My Favourite Usability Books

People sometimes ask me what book to read to get started with usability. My recommendation depends on your background and focus:

IF (you like your knowledge applied and theory light) ->

  1. IF (mostly for web, interested in guerilla usability tests) ->
    Don’t make me think
    by Steve Krug
  2. IF (you’re a developer and want people to be happy with the solution you’re coding) ->
    User interface design for programmers by Joel Spolsky
  3. IF (love lots of examples, mostly from non-web GUIs) ->
    GUI Bloopers
    – Jeff Johnson

IF (you like theory and psychology) ->

The 1st and last ones are also great, if you’re not yet convinced that usability is a good thing and usually suspect that your system’s fine and your users are just too stupid to operate it.

While I’m at it: One thing that will improve the usability of everything you “produce” – software, emails, whatever – is good writing. The 2nd book has a great chapter on this. Alternatively there’s a great article on writing well by Su-Shee. It’s the best I’ve ever read on writing, ever. Everything you really need to know on just 3 pages. Read it in English or the original German.

Published by Corinna Baldauf

Corinna Baldauf has filled every Scrum role there is and then some. Currently she spends most of her days writing and occasionally facilitating retrospectives. She's interested in lean, agile, coaching, leadership & UX. You can follow her on Twitter, subscribe to her (Retromat) newsletter and buy her books.

11 replies on “My Favourite Usability Books”

  1. Thanks!

    What about testing with users? Is there an introduction to test protocols and metrics?

      1. Thank you, I wanted to ask you about that anyways and then, by a lucky coincidence, you wrote this post. I’ll have a look at the second book.

      1. While I’ve enjoyed reading “Elements of Style” I still struggle to convert everything to active voice. Especially in papers where there is usually no actor but “we”, an entity in which the reader isn’t interested at all.

  2. Thanks for the recommendations.

    I was especially interested in UI design for programmers, as this topic will affect the rest of my year. As a developer I’m just afraid that the book is a little outdated, being >10 yrs old.

    Is there anything more up-to-date coming to your mind?

    1. No need to worry! The majority of usability knowledge is timeless as it’s about humans, their perception and limitations. Those change very, very slowly if at all. You’ll be fine with any of the above books! (With the possible exceptions of the screenshots in “GUI Bloopers”. They probably look dated, but will still get the point across.)

      [You need current info only when deciding what to build based on what paradigms people are already familiar with (e.g. 15 years ago touch interfaces were unfamiliar, now they are expected). This information is usually on websites and blogs rather than books.]

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