Review. 5 Best Books for UX Designers in 2021
May 5, 2020

“Design is the process of going from an existing condition to a preferred one,” remarked National Medal of Arts 2010 Award Winner, Milton Glaser.

At the close of the decade, I hope you had penned down as many new year- or new decade- resolutions as I had, and all the accompanying steps we would need to take to get there. A particularly helpful routine I make each year is to set out to complete a number of books that could best guide my goals for the year. In this article, I share five best books for UX designers, and aspiring designers, alike.

Book "Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability" by Steve Krug 

Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – Steve Krug

Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability emphasises the importance of technology that is intuitive.

Steve Krug is a UX professional who provides consulting services and holds workshops to train individuals and corporates. In this bestseller, he writes about human-computer interaction. To Krug, technology serves to expedite or accomplish the necessary jobs as simply and effectively as possible. The key idea is that designs should be created with the aim of building an intuitive experience where users would not have to think about how the interface works. Good design is where users would naturally navigate around the web, and do not have to unnecessarily spend time figuring out where they could find the general functions. The considerations of the user experience are essential to ensure that features and functionalities do not necessitate a process too cumbersome or too complicated, that makes it no longer worthwhile.

I also appreciate Krug’s concise writing that underscores his argument of the value of brevity. In 2020, with all its hustle and bustle, Don’t Make Me Think! reminds us of our world that would not stop talking, and the simplicity that users increasingly crave.

The Best Interface Is No Interface: The Simple Path to Brilliant Technology – Golden Krishna

A senior UX designer at Zappos Labs, and formerly at Samsun Innovation Lab, Golden Krishna seeks to imagine, design, and build the future of technology. 

In his critique of the overwhelming usage of gadgets and screens becoming only more and more pronounced, Krishna lamented the current situation where six words, ‘There is an App for that’, have become the unsurprising response to any situation.

For UX designers, Krishna brings to the table the importance of questioning the purpose behind the work that we do, homing in on the theme of usability. He takes considerations of user experience a step further by questioning if there is even a need for the gadget at all, in our screen-obsessed world. Krishna criticises the kneejerk response of ‘slapping an interface’ on any problem faced. In The Best Interface Is No Interface: The Simple Path to Brilliant Technology, Krishna argues for UX designers to consider strategic and thoughtful solutions. The course of action that would be most natural and straightforward should be taken into account.

With the surging aversion to screens in this digital age, Krishna argues that the preferred solution could very well be screenless, rather than to mindlessly turn to the perceived panacea of the day: Apps.

Book "SPRINT: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days" by Jake Knapp

SPRINT: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days: Jake Knapp‍

A useful guide that draws out a clear (and speedy!) roadmap is Jake Knapp’s SPRINT: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days.

Invented by Jake Knapp at Google Ventures, the design sprint is a five-day process using design, prototypes, and user testing. While a mere five days seems a tall order, Knapp introduces the design sprint that combines key ideas from behaviour science, design thinking, business strategy, and business innovation to present a succinct Do-It-Yourself guide. The design sprint aims to solve even the big problems, and provides a strategy to test out new ideas, by building and refining the designer’s ideas. This formula saves the individual, whether from a start-up or at a large corporation, time and money as it encourages quick prototyping and user testing.

For beginners seeking to understand the environment of UX design, or professionals discouraged by hurdles that seem too high or too frequent, Knapp discusses detailed steps to support you in this journey. Begin today!

Book "The Non-Designer’s Design Book" by Robin Williams

The Non-Designer’s Design Book – Robin Williams

A writer, designer, and producer of over seventy books in the field of Information Technology, Robin Willians has taught thousands to better appreciate the digital world that we live in.

Williams advocates the use of four – just four! – surprisingly simple principles for every aspiring designer to understand what makes a good design and typography.  Through this non-intimidating and easy to read guide, The Non-Designer’s Design Book offers fast and concise design help.

For those of us starting out new and preferring a step-by-step manual, Williams even includes quizzes, and projects for every layperson to try their hand at training their Designer Eye. Written without confusing jargon to cater for beginners, and with illustrations included, this book is an easy and enjoyable read.

Definitely a practical, handy, and humorous guide to have under every UX designers’ belt!

Book "Inclusive Design for a Digital World: Designing with Accessibility in Mind (Design Thinking)" by Regine M Gilbert

Inclusive Design for a Digital World: Designing with Accessibility in Mind (Design Thinking) – Regine M Gilbert

To close, a key consideration for every UX designer should be the value of inclusive design. Inclusivity should take pride of place in our rapidly changing environment. As former processes are revamped and digitised, it is important we honestly question the integrity of our products to ensure that the products we make do not intentionally or insidiously widen the enduring inequalities in society. Design is a double-edged sword! Careless design could segregate communities or reinforce existing segregations.

UX professor and author Regine Gilbert brings to the fore the primary consideration of accessibility. She asserts that designers must have in mind as many different users as possible, such that the product is accessible. While the concept of accessibility was previously constrained to our physical landscape, Gilbert emphasises the need to carry this consideration to our increasingly digitised world.

Specifically, Gilbert confronts numerous ways technology has now marginalised groups of the community. This ranges from the obvious cases of a lack of inclusivity or consideration such as tiny font that cannot be easily enlarged, to even the usage of emojis, that would prove difficult for the visually impaired. In Inclusive Design for a Digital World: Designing with Accessibility in Mind, she suggests step-by-step design solutions that could be taken to address the myriad of unintended backlash that has been created.

As UX designers around the world continue to hone their creativity and expertise, let us not forget to also work on our sensitivity. In this world, there are many groups of people less privileged. As UX designers, we have the responsibility to take due diligence in creating inclusive design, and have the ability to influence the products we build.

With that, I share a personal reminder of the proverbial shoulder of giants, as poetically put by renowned scientist and astronomer, Isaac Newton:

“If I have seen farther than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

May these books provide insights and strategies to support you along your UX journey in 2021.