With all of the book recommendation lists I’ve created, I was a little surprised at myself for waiting so long to create this one. UX research (UXR) is extremely popular today. Most of the new and aspiring UXers I speak with express a desire to specialize in this arena.
This excitement about UXR is also reflected in the volume of books available on the subject. So, at long last, here are my book recommendations for those seeking to expand their horizons regarding the subject. Just so you’re aware, this will be a rather lengthy list. And, per my usual, the list purposely lacks structure. I’ve found it wards off those who are work-averse. ;-)
Ready? Let’s get started with the recommendations, shall we?
Design for How People Think: Using Brain Science to Build Better Products by John Whalen, Ph.D.
I absolutely love this book and the mindset behind it. The author is A PSYCHOLOGIST THAT DOES PRODUCT DESIGN!!! What a novel idea! This is especially critical during a time when people who don’t specialize in psychology offer supposed insights on the subject. This book offers expert advice on the connection between psychology and design, helping us to understand how to optimize design efforts.
Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights by Steve Portigal
Written by the UXR guru, Steve Portigal, this book focuses most specifically on the importance and proper approach of interviewing as a research mechanism. Want to expand your UXR interviewing chops? This book is for you!
NOTE: The link has been updated to highlight the second edition of this book.
Quantifying the User Experience: Practical Statistics for User Research by Jeff Sauro & James R Lewis
This updated edition of the book focuses on such key topics as statistics and sample sets, lending itself to helping practitioners develop greater acumen in these oft-overlooked areas of research operation.
Think Like a UX Researcher: How to Observe Users, Influence Design, and Shape Business Strategy by David Travis & Philip Hodgson
This extremely thorough book is an absolute treasure chest of information that gives broad coverages to several aspects of the UXR’s operation. The first chapter on “The Seven Deadly Sins of UX Research” is absolutely awesome and thought-provoking, highlighting flaws that are present in many research efforts today. For anyone seeking to learn more about UXR and to set proper expectations for one’s operation, this book is an absolute must have. The only thing I’d caution someone about (especially for Americans) is to be aware of the cultural and language differences. For example, don’t let constant use of the phrase “development team” throw you for a loop. Travis and Hodgson are using that phrase to refer to the entire design team and not developers. This does not, in any way, take away from the value of this fantastic work.
This is yet another book that focuses on one specific aspect of research — yet a critical one. In addition to providing tremendous details and insight about usability testing, this book also addresses the WHEN associated with conducting research (i.e., when it’s correct, appropriate, and optimal), but it also covers the skills needed in order to excel at one’s associated craft.
No UX research book list is complete without an entry from Steve Krug. This book is a great companion to the purposely-omitted “Don’t Make Me Think, but only because of the more precise focus on usability testing and some of the commentary about amateurs engaging in the practice. It’s an easy read, just like Krug’s first book, and provides tremendously valuable insight that’s destined to help sharpen your UX research acumen, especially for those just starting out.
Per the description, this book focuses on “recruiting, facilitating activities or moderating, negotiating with product developments teams/customers, and getting your results incorporated into the product.” This is surely a valuable add to any UX researcher’s library.
One of the universities where I teach has been using this one as a textbook for several years. Now in its 3rd edition, this work provides tremendous insights about UX research, especially as it pertains to how to best represent data when sharing with clients, stakeholders, and other team members.
This is one of my absolute favorite books on this list. In addition to serving as a toolbox, providing insights about several methods, techniques, and deliverables, but it also helps readers to understand where each research approach fits into the design process AND what category of research it’s associated with. In the example shown below, the items in bold are applicable with the currently-displayed approach. Great right?!?!?! Want to expand your strategic prowess and your toolbox? This book is an absolute must have for one’s UXR library.
Remote Research: Real Users, Real Time, Real Research by Nate Bolt & Tony Tulathimutte
The book was written in 2010, but as is usually the case with good UX content, the information has a long shelf life. Knowledge of advances in remote research since 2010 will help you and I to navigate as needed throughout the content. Regardless of the publication date, the authors provide great insight about UXR at-large, as well as clarifying roles, purpose, and differentiation between market research and UXR (see extracted image, below). The list isn’t exhaustive, but definitely lends itself to the critical thinking that’s the lifeblood of our activities.
With the foreword written by Steve Krug, it should be clear that we’re in for a treat with this one. From my perspective, it was refreshing to see someone put forth the effort to write a book focusing specifically on eye tracking. Everyone doesn’t have the opportunity to conduct such research, but there’s no need to wait. Partaking of this book can and will provide current and future practitioners with valuable insights to hone one’s craft, as this book provides basic and advanced perspectives, addressing everyone’s needs, despite the skill and acumen level.
Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research by Elizabeth Goodman Ph.D., Mike Kuniavsky, & Andrea Moed
This book finds its place on this list due to the holistic approach to the topic of UXR and the thorough coverage of several methods and techniques. One of the things I love about this book is its coverage of methods more commonly associated with market research (e.g., focus groups and surveys), but used in UXR, specifying how to execute each approach and when to help drive value. Want a uncommon take on UXR? Check out the chapter on Object-Based Techniques…. and go to work! ;-)
Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories by Steve Portigal
Toxic positivity is common in today’s world of UX. This makes stories about challenges, pitfalls, and rough patches that much more valuable, as they help set more realistic expectations and strategize around such issues. This book by UXR veteran and trailblazer, Steve Portigal, provides vantage points that will encourage us to face research hardships head on.
Measuring the User Experience: Collecting, Analyzing, and Presenting Usability Metrics by William Albert & Thomas Tullis
Akin to Jeff Sauro’s book on statistics, this book provides much needed insights into the importance of statistics and metrics as they pertain to UXR. The authors also take time to address myths associated with metrics, which help us to provide even greater value AND navigate troubled waters associated with problem stakeholders and clients eager to shoot down our work (i.e., by knowing the myths, you can avoid embarrassing and compromising situations).
Much of the discussion surrounding UX frequently focuses on the actual work and the associated techniques. Very seldom do books, talks, or the like invest in relationship management or navigating political spaces. Having a book that focuses solely on strategies and mindsets for getting stakeholder buy-in is much needed. Mega kudos to Tomer Sharon for penning this awesome work and the inclusion of stark and much needed realities in its pages! The exclusive topical coverage in this book makes it a must have for one’s library.
For everyone that is or has been a “UX team of one,” the need for resources and points of reference that help one to thrive is worth its weight in gold. Leah Buley’s book is such a resource. This book covers everything from how to define UX to fostering support for your solo effort to strategy to design to (of course) research, among other topics. We can’t achieve success without planning. If you are a UX team of one, please make sure to have this book in your tool chest.
Make Your Customers Dance: The Key To User Experience Is Knowing Your Audience by Marc A. Majers & Anthony L. Turner
Research is about obtaining trustworthy, actionable data. And there’s no greater data than the data that informs us about our users, their needs, their goals, and their challenges. In this book, Majers and Turner parallel the design of optimal experiences with the world of DJing. Whether you’re a party person or not, you have to appreciate the metaphoric approach that helps us to understand the importance of knowing our audience. Without such knowledge, any design efforts will fall short of the target.
If you’re familiar with this book and find the title to be a bit misleading, you’re not alone. Yes, it spends time addressing UXR teams, but it’s also dedicated to various strategies that will help with running a full UXR operation—and it’s great info. This holistic topic coverage, in the form of added value, earned the book a spot on this list.
Analyzing and Interpreting Qualitative Research: After the Interview by Charles F. Vanover, Paul A. Mihas & Johnny Saldana
This one isn’t related to UXR, but I felt it should still be on the list. The reason? It’s important to excel and analysis and synthesis of data. Looking outside the discipline is critical to this effort. The techniques and topics covered in this book will support the development of the reader’s expertise.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal & Ryan Hoover
While this book qualifies as more of a psychology-oriented design book, I decided to include it in the recommendations list due to the many nuggets of research-related it includes. If you’ve been thinking about purchasing this fantastic book, please make sure you don’t overlook the broader set of benefits contained therein.
Well, what did you think of the list? If nothing else, the breadth of topics address should help someone understand that the world of UX research is much larger than many assume. And don’t forget, you may beg to differ with something you read in one of the books, but that shouldn’t detract from its value. If something challenged you to engage in greater levels of critical thinking and/or helped improve the way you approach your craft, it had beneficial impact, right? ;-)
Whether you’re looking to expand your current UX library or are just getting started in building your UX acumen, I encourage you to be patient as you proceed on this journey…. for this list of worthy books is actually much larger than what you see here.
Darren Hood is a 26+ year UX practitioner with a broad professional footprint that spans several types of business. He serves as an adjunct professor at Kent State University (Kent, Ohio), Lawrence Tech University (Southfield, Michigan), and Harrisburg University (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is also one of the authors featured in “97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know.”