Being a designer is a synonym for being a curious person. If you are a curious person, chances are that you are also a lifelong learner, like me. Although, many times we feel overwhelmed by tasks, we have to stop regularly to feed our curious little minds. This helps us to be more satisfied, hopefully, more productive and simply to become better designers, or for that matter, better at anything you enjoy learning/reading about.
In Hungary in the late 90s we had no realistic access to the best books. They were either too expensive for us, or just simply not available. The situation is somewhat better now, but many of us still have restricted access to those pieces of art. Though I love physical books, I’d recommend you to get an e-book reader so you can easily grab the material you need more quickly and cheaply. As a bonus, you don’t need an extra room in your home to keep your books and you can also take your whole library with you on a trip.
Many people think that becoming a designer is only about learning to use Sketch or Adobe XD and that is it. In my opinion, this is not true. We can learn how to use a pen, still, we don’t become Shakespeare, right? Design software is just a tool, but we need considerable knowledge of how people “work”, especially in such a multidisciplinary field like design.
In my opinion, here are the first five books you should read if you would like to pursue a career in design or want to be a better designer.
Don Norman: Design of Everyday Things
This piece is kind of a bible from the god of design. I am not saying that it is an easy read like an Agatha Christie novel, but definitely something that will show you that designing a submission for a challenge is not (only) about putting nice buttons and nice shadows on the canvas. This book helps you start observing people and their interaction with the world and with products. You will get familiar with the terms affordances and signifiers which are used in the context of making a product self-explanatory for the user. You can read about the infamous design problem of “Norman doors”. Norman also talks about the processes within our heads and explains how we process and act on situations or products. Read on to learn about our constraints, the slips and mistakes humans make, and ways a designer can help avoid them. Highly recommended for everyone who wants to look beneath the surface! Fun fact: I have a signed copy :-)
Steve Krug: Don’t Make Me Think
This book about website usability is a much easier read, both because it uses common sense to explain the claims Krug has to share, and because he is a funny person, so you might find yourself laughing while reading this piece. Though it was written a while back and reissued two times with refreshed content, it doesn’t want to teach us about trends. Instead it will try to make you realise how people really use a website which is usually not the idealistic way designers have in mind. This book would like to help you in creating intuitive navigations and information architecture for web interfaces. In the latest release of the book Krug included an interesting chapter about mobile design as well, such as he writes about accessibility standards. You will find a lot of examples in this book which might be quite outdated by now, but as the human species doesn’t change that fast, the examples still clearly convey the message.
Alan Cooper & Co: About Face
If you are more into serious stuff, About Face is a 600+ page textbook about interaction design, in which you will find principles, patterns and processes of IxD, how these relate to each other and how to apply them in your work. About Face discusses a great deal of analog tools that can be used throughout our journey of creating great digital products. For example, Alan Cooper is the one who came up with the concept of personae. About Face also talks about interaction types and interface elements in great detail. I use this book as a handbook from time to time when I need a quick refresher on the huge knowledge included in it.
Susan Weinschenk: 100 Things Every Designer Should Know About People
If you are experiencing a busy schedule and really have limited time, this book can still offer you some really interesting one to three page articles that teach basic psychological principles to help in understanding users better, which helps guide design decisions. The content is divided into ten chapters around subjects like perception, attention, memory, motives, emotions, decision making and so on, in an illustrated, easy to understand way, along with examples. Familiarizing yourself with the 100 things discussed in the book will result in better organized, more usable products that people will be able to use for longer periods without fatigue. This book is also suitable for kids who are interested in the topic, so it can be something you read together with your children if you’d like to show them your world.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
I left Flow as the last book to recommend you as it is not a design book, but it is a foundation for positive psychology. So how it is connected to design then? Actually in two ways. First, it helps you understand the state of mind the users of the product you are working on should be in, which is what Csíkszentmihályi called flow and as the title suggests it is the optimal experience. Secondly, it might also help you to refine your own workflow in order to get into the flow while you are working, or for that matter spending your free time, as this book tries to define happiness and find the way to reach it. If any of you have problems pronouncing the name of the author, just ask me, as he is Hungarian as well :-)
I hope I grabbed your attention with this short article about these awesome books and that you will consider taking some time off for reading for your own good. I am sure you will not regret it in the long run. If you have come across another great design book that you think is a must-read for designers, please, let us know.