Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: Where to look to learn UX/Design
146 points by d_mcgraw on Oct 7, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 60 comments
I understand that this wont make me a web Picasso or anything, but I would love to be 'not horrible' when it comes to sites design and UX. What are some good places to look at, get inspiration from, and especially, learn from?

I'm reading The Design of Everyday Things right now. It is an amazingly good book. The examples are awesome. It really is changing the way I look at everything.

The Design of Everyday Things is cool, indeed. Norman's a great author who keeps questioning what we take for granted.

However, if you are looking for something more pragmatic, Steve's Don't Make me Think and JJG's The Elements of User Experience should be the top of your reading list, especially on web design.

I'm 11 pages into the Design of Everyday things and loving it so far. Thank you for the recommendation.

I need to second your recommendation of The Humane Interface. I reread it often.

That last one is more about systems analysis than user experience.

Some previous discussions:

Ask HN: Learning Web Design — http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1604915

Ask HN: How can I get better at design? —http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1474315

I’ve found this online book great — http://designingfortheweb.co.uk/book/index.php

Experienced designers always emphasize learning about typography, and which seemed unintuitive to me until I began to study it. Bringhurst is a fantastic place to start there:


Bringhurst's book is advanced and heavy. It's good. But I'd start with 'Thinking with Type'.

I want to do the same (not suck at it) so i started to look at web design communities a while ago. I found some interesting things that helped me be a little better:

- http://webtypography.net/ for typography basics

- http://uxmovement.com/ for general user experience advice

- http://uxmovement.com/resources/4-best-design-pattern-librar... (inspiration :) )

- http://alpha.patterntap.com/collections/Tabs (found recently about it).

- http://www.blog.spoongraphics.co.uk/articles/25-classic-font...

Hope it helps.

If you want to understand the psychology of design you need to look for books on "human factors" and not web design books. Human Factors is a scientific discipline that is a subset of IO psychology.

While many of the books recommended on this board are good books, some of the authors learned through trial and error without the guidance of the scientific rigor that is provided by Human Factors, while others are just plain wrong.

The mind works in particular patterns, understanding those patterns will help you conceive of interfaces and test those conceptions, while verifying that it does indeed improve whatever metric you are trying to improve, not just emulate something that worked for someone.

Now I am not saying you need a PHD in Human Factors to design good interfaces, but a little grounding goes a long way. It will help you understand why something worked for someone in a book and determine if it will also work for what you are trying to apply it to.

Can you recommend any books on "human factors"?

Handbook of Human Factors in Web Design

Institutionalization of Usability

User Interfaces for All -- expensive but good.

About Face 2.0 -- Good info poorly written I think 3 may be out by now.

Human Factors in Information Systems

This is an excellent book that discusses human factors at a lot of levels from city planning, to the design of a simple device. It is kind of like a mash up between "Powers of Ten" and a Malcom Gladwell book. Not web centric, but a really good read and intro to HFE.

sounds fascinating, but there's no book title in your post!

He is probably talking about the handbook of human factors and ergonomics. It has been updated since I purchased it, and is more information systems focused now. It is like the bible of usability but it is an expensive text, that is why I did not recommend it.

I guess I should have and put a disclaimer on it. When I bought it, it was around $275. If you have to buy one book and you can spare the change, this is the one. But some of the others will get you going faster.

It depends on what you want to do, This book is deeply focused and considered an academic text, many teach from it. Once the subject matter in this book is mastered you will be a HF professional for sure, but some of the other books can get you up and running faster.

At some point you should consider this book for your bookshelf but it is not a beginners book that is another reason I was hesitant to recommend it.

Sorry Kareemm, this is the book I was talking about:


Check out Smashing Magazine http://www.smashingmagazine.com/

Their posts are usually really informative and provide a lot of jumping off points and design analysis. They have a book out as well that I've only thumbed through a bit, but looked really well done.

I like Luke Wroblewski's advice a lot (http://www.lukew.com/ plus his two books on form design and web usability)

I have to worry about form design mostly, so two links I liked were

http://www.uie.com/articles/web_forms/ and http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2006/07/label-placement...

I also stole some ideas from here: http://developer.fellowshipone.com/patterns/

Those are the ones I've read and somewhat followed.

I also bookmarked this framework to try out: http://gantry-framework.org/

There are also several eyetracking services (some provided by Ycombinator companies I believe) - I'd love to have eyetracking studies on the company website, but the current management doesn't mind that it looks like crap since it will be outsourced anyways.

"I also stole some ideas from here: http://developer.fellowshipone.com/patterns/

I discovered that a couple of weeks ago. It's really, really well done.

I basically sent the same question in an e-mail to Amy Hoy last night. She recommended these two books, "The Universal Principles of Design (have to get a used copy) and About Face 3 for interaction design."

Why a used copy of ”Universal Principles”? It’s available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Universal-Principles-Design-William-Li...

I own The Universal Principles of Design, and it's an excellent book. Each pair of pages has a description of a principle on the left and some examples of it on the right.

About Face 1 and 2 where seminal works, the editing in them was poorly done but the content was some of the best available at the time. This thread got me looking at books again and I realized that 3 is the latest work. So I picked up a copy to see how it is. I duly expect it to be as good, here is to hoping that the editing is better in 3.

I have to say of all 37Signalers, I enjoy listening to Ryan Singer the most. He seems to have a genuine interest in teaching and not in a "controversial for the sake of marketing" kind of way. He has a bunch of videos on Vimeo.

He talks more about user experience and interaction, not graphic design, that as someone else mentioned, you can find tutorials on the tuts plus network.

This talk of Ryan's from Windy City Rails 2009 is excellent: http://2009.windycityrails.org/videos#4

He's really an excellent speaker.

Agree. I sometimes like listening to Jason also.

But yea, Ryan Singer is the awesome.

It's worth checking out Don Norman's (the author of The Design of Everyday Things) recommended reading list:


I have yet to choose a book from the list that didn't leave me feeling much more informed. If you click on a book in the list it jumps to a description of why he thinks someone should read it.

I desperately want to get the Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics, but it's just way too expensive:


"About Face" by Alan Cooper is far-and-away the best book I've read on interaction design.

Don Norman's books are also worth a read (though more difficult to immediately apply to creating software).

For general visual design "The Non-Designers Design Book" by Robin Williams is an excellent tutorial to teach you how to be, as you say, "not horrible".

I just started reading Cooper's About Face and by chapter 2 it's already changing how I think about UI design. Granted, I sucked at it, but still...

Adding to the others.

You should understand the difference between Web design and UI/UX design: it's like Monet/van Gogh versus Da Vinci.

In UIs you're crafting like an "engineer", while with general website design (eg. most of the cases done by graphic designers) you're painting. Either way practice is required (if you're a programmer you know this, you can't learn programming only by reading books :).

Also if I may, I would recommend "Semiology of Graphics" by Jacques Bertin, it's a reference to information design and visualization (if you plan to design apps, you may want to give it a look). http://www.amazon.com/Semiology-Graphics-Diagrams-Networks-M...

Many YC startups have stunning design e.g. heroku, wufoo. When you come across a beautiful site, open it in Firebug to see how it was done.

Stunning design doesn't really come from having "beautiful" html code so much I feel. People who really get design are the ones who think about how a product is going to be used, who is using it, and in what context. If you are talking strictly visual design, then the CSS/HTML markup is going to be even less relevant. For that I would go to CSS sites and galleries and derive inspiration from there.

Oh I agree. We inspect elements of beautiful sites in Firebug to answer the question "How was that specific thing made?" Obviously Firebug does not find inspiration for you, it won't teach you the principles of design and it isn't going to design sites for you.

Yes, you can do that but sometimes it's not very obvious if you are not a master with css, html, and photoshop.

"Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug is the single best book to start with on UX. It is short, extremely accessible, and very useful.

1. Rosenfeld Media has a ranking tool for UX books http://www.rosenfeldmedia.com/zeitgeist/ and top lists provided by respected industry professionals.

2. Whitney Hess, a respected UX professional with great PR skills, has a recommended list at http://www.flashlightworthybooks.com/Best-Recommended-Books-...

As a person who once switched to UX design for a while, I can say that they are definitely great books, though I can't understand everyone' obsession with Steve Krug (he has EXTREMELY basic books).

Also, Whitney has two popular blog posts of So You Wanna Be a UX Designer series: http://whitneyhess.com/blog/2009/06/30/so-you-wanna-be-a-use... and http://whitneyhess.com/blog/2009/11/23/so-you-wanna-be-a-use... . They will provide you basics, but also overwhelm with the huge volume of recommended sources.

3. konigi.com (ther blog and wiki) is a top source of information about ALL old and new UX tools, some UX basics and new UX trends. They also sell some very handy tools for UX designers http://konigi.com/tools/overview

There's no "The way to design" but there is "A way to design".

I would recommend you "Defensive Design for the Web" by 37 Signals and "Designing Web Interfaces" by Bill Scott.

These books use examples of Web Interfaces but you can apply them on anything. Be it a software or hardware.

Also, I would say, when you design something, Dont focus much on visual appearance. First try to make things clean and ask your non-tech friends to use it. See what difficulties they face in using your product. You will learn a lot from these experiences.

I'm not a UX guy, but I found this to be a good infographic to encapsulate what UX actually means:


I like the books "Don't make me think" and "Designing the obvious" for some basic web UX knowledge. They are short and to the point.

These are exactly the two books I was going to recommend. Don't Make Me Think is like the K&R of web UX books, and Designing the Obvious is like a nice web 2.0 companion for it.

Also, I'd throw in The Design of Everyday Things -- see http://www.amazon.com/Design-Everyday-Things-Donald-Norman/d.... It was written long before anyone ever thought of web usability; instead, it focuses on the usability of things you interact with daily in real life. Let's just say that you'll never look at teapots or door handles the same way again...

Here's a list of books I've put together for classes: http://hci4.me/static/16-475-references.pdf

MIT's OCW class on UI - http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-comput...

Also, look at RISD, Stanford, CMU, Berkeley, Cornell (in no particular order).

If you can, anything by Doug Engelbart is amazingly motivational (inventor of the mouse) and insightful.

If you contact me, I'd be happy to send you my slides from lectures I've done on interaction and answer any questions.

tl;dr: Take a course!

Don't know about all these books recs. All good books, but reading books wont make you a better designer. Reading books about fine art wont make you a better painter; and reading books about soccer wont make you a better soccer player. You'll learn the rules, sure, but at the end of the day you need to develop the skills by training/being coached (if I can run with the metaphor), so I suggest taking a short course on graphic design fundamentals and learn by doing.

Getting drilled on the fundamentals will stay with you much longer than anything you read in a book about ux/design.

I found it possible to absorb more knowledge (wisdom?) about UX by performing user tests than by any other method of studying the subject.

Grab a copy of "Rocket Surgery made Easy" by Steve Krug, a copy of Silverback for Mac, and start doing some user tests.

In time, you will start to see the same patterns coming up over and over again, and this information will begin to unwittingly inform your thinking during the design phase.

This isn't going to help you with visual design so much, but it certainly will help you with the communication aspects of the software/website, and will help you to avoid design/UX pitfalls.

"don´t make me think" by steve krug (is a classic)

if you wanna learn about users, the way they think, and which problems they have on the web (eg with forms,..) just sit by your girlfriend, your mum or everybody you can watch in front of a computer.

the best is to watch them using something you created. so you get a clue of how different problems (than you think) other people have that you might think.

i was yesterday at a customer showing my progress. so he (a trainer for wordpress stuff) registered on the site and asked and did some (for me) weird things.

there´s tons of things to learn from that. :)

I steal heavily from some of the best designers/design shops out there.

Here's some of my favs (look through the portfolios)

http://www.odopod.com http://bigspaceship.com http://barbariangroup.com/ http://codeandtheory.com http://akqa.com http://rga.com

Plenty advices on books and urls have been given but I'd like to shed some light over practice. There is no book, people or tip will move you forward faster than design-and-critique.

Design, and art in general, is not very different from coding. You have to write code to be able to appreciate and learn from other's work. Here is one good link on how to critique art: http://bit.ly/d5Ep7p

This is an answer to your request for "good places to look" rather than learning user interfaces: I've been curating a list of "clean sites I like the look of" since '06:


People have posted a lot of resources here, but are there any resources that talk about how to use specific tools to create webpage designs, rather than just concepts behind designs? I'm not sure which tools I should even use to go about creating a design (other than hand coding HTML and CSS)

I can't believe a quick Ctrl-F didn't find him already mentioned, but look up Jakob Nielsen and his ten usability heuristics. If there's one thing doing some postgrad work in HCI taught me, it's to remember those absolutely. Always, always evaluate what you're making against them.

You know how you tinker with code day after day, and you've been doing it for years? How you're connected with peers and betters who know how to code also, and who can critique your work? You know how you think about code even when you're not coding?

Do that for UX/Design.

Check out Joel Spolsky's UI Interface design. http://www.joelonsoftware.com/uibook/fog0000000249.html

and as well as mrshoe, I love The design of everyday things.

Want your UX/Web Design to make money? Try Web Design for RIO (http://www.amazon.com/Web-Design-ROI-Browsers-Prospects/dp/0...)

This thread on Quora provides a lot of great advice: http://www.quora.com/How-can-I-learn-to-be-a-good-product-de...

Ben Fry's Dissertation is awesome, very easy to read and FREE! Ben is the creator of the Processing language (which is awesome by itself)


I find http://psdtuts.com pretty inspiring. However, their tutorials are often WAY over my head.

I recommend 'The Non-Designer's Design Book' by Robin Williams http://amzn.to/aMd1kR

No mention of Jakob Nielson?


What I learned from a Human-Computer Interaction class in college

- Always think of the user. All tradeoffs should be made in favor of the user

- Don't expect users to read anything; they're busy

- Make it as simple as possible, but no simpler. Don't dumb it down, just don't complicate it

- For each page/window, know exactly what the user wants to do there.

- Make things clear, easy to see, and easy to learn

- Have an Undo command, for Christ's sakes

Forgot - Feedback. Users need to know when they have performed an action correctly.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact