily aimed at UX design for the web. The author doesn’t talk that much about mobile.

You can get the book on Amazon.

You’re My Favorite Client

You're My Favorite Client

Mike Monteiro is a very outspoken designer. He is known for his talks and lectures around the world as well as being the co-founder and design director of Mule Design, an interaction design studio based in San Francisco. You can take a look at one of his lectures on how designers destroyed the world just below.

In addition, he is the author of multiple books including the one we recommend here called You’re My Favorite Client. This is the follow-up to his first book Design Is A Job.

With only 127 pages, this book is also a short read. Especially in comparison to some of the other UX books on this reading list. The book zooms in on the relationship you will need to build with your clients in order to create a successful product.

Client-designer relationships are more focused on the soft skills of a UX designer. In the book, Mike Monteiro talks about the step-by-step process of selling and creating your design work, including the questions you must ask and the people you must hire. This makes the book also interesting for product managers and clients.

This is a very specific suggestion. In general, we recommend all four of Mike Monteiro’s books but this one in particular.

You can get the book on Amazon.

Free UX books

There’s an easy way of reading some of our recommended books on UX for free. This can be of great help since getting a lot of books can still be quite an investment.

Try out Amazon’s Audible Plus. You can listen to books while doing something else. This great service has books including The Design of Everyday Things, the books by Mike Monteiro that we’ve mentioned previously, and more.

Try the service for 30 days for free. Cancel anytime!

Best UX books for beginners

When you’re trying to get into the field of UX design, reading books on UX will help you develop an understanding of the theories behind UX. Here’s a reading list of top UX books you should read (in order) to get yourself starting.

The first two books are a part of our essential UX booklist as we’ve discussed above. Start with the following books. Both of them are listed above.

  1. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.
  2. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.

To use a metaphor, Don’t Make Me Think is like learning to ride a bicycle. You’ll start with the basics of UX, how-to’s, and principles.

After that, the training wheels come off when you read The Design of Everyday Things. This book is a little bit more abstract and conceptual. It tackles real-life situations. Don’t Make Me Think is very concrete and more focussed on providing best practices and actionable tips and tricks.

When you’re done with these first two, continue with the following UX books.

Universal Principles of Design

Universal Principles of Design

This book is a top read for every beginning UX designer. In the current edition, you can read about 150 design principles. Just think of The Design of Everyday Things that take a look at 7 principles. Add another 143 to that list!

As a UX designer, you need to speak the language of design. This book teaches you just that. You can use this book like a dictionary for UX design. With a new design principle every few pages, you can just reference a certain page you want to know more about. Does a more senior UX designer talk about a principle you don’t know? Just look it up in this great UX dictionary!

Universal Principles is a contender for the number one spot on every beginning UX designer’s reading list. It helps designers get started the right way. The book includes cool examples and illustrations which makes it an easy and fun read.

You can get the book on Amazon.

Lean UX

Lean UX

This is a great book for UX beginners, written by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden.

Most clients you’re going to collaborate with work using an Agile framework. Just think of Scrum meetings like the daily standup, sprint retrospectives, and reviews. This book helps you find your place within a Lean and Agile working environment.

Yes, UX and Agile have some differences in their way of working. Lean UX is going to give you the tools you need to work together with Agile-minded teams and clients in an efficient and productive way.

You can get the book on Amazon.

The User Experience Team of One

The User Experience Team of One

During your design career, it could happen that you’re either going to be the only designer at your company or that you’re going to have to collaborate with clients that not really see the benefit of good UX design. 

That’s where this book comes in. The UX Team of One teaches you how you can get your design done while being a one-man team. It focuses on getting more UX work done in less time and how to survive as a lone UX professional.

You can get the book on Amazon.

UX for Beginners: 100 Short Lessons to Get You Started

UX for Beginners. A Crash Course in 100 Short Lessons

This book is based on the UX Crash Course blog at The Hipper Element. Both the blog and book are written by Joel Marsh. He is a UX designer and author.

UX for Beginners is a book that teaches you, as the title suggests, 100 basics about UX.

These are fundamental design principles that can help any beginner become a better designer. In fact, even more experienced designers can still learn a thing or two from this book.

You can get the book on Amazon.

Best books on UI design

UI design is an important part of UX. Even though UX is about more than just the things you see on a screen you still have to design what you see on the screen. That’s what sets UI design apart from UX.

Here are a number of books you can read to grow your knowledge of UI design.

The first two books are also part of our other UX booklists as stated previously. There’s no particular order in which you should read these books on UI design. Check them out at the beginning of this post.

  1. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.
  2. Universal Principles of Design by William  Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler.

After the first books, you can continue learning UI design by reading one (or all) of the following books.

Tog on Interface

Tog on Interface

If you know about the Nielsen Norman group, chances are you also know about Bruce ‘Tog’ Tognazzini. He teaches some of the classes at their UX conferences. Besides that, he is a very experienced designer that has worked with many popular brands around the world. For example, he has worked at Apple for over 14 years.

Tog on Interface is a collection of UI design principles, guidelines, and examples around the Mac. This makes the book a bit ‘Mac-heavy’ so you have to be okay with that. We can imagine that this book is very interesting for you if you’re either a big fan of Mac history or if you have to work on a product that is mainly Mac-oriented.

In every other way, this is a great book to help you understand everything there is to know on UI design. This book captures basic design principles in a great and understandable way. Even in 2021, this book is a must-read for any UI designer.

You can get the book on Amazon.

UI is Communication

UI is Communication

User interfaces are the bridge between the user and a product. Whenever we interact with our phone, our car, or a household product, we have to understand and interpret data.

This book teaches you about just that. It shows you the ‘conversation’ between users and interfaces by giving you examples and real-life best practices. A must-read for both beginning and more experienced UI designers.

You can get the book on Amazon.

Evil by Design

Evil by Design

Users do not do the things they do on purpose. We, the user, are influenced by a lot of different things. This includes colors, shapes, and typography among others. Evil by Design is a book on how to use UI design principles to get users to do what we want.

The book shows us some fantastic examples of how this works in practice. Evil by Design talks about marketing, UX writing, psychology, and more. The seven sins are used as a metaphor and are applied to design. This makes the book relatable and fun to read.

The fun thing about this book is that it shows designers how UI can be used for evil. When reading this book it is time to ask yourself whether or not you’re going to use your skills as a UI designer for good or for evil.

You can get the book on Amazon.

UX research books

Research is one of the building blocks of UX design. Some of the books on our UX reading list also cover some of this expertise. Yet, we believe it to be an important skill that is too important to not have a special section on recommended books. Here’s our list!

Quantifying the User Experience

Quantifying the User Experience: Practical Statistics for User Research

Design is about more than just putting pixels in a pretty order. Yes, it is important but there is way more that you will need to do as a UX designer. We’re talking about user research. As we said before, user research is a unique skill.

One of the most difficult parts of being a designer is measuring the success of your design. Most people think that design is something subjective. You either like it or you don’t. Quantifying the User Experience is a book that gives you the tools you need to do qualitative and quantitative user research that breaks through this image of what design is.

After reading the book you will be able to measure the success of the changes you’ve made to your designs. By using these tools you can convince stakeholders of the added value of UX design. This will in turn help you become a better designer.

You can get the book on Amazon.

Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior

Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior

A lot happens inside a user’s mind when he or she interacts with your design. Your users might have a prejudice or bias you have to be aware of when designing a product. In other cases, using your designs might be a bit scary because it is new for a user.

How someone sees an object or product and how he thinks it will work is what we call the mental model. When working as a UX designer, doing your user research is an important part of your design process. Understanding the mental model involved is key to delivering a delightful user experience.

That’s where this book comes in. Indi Young, the author of Mental Models, describes in great detail how to approach such a user research process. If you’re up for a design project that involves UX research, this is an essential book for every reading list.

You can get the book on Amazon.

Best books for UX writing

Text is becoming a bigger part of the user experience every day. That’s why UX writing is an important part of the modern UX designer’s toolbox.

Just think of it like this. To send a message, you have to communicate. Communication can be done in many languages and one of these languages is text. In fact, every product you use has a form of text (or speech) in one way or another. As a UX writer, you have to be prepared for that.

These books on UX writing can help you with that.

Strategic Writing for UX: Drive Engagement, Conversion, and Retention with Every Word

Strategic Writing for UX

Let’s start with the author. Torrey Podmajersky is a very experienced UX writer with working experience at multiple big companies like Google and Microsoft.

She believes UX writing is about the text that is within the scope of a UX designer. This could be the headings, call-to-action, and button labels, for example. Because of this, UX writing works very close to copywriting and (in part) marketing but is very much its own specialty.

Strategic Writing for UX takes a close look at common topics within UX writing, like conversational design, what UX writing is (and isn’t), best-practices, and how to measure the effectiveness of the work you do.

The book does so in a very clear and down-to-earth way. We can recommend this book to UX designers at any experience level.

You can get Strategic Writing for UX on Amazon.

Further reading

We’ll be updating this reading list whenever we see new UX and UI books that we think will help you in becoming a better designer. In addition, we’ll be creating follow-up lists focused on specific topics, like UX Writing, Usability, and Research.

In the meantime, we’d suggest you read more on becoming a UX designer. After all, theory on UX is an important part of every UX designer’s toolbox. Reading books is just one part of that.

Nick Groeneveld

About the author

Nick Groeneveld is a designer from the Netherlands with over 5 years of UX, visual design, and consultancy experience. He has worked in many different industries, including retail, finance, and sports.

Take a look at Nick’s LinkedIn and Medium for more.

Was this post helpful to you? Share it with others!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin