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Ask HN: What's the best book on modern UI/UX?
542 points by InGodsName on Dec 12, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 150 comments
For designing websites like Stripe, Airbnb, Slack etc...?

What tools do they use?

What books they read or have written?

Which school teaches modern UI/UX?

(For background, I'm a faculty at Carnegie Mellon University in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute)

For best books, it depends on if you want to understand users or do implementation. But generally, I'd highly recommend Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things to improve how you look at the world, and Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think for simple and practical design tips.

For tools, the best is paper prototyping, where you have your team just draw it out on paper and simulate the UI. It's simple, fast, and cheap, and from a cognitive perspective, you can explore more of the design space (think breadth-first search instead of depth-first), and you don't get overly attached to your designs.

In my course on UX design, we also use Balsamiq and InVision, though other tools seem fine (e.g. Marvel, Figma, etc). One of our alums created this great chart comparing different prototyping tools: https://www.cooper.com/prototyping-tools

For schools, some to check out would be Georgia Tech, University of Washington's Master's of HCI, Indiana University, University of Michigan iSchool, and (of course) Carnegie Mellon's Master's of HCI.

And lastly, here's a slide deck I put together and used at my startup several years ago. It was intended as a short 1-hour crash course. https://www.slideshare.net/jas0nh0ng/01-1hourcrashcourseuxhc...

Any insight into the trend of UX designer --> Product designer?

I see this transition in titles all over the place at big SF companies like Adobe, which is disheartening because now I'm expected to have a dribblesque visual/graphic design skill set (least interesting aspect of design imo) with less emphasis on design thinking, more on delivering assets, front-end code and letting UX researchers focus on generative (most interesting)/evaluative (mostly interesting) research to inform us designers on what visual assets to design for developers (so much for that HCI degree!).

I feel like a commodity more often than not when competing with generic 10-week General Assembly UX grads that can throw together a sleek graphic heavy portfolio while my HCI degree is collecting dust because no hiring manager is going to read the pages of user research that back up my design decisions and because I lack the flashy, material designed dribble UI polish that is largely an exercise in branding, typography, and basic color theory than actually understanding user needs through traditional UX methods based on best practices.

The exception is at larger companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google who appreciate HCI grads but their projects often relate to advertising or some obscure product platform I could care less about. Maybe it's time to throw in the towel? Maybe I'm burnt out working on the usability of legacy products and making it look nice with the latest material design trends on top.

I'm interested in working on/solving big, "wicked" problems through UX design like self driving cars or improving healthcare. Should I get a PhD in HCI and focus on something fulfilling rather than improving the UX of boring SaaS CRUD apps?

I attribute the titles being a mess because of the 'newness' of the web/tech era and the specific design challenges.

There is a design pyramid which unfortunately build on top of each other for the majority of business use cases:

Graphic Designer -> UI Designer -> UX Designer -> Product Design -> Service Design

These are the levels of the pyramid at which the design process revolves around, depending on the need, for most products or services:

Visuals -> Web -> Experience -> Product -> Service

The narrative of it closely mirrors the history of many orgs:

Visuals: Hey our website looks like a database written by engineers, maybe we can make it pretty?

UI -> hey, we really need it to look like it belongs on the web, not just a RISD grad's art project, let's get someone who understands web design

UX -> okay, now our site looks like every other site. But no one uses it because it's still just a database with lipstick. Let's get some experience designers in here to make it better.

Product -> Okay, now our site has some nice experiences... but they are all disjointed and random and don't account for business needs... Let's get some product designers in here.

Service -> Okay, our product now is pretty cohesive and quite good... but there's a whole realm of things we have to do outside our product (Customer Service, service processes) that suck and are bringing the user experience down as a whole. Let's get some service designers in here...

In my opinion, this is the way most businesses think about design.

If you're applying blind to places, then you're going to be facing the entire field of other people applying blind and you're going to be at a structural disadvantage as you noticed.

The key is that you're far along enough in your career that you should never be applying blind. Always try to get a warm intro and always try and schedule an informal meeting with the hiring manager before you go through the formal interview process. That way, they're not just reading pages of user research, they're seeing how that user research affects your process & how you think about problems.

Almost nobody who is currently being hired to work on big wicked problems are getting there by throwing their resume into a pile so the process isn't designed to see those people out. The way to get those jobs is to be the only person they were ever even considering for that job.

Basically, "UX Design" has become "Product Design" because almost no one wants to spend the time to evaluate what makes a good UX Designer. It's much easier to judge the visual aesthetic than to understand the process that made something comprehensible and an individuals skill at implementing and molding that process to get to that outcome. So they became lumped together. SF and "tech" companies need to scale and fast, so they assume "hey this person made something pretty, I'm sure the rest will fall into place" and now we are really just hiring for visual design. Even the companies that swear up and down they are about "process" you'll find little actual evidence or mention of it in their dribbble-bait portfolios. The excuse is often given "we move too fast to not ship and learn later", but a good design process should actual save time and resources in the end. As the company matures this weakness will come to light and then you'll get a combination of a dedicated research team and Product Managers actually completing the UX work with the Product Designers executing the vision in the form of juicy mockups. It seems like it's a significant step back. /rant

> Basically, "UX Design" has become "Product Design" ...

They are getting closer, but not quite. Consider two analogies:

1. Craigslist v. AirBnB to get a short term rental apartment. Both are arguably the same "product", the differentiation is that AirBnB has a much better UX experience.

2. eBay v. Sothebys to put goods on auction. Here, it's not really UX that differentiates them, it's product-market fit.

In the second example, a product designer would arguably be a better fit for differentiating the technical and business processes. A UX designer would then implement those ideas in the precise user flow.

Despite the differentiation you are pointing out, the actuality of the roles in most companies doesn't match it.

Titles in our industry are such a mess. I really can't stand 'UI/UX Designer'. If I see that title then usually that's a signal for me that the hiring manager doesn't really know what they need.

To me product designer means someone who's a hybrid, an alrounder - basically a UX designer with following traits:

- good research and analytical skills

- decent or great visual design skills

- ability to create sophisticated prototypes (not just creating hot-mapped images)

- someone who has good technical knowledge, so they don't design something that's going to be really difficult and expensive to build

- someone who considers product and business matters, i.e. ability to strike the balance between user and business needs.

What are you hoping a PhD will give you?

I'm not sure where you are, but if you want to use your skills for something good, why not try to help your government - improving their online services etc.

See for example what the UK did to their government sites - a great investment that made it easier for millions of people to understand and use their online services.

One example: https://beta.nhs.uk/service-manual/design-principles/

edit: formatting issues

> I'm interested in working on/solving big, "wicked" problems through UX design like self driving cars or improving healthcare. Should I get a PhD in HCI and focus on something fulfilling rather than improving the UX of boring SaaS CRUD apps?

For the most part, HCI professors don't care about healthcare and healthcare mostly doesn't care about HCI, for non-obvious reasons.

If you want to work on self-driving cars, maybe get a MS in machine learning and HCI (or human-centered AI if you can make that happen)? If you want to improve healthcare, maybe get a healthcare degree.

(Update: if I were a professor in HCI I might actually tell you yes, come work with/for me ;)

>I'm interested in working on/solving big, "wicked" problems through UX design like self driving cars or improving healthcare.

We need more people with these ambitions. Maybe you should be looking to create a forward-looking design firm focusing on the hard problems, rather than looking for a “job”.

I shall!

Have you tried seeking a position in the automotive field or with a design agency thats more focussed on the physical space? What makes you think you need a PhD to qualify?

Getting a PhD would require doing a lot of scientific research, but it sounds to me that you may be more interested in doing product innovation.

Having said that, I know folks with master's degrees and PhD degrees who are great UX and product designers doing cool work on autonomous vehicles, drones, etc, so the path really depends on what you're most interested in as well as how lucky you are in finding a good match.

> the flashy, material designed dribble UI polish that is largely an exercise in branding, typography, and basic color theory than actually understanding user needs through traditional UX methods based on best practices.

Material Design is especially bad on just about every level, including taste and animation accessibility. (People should do more research on animation accessibility before making things move on the page.)

I don’t teach UX design, but if I did, Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things would be the first assigned reading. I’ve even recommended it to friends who aren’t looking to transition into design, but just want a better understanding of the discipline for the occasional departmental web page, etc.

If you want to focus on visual language, iconography, and how graphics communicate, an unconventional, yet highly-regarded choice is Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. What Norman does for interaction, McCloud does for visual communication (and does so, appropriately, in the form of a comic book).

I took a course on HCI (at Imperial, Professor Robert Spence) and it _was_ the first 'assigned' reading, definitely recommend - and it's actually a pretty good stocking/'secret santa' present this time of year for anyone even idly curious about things and how they work.

I'd also highly recommend Spence's own book: Information Visualisation. I don't work in HCI/UX at all, but I enjoyed it a lot; it does an excellent job of showing that it's much more than 'just' (sorry!) artsy design.

Hi Jason,

I'm familiar with the academic research in paper prototyping (for background, I have a Ph.D. in CS [HCI], have been a HCI course assistant, and published in academic HCI/design conferences).

To say that paper prototyping is the best implies a certain design philosophy, team structure, and organizational culture. It requires a certain buy-in, level of trust, and design pace that are not appropriate for all industries. There are reasons why most professional UI/UX design tools go to the pixel level, and why sketching interfaces never took off in practice.

That said, there are great benefits to paper, prototyping, and sketching skills. But there are also drawbacks which are not immediately obvious in reading the research literature or taking academic HCI classes.

(Yeah, slow response on my side, end of semester here)

Yes, you're right that it does suggest a certain kind of corporate culture and mindset. A common big challenge with UX is educating the rest of your company about best practices, and most importantly, demonstrating results.

Convincing (say) skeptical engineers of the value of user studies can be hard. A common technique is showing videos of user studies and people failing to use the product. Another common technique is to bring an engineer to a site visit and get first hand experience of the pain points.

If I may offer a contrarian viewpoint, I very much disliked Norman's book. I'm no UX professional, but I was looking for a pragmatic guide to understanding design and instead I was put off by his condescending tone and typecasting of engineers as somehow being innately unable to understand users. That was especially true of the earlier chapters of the book that were apparently first published in the original early '90s edition. The newly added chapters in the newer edition are more level-headed in that regard. Seeing how strongly this book was recommended in certain quarters left me uncomfortable and seemed to somewhat explain the general mentality pervading certain narratives that somehow it's best not to have engineers be involved in UX design but rather leave that to "professional" UX designers.

If you haven't guessed already, my background is engineering. So you read from that what you want, but I've crossed paths with a very large number of engineers who dismissed or diminished their own ability to form judgement on UX because of a general sense that the "consensus" was that engineers aren't good at that, and have seen several cases where the decision model in organizations was specifically tailored to tune out engineers from UX decisions. Both of these things are wrong from my pov. I certainly don't want to diminish the value of having UX as a specialization. However, I cannot recommend a title whose narrative champions one set of professionals at the expense of others.

I'm going to offer a contrarian contrarian viewpoint. I certainly agree that engineers should not be shut out of the process, by default. There are some engineers who are good at UI design, like you and me, and their deep technical knowledge helps them invent unique solutions. However most engineers aren't and I wouldn't expect them to be either. I went out of my way to learn UI design and psychology, but most engineers don't do that which makes it tough for them to provide useful feedback, insights, etc. So I understand why some people don't want engineers involved.

Just last week, I had the very first design meeting for a new project and a veteran engineer was invited. He didn't even let the presenter finish before talking about how the backend should be built and how much time it would take. That wasn't helpful.

I think engineers who are good at design are immensely valuable, but most engineers suck at it.

Super contrarian view - information architecture is the most fundamental aspect of product design. And a database "backend" represents the atomic model for a product's IA (with API being the next layer).

Perhaps the engineer was contributing something crucial to the product design, you just couldn't grok it.

Product design is so much more than UI/UX, fwiw.

This is more true for some products than others.

I worked on one product which involved a massive store of XML documents and a suite of somewhat complicated serializations and transformations. It was the right architecture for the project, for sure. And it was definitely the fundamental gene of the product; all of the product's design had to flow from this XML-heavy information architecture and backend.

But most of the products I've seen are not so unique. For the vast majority of web products out there, simple CRUD apps backed by a relational database, I don't think the information architecture needs to be front and center in product design conversations. People can make assumptions about this kind of app and they usually won't be too far off the mark.

That's a very interesting view, as Norman had an engineering background himself. I didn't notice that tone myself, but that doesn't mean you're wrong.

Don Norman's book The Design of Everyday Things has indeed altered how I look at the world from a design perspective. It teaches you design awareness, and you'll find yourself noticing and understanding design elements all around you, that you didn't before. Even though it might seem a little old, the information presented in there is timeless, so I highly recommend it as well. It is in fact the first book I would suggest to anyone wanting to learn how to think like a designer.

I recently got his other book, Emotional Design, I just haven't gotten to it yet.

That book made me start getting annoyed at bad design like Norman Doors (doors that require a "push" or "pull" label instead of being intuitive).

Cars for me. Why is it that a car is designed in a way that if someone sneezes at a bad time then there will be an accident? I also think you should be able to see all the parts needed to operate the car (petals)

And tea pots that leak! It was supposed to do one thing ...

How about kettles? A container that whistles when your water boils. The never-ending list of errors: handles that are in the wrong place, whistles that don't whistle, underside heat distribution plates that come apart, lids that become wedged tight. After the centuries we've had to perfect kettles, you'd think a reliable design could have emerged by now.

Can’t wait till we can mass produce open sourced objects. E.g. 3D print on demand a kettle

I'd like to pre-order! Make mine this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utah_teapot

Indeed! I scrutinize door designs everywhere I go now. (:

There is also a Udacity course by Don Norman around this book. I haven't taken it yet but it is on my list.


I can attest to those two books being fantastic resources on UI/UX design. They're the only two books I've read on the matter and I'm consistently praised as one of the more user experience focused engineers in any team I work on.

Although, I can't walk through half the doors in the world it seems without going "why the hell does this pull door have a push handle!!", so there is that side effect.

I’ve read (and love) his book and enjoy thinking about function and design. I think there’s a risk of designing at the expense of joy and beauty though, and Don Norman seems to have qualified his position post-The Design of Everyday Things in a TED Talk[0]. I think it’s worthwhile watching.

[0] https://www.ted.com/talks/don_norman_on_design_and_emotion/u...

> For schools, some to check out would be Georgia Tech, University of Washington's Master's of HCI, Indiana University, University of Michigan iSchool, and (of course) Carnegie Mellon's Master's of HCI.

As a graduate of University of Washington's Human Centered Design and Engineering (HCDE) master's program, I would recommend that if you are interested in understanding 'what' makes a good UI or UX instead of 'how' to make a good UI or UX.

Too bad a lot of jobs now will hire the 10 week General Assembly UX grad with flashy dribblesque portfolio, that can produce visual and graphic design assets that heavily copy UX patterns from other apps or just follow material design/ apple human interface guidelines verbatim and let the UX researchers figure out usability and design recommendations based off user testing.

How has HCI given you an advantage over a UX bootcamp grad that can speak the lingo and mastered Photoshop/sketch?

I would consider copying patterns and Material or Apple HIGs to be the 'how' [to build a good UI or UX] I mentioned previously: those are artifacts produced by others who I would consider have good understanding and experience in 'what' makes a good UI or UX.

I think my advantage is being more aligned with the 'what'. A UX bootcamper could come in and whip something up quickly that looks pretty and win over the hearts and minds of the project sponsors, but (I assume) said bootcamp isn't teaching different theories of cognition or offering practical experience in designing studies in which to test some new interaction.

Design of Everyday Things is great.

I even had my Software Engineering students read excepts this semester.

Weird question, but why is there so much bad UI out there? Do you feel like you've failed as a field when commonly used applications like Gmail and adobe reader have such bad user experiences?

I'd say it's a combination of several factors, including:

- The designers / developers thinking that they are typical users, and that they know how things work ("You are not the user" is the phrase we repeat a lot here at CMU)

- A lack of education about how to design things (e.g., basics of perception, design patterns, basic interaction principles, conventions)

- Time and money

- A common mentality that "we can fix the UI at the end"

- Legal requirements, marketing, corporate partnerships, etc, that is all of the cruft that doesn't focus on user experience

- For popular products, a very large user base, which means legacy support (people don't like change), and different people using different features (I once heard that people only use ~20% of features in MSWord, but it's a different 20% for different people)

I think Gmail has great UI, but I recognize that assessment is partially a matter of taste and partially a function of how I think.

Better UI/UX doesn't always lead to better business outcomes.. Sad, but true.

It's (arguably) a young[er] field, relative to software or hardware engineering. Maybe things will get better :)

Yeah i guess the UI isnt that bad. Performance > UI in many cases for me though. Hopefully responsiveness times are something people consider more in designing an interface.

If paper is the best, how would you characterize the place of tools like Balsamiq / Axure etc? Might they be symptoms of app/tech addiction, or do they facilitate anything specific?

It's hard to simulate non-trivial interactivity with paper. In real life, teams are not always co-located, and software tools facilitate collaboration in different ways.

If anything, the public(consumer)'s appetite for graphic/visual/UX design has gotten a lot stronger in the decade since research was done on paper prototyping. High-quality animations and subtle interaction techniques, explosion in form factors and devices / mobile operating system [versions], and the rise of non-technical app builders may have also encouraged the development of such tools.

Also see his revised edition to DOET and Emotional Design. It’s part of a broader evolution from UI to UX and experiential issues more broadly.

Are any of those prototyping tools open source and free?

"the best is paper prototyping"

This was true when I was doing it in grad school in 2000ish as well. I would not be surprised if it was true long before that and will remain so long after today.

I used to think that prototyping on a paper is expensive since paper is non-reusable. Then I proceeded to prototype on an expensive tablet.

Funny looking back at it now.

Adobe XD is a free tool for prototyping, though not Open Source.

Is it useful without the rest of their creative suite? I only ask because Premiere, After Effects, and Photoshop are most effective when used together and obviously designed for that kind of synergy.

Yes it is useful without the rest of the suite. I would also recommend Figma which is also free.

Design of Everyday Things & Don't Make Me Think are both likely to be in your employer's library, or on a co-worker's shelf. Not quite free, but I bet you can find a hard-copy to borrow.

Or in your local public library, which is quite free. :)

I suppose you could use GIMP to prototype, but it would be a massive pain. I use Figma (free; web-based; not open source) for personal projects; if you've used PowerPoint, you can use Figma; the learning curve was very shallow.

Most prototyping tools let you export to PDF on PNG, but they usually aren't going to be open source.

Figma is free, not open source however.

I only know Pencil

Great resource!

I personally question anyone 1-2 degrees away from software that hasn't read "Don't make me think."

Its a short and easy 2 hour read but the level of paradigm change you receive if you're being exposed to hci for the first time is immense.

I even found its thinking useful from the developer side of things, as in, writing software libraries that were obvious and easy to use.

don's book is good and all, but it is a equivalent to a TED talk. I would never recommend it to anyone looking for anything other than entertaining highly-specific annecdotes.

Oy, guy advising on UI/UX ends discussion by pointing to 99-slide-long powerpoint deck that appears to be lots of bullet lists and clip art.

Well, [expletive deleted].

I think the slides are providing conceptual framework about UX/UI and not aesthetic. I do think that it is pretty useless without the author speaking to it.

Sure, I just think it’s funny that he chooses one of the worst user experiences ever invented to do it.

Every couple years I’ll go read Magic Inc by Bret Viktor (not a book, just online: http://worrydream.com/MagicInk/) and I always find it refreshing reminder to think about how we can design technology to help us rather than just create a CRUD interface.

‘Sketching User Experiences’ by Bill Buxton https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/980280.Sketching_User_Ex... and ‘Mental Models’ by Indi Young: https://rosenfeldmedia.com/books/mental-models/ we’re both very influential to me as a young designer thinking about process and I believe they are still both relevant.

The Design of Everyday Things Is a masterpiece. The age of the book proves it. It is as relevant today as it was when written 30 years ago.

The only downside to the book is it will ruin every elevator, door handle and stereo amplifier you ever use. My wife tires of me explaining how a door that requires a “pull” sign is a major UX fail.

After reading the book it helped me understand the different models the creator and user have and has allowed me to recognize when I’m making design decisions that make a lot of sense to the creator and no sense to the user.

This seems like guerilla marketing for refactoringui.com

Author of that book here, I swear to god had nothing to do with this thread, just stumbled upon it myself perusing HN. Wish I could prove it somehow :(

I believe you. I looked in the logs and saw no evidence of manipulation.

Most likely this submission was inspired by the thread yesterday (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18655224). The OP commented three times in that one.

Yeah the suspicious number of identical comments suggesting it (along with something like "I think these guys just released this today) is... suspicious.

It's cool, though, how a guerrilla marketing post like this still has the substantive discussion at the top rather than advertising spam.

> It's cool, though, how a guerrilla marketing post like this still has the substantive discussion at the top rather than advertising spam.

This is what I love about HN. Comment threads are usually much more interesting than the discussed article, regardless of that article's quality.

It does seem a little strange given that their book came out yesterday. Of course coincidences can always occur, but the OP’s profile is a bit odd. It’s a 9 day old account that has posted Ask HN questions every day, often multiple times a day.

Funny thing, even if their service is good, I will be suspicious and won't use them.

Seeing a lot of healthy, regular accounts promoting it as well. I wonder if they gave it away for a comment on HN or something. Sad that I'm spending any time checking the legitimacy of this post and those posting in it. Thanks advert industry for making me so cynical.

> Sad that I'm spending any time checking the legitimacy of this post and those posting in it. Thanks advert industry for making me so cynical.

Yet another reason why I consider adverising to be a cancer on society. You have to be suspicious of everything.

If advertising gets to the point of generating actual useful content, I like to think that's a net positive. I learned a lot from this discussion, and good content marketing actually provides a lot of information.

> I learned a lot from this discussion

That spamming a board with book recommendations can generate an interesting discussion isn't an excuse for spamming a board.

> and good content marketing actually provides a lot of information.

Depending what you mean by "good content marketing". If you mean companies paying people to share their professional knowledge, no strings attached, and writing this off as a "marketing expense", sure it can be good, but that's because it's a form of UBI for the people sharing their knowledge. As for most of the things explicitly created as "content marketing", it's mostly garbage that's wasting your time. It's only meant to give you some tidbits to hook you and position you to further monetization efforts - and the content rarely does anything beyond that. Consider that every time you read a content marketing piece, you could have read a honest article instead, were it not pushed down in SERP by content marketing.

Also, I've worked with people doing content marketing professionally. I wouldn't trust a word from their work. It's not just waste of time, you're probably actively hurting your knowledge.

It really is a great book. I think it is recommended by many people simply because it is not a technical book and can be easily understood by everybody.

I'm not a designer but it really changed the way I think when I have to write any user interface.

It will not teach you how to make the perfect UX, but after reading it you will know how to avoid the most common and obvious mistakes. I would consider the minimum recommended for anybody that has to design any kind of UI.

Also, you will recognize all the issues in every thing you interact with, be it the door of your apartment or the coffee machine of your office (the name is really apt). I think you should read it even if you will never have to do any kind of UX work, because you will have to put up with somebody's else interface.

"The design of everyday things" would be the book to read about that kind of stuff. It's a classic and very good, I would consider that a possible "minimum"

seems quite suspicious that a book that just came out is getting quite a few reccomendations when no one currently would have used it as the basis to build anything.

looking at the twitter stream of tips from 2017, there's some good stuff there ( https://twitter.com/i/moments/994601867987619840 ) not sure that translates well to the book or not, and it seems quite pricey, especially if you only end up making use of a couple of the tips.

I bought the book and read it the same day. Lots of tips that can be used moving forward. I personally think it’s worth the money; I know it will save me money when I can handle some UI issues myself that I would have hired a for designer before.

my first thought when i saw the title lol

Same here. Clicked to check if it was posted by a new user account and it is. Colour me suspicious.

me too. The question is phrased in such a specific way ("Modern UI/UX") that predictable answers like Design of Everyday Things wouldn't fit.

I'm saying this as someone who loved Steve Schoger's amazing Twitter moments with those UI micro-tips; I'm on the site's mailing list, so I was aware that the book had just been released.

Same, ha. OP said what we were all thinking.

That being said, I'm a big fan of the author's work, so no harm no foul and I'll look the other way.

It could be that the OP was just inspired to ask about (other) books by the book's release.

Admittedly you're the one talking about it


Haha I actually opened this thread intending to post it. It looks really good so I'm thinking about buying it.

You were going to post it and suggest others pay for it without actually having read it? The marketing must be working on you, if you're already convinced it's an answer to OP's question.

Haha well I was just going to suggest that people take a look at it, because I saw it recently. It does look very good

Beginning a post with haha is off putting and awkward. Can you imagine starting a response in real life by randomly inserting laughter?

Yes, I often laugh in real life when something is funny. It's quite normal to start a reply with "Haha" on the internet, so I won't apologize for that, and I'm going to keep doing it in the future.

Have you ever been to the southern parts of the US? A lot of sentences start with ”Hehe, well...” down there.

In reality design for the web and phone applications ends up being largely about typography. So a good foundations book on typography like "Designing with Type" or any other of the usual suspects is a good start. That said, some applications have very little text so this is not always true anymore in UI/UX.

"Don't Make Me Think" is a good read, but the direct info is not really as important as the point it is trying to make. Aggressively reducing friction and decisions for the user at all points. If reading that book helps get that point across then it's worth the read. On how to do that...

If you are new to design, just pickup a used intro textbook on design. Something like "Design Basics" by Lauer and Pentak. Or really any intro book on design. They all cover the same basic concepts you'll need for UI/UX design. Fundamental stuff like visual hierarchy and composition. Honestly, just go find a used one for $8 and read through it. Most of them are pretty quick reads.

After that, although no one really goes out and tells you this, it involves a lot of following the trends and looking at past work and pulling in ideas and pieces together to create a new design. Another comment in this thread talks about how they don't write books and this is pretty accurate. A designer rarely just sits at a blank screen and starts from nothing. They usually have a list, whether formally or informally, of examples and ideas to start with. Then through iteration, critique and testing they mold something into a complete design/interface. But one typically needs some background learning in the basic fundamentals of design and typography to piece everything together. Remember, part of good UX is doing what the user expects. Which often means using conventions and design elements the user has already seen.

So pick up a book on typography and basic design and then find some design blogs that seem well written. For example Airbnb has a fairly nice one https://airbnb.design/. Best of luck!

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information: Edward R. Tufte

Ways to Connect: On Interface and Product Design, Ryan Singer

Something on color theory

Design language books (Bauhaus, etc)

The entire Google design team has quite a few open resources: https://material.io/design/ and https://design.google

definitely second Tufte, lots of good info on consolidation and creating coherent charts and maps from large datasets

I read Tufte during my PhD and it was a lifesaver. It is good in many levels: Not only for the lessons in doing good graphics, but also on the history of charts. (I was surprised by the history of the first scatterplot)

1. Contextual design, holzblat How to understand and structure a user's life and environment and what to look for when they are struggling with a problem or using your product.

2. Lean Customer Development, Cindy Alvarez Practical and immediately useful guide to interviewing and talking to users. Read after the Contextual Inquiry book above. If that book teaches what to understand about a user's workflow and environment, this one teaches how to elicit those answers from customers when talking to them.

3. About Face 3, alan cooper If the previous two are about (a) what to look for when understanding a customer and (b) how to get the info you need to build solutions for those customers, then this book is about translating those learnings into user journeys and experiences.

These are my goto recs, with About Face being first. The first few chapters are incredibly practical.

It's far less abstract, but I really appreciate the Material Design documentation[1] that Google published. And while there may be some dissenting opinions, it's generally a good idea and read.

Personally, I'm mostly using the `material-ui`[2] package for React use, but you'll find other material based libraries for any number of frameworks and platforms. In general, I've been sticking to the overall guidelines with a few tweaks, and the responses in general for the application I'm currently working on have been incredibly positive.

[1] https://material.io/design/ [2] https://material-ui.com/

Many of the key designers moving interaction design forward are not publishing books, rather their corporate style guides are a better representation of their philosophy and method. Design has always been short on useful publications because it is a rapidly developing field that publishers often fear it has no shelf life.

If you want to learn interaction design it's best done with a bit of dedicated cooperation and experimentation. Use one of the big tech companies style guides to mock up a prototype and test it on your friends. Use blank HTML with images you can make easily in sketch.

Then iterate. That is most of interaction design. Most everything else people teach is either too localized or just not proven at scale.

I second this. The leading edge in HCI is in VR. Imaging the new degrees of freedom from popping menus around in 3-space leads to challenges. What happens to that menu then when your avatar does a cartwheel across the battlefield. Or, how do you deal with an impenetrable, protective capsule around you character when he/she draws their sword. Is it one-way? How do you even show the capsule? How does the character get their bitcoin through the capsule to gift a poor match girl? There are no VR/HCI books, but that would make an interesting topic.

A Book Apart [1] has an entire collection of short books on UI/UX topics written by industry pros.

[1] https://abookapart.com

Up this, I'd start from here

I think what you're asking is more about UI Design.

You should have a look at these:

https://designcode.io/sketch-learn (if you're on Windows have a look at their Figma courses)


To learn more about UX, this is a good start


I recently created an awesome ux project at github. There, you can find a list of the classic books in UX, interaction design, information architecture and usability [0]. If you wish to add any resource, feel free to comment this issue [1] or to create a new one.

UXTools.com just relased the results of the 2018 Design Tools Survey [2].

In november, Jeff Sauro published "the methods ux professionals use" post [3]. There, you can find an exaustive coverage of the most important methods and deliverables in the field.

[0] https://github.com/bussolon/awesome-ux/blob/master/books.md [1] https://github.com/bussolon/awesome-ux/issues/3 [2] http://uxtools.co/survey-2018 [3] https://measuringu.com/ux-methods-2018/

My three favourites are:

→ "Sketching User Experiences", Bill Buxton

→ "The Elements of Typographic Style", Robert Bringhurst

→ "Understanding Comics", Scott McCloud

There are lots of books on concrete design methodologies and particular aspects of the field, but they tend to become dated rather quickly. If they are tied to specific technologies, they become dated even faster.

Having said that, a clear and concise introduction to the modern design process is:

→ "Designing for Interaction", Dan Saffer

I'd like to advertise a method instead of a treatise: IMO the principle of proximity is the most important design tool.

The practical application of the principle is that space outside an element should be unambiguously larger than inner parts of the element, for the element to look like an integrated entity. This simply describes how human visual perception works.

This works on all scales, from typography to graphical design to layout, even architecture. For letter spacing, kerning, line spacing, margins—apply the rule. Space between letters is obviously smaller than letters, space between words is comparable to a letter, line spacing is smaller than a line so a paragraph doesn't fall apart, margins are larger than a letter (at the least). Margins outside an element's borders are larger than padding inside.

Need to pinpoint visual balance of some stuff? Consult the rule. Some things are related? Make them closer to each other than to other stuff. Bottom margin of a heading should be smaller than the top one, dammit. Margins of a list item should be larger than line spacing in it.

Learn to see and apply this principle, and you'll have no problem envisioning good design in monochrome.

As a side effect, you'll forever wonder why some desktop UI designers insist on separating things with noisy bars instead of empty space, seeing as the latter is hardwired in our brains.

The next hella useful thing to learn is how to graphically separate layers of information, to allow people to see some related stuff and ignore everything else, instead of seeing all things at once and noticing nothing. This is where monochrome and monotonous designs break. (Also map designers love this.)

For visual design, an understanding of the Gestalt principles (or „Gestalt Laws“ to stick with the German origin) is a must. The law of proximity is the first and most powerful, but the others are also useful to be aware of:


I had the goal of learning UX basics in as little time as possible.

I took a 2 hour General Assembly course and found it incredibly useful - it sounds crazy but I feel like I learned 50% of what I needed to know about UX in just those 2 hours.

I asked some UX peeps what books they recommended and I purchased 2 and never read a single page (they were The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and Sprint by Google Ventures).

For web app UX, I found this 30 minute video extremely useful (great to see how a non-design person might make something, then how that same non-design person can change the primitive app they made into something very nice!).

Design for Non-Designers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21byk2WWz3k

What was the course you're referencing in GA? Was it free?

I just checked, and when I did it it was free, although I think that's because GA were on a marketing blitz (I think their 2 hour courses are typically ~$80 - money extremely well spent in this case).

This is the link to the course; it was called 'Intro to UX Design'


This book is recommended quite often here https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11457105-design-for-hack...

HCI is a big field with a lot of different specialties. Since the original query was about modern websites, I would point out that these are essentially operating according to the classic windows (WIMP) paradigm. (The mobile versions are different). In my reading, one of the best expositions of how to design a desktop application can be found in Apple's 1993 Human Interface Guidelines: http://interface.free.fr/Archives/Apple_HIGuidelines.pdf

I like "Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design" by Jenifer Tidwell. Less of an instruction book, more of a catalogue of how you might (or might not) present some given type of information. Good for browsing through when you're feeling you haven't hit the right organizational approach/metaphor for the task at hand.


I just started out in UI, too!

It's based on watercolor painting but I have to say that Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie has dramatically improved the UI of my applications through better use of color!

Dieter Rams — As Little Design As Possible [0]

Also, if you like Dieter Rams, the film “Rams” by Gary Hustwit [1] is digitally available on Dec 14th.

[0] https://www.phaidon.com/store/design/as-little-design-as-pos...

[1] https://www.hustwit.com/rams/

Badass: Making Users Awesomeby Kathy Sierra


is a good book, though its primary focus is more to do with how to work out what kind of UI to build not the specific details of the UI itself ( which is quite fickle ).

The format of this book is just terrible. I couldn't get past first few pages.

Reading "The Design of Everyday Things" will give you a sense of the basics -- After that try learning a popular frontend-web framework (like Bootstrap / Foundation) which follows lot of the industry-standard UI practices out-of-the-box. Also checkout things like WAI-ARIA / WCAG, which outline accessibility standards on the web.

For schools, take a look at https://www.hyperisland.com/ (various locations) and http://thenewdigitalschool.com/ (Portugal)

Very late, but Designing for the Digital Age - Kim Goodwin


Most UX resources seem like a circle jerk imo.

UX simply is the amount of interactions & how fine grained they are (when touch points are small = bad & multiply) to accomplish some goal. I know it's as bad as sloc but it's what I go by.

I found The Humane Interface by Jef Raskin illuminating back in the days, if my memory serves most of the content is just as relevant today. Edward Tuftes books also contain plenty of wisdom and examples of good design.

Adaptive Web Design is the most important book in the field that not many people have read. If there was one book I could force everyone to read that would make the whole field better, it would be that one.

I recently read Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter - Had some great practical advice and examples from Basecamp, Trello , Mailchimp e.t.c Great balance of theory and practical tidbits

Hopefully a book that describes how terrible it is... ;-)

Tons of good information here, talks about exactly what you are asking: https://www.designbetter.co/

Don’t Make Me Think http://sensible.com/dmmt.html


I've just visited this site, and I was lost after 5 seconds. To my eyes, the design of the front page is awful.

Firstly, I read the title and the sub-header sentence. I understood that the site had generic guide on concepts designing web. Okay, I'm interested.

Then I scrolled down to the 3 categories. The first one collects some tips. None of them is related to the grand project announced in the title, they seem much more restricted.

Looking inside the categories, I don't even understand their organization. What is specific about "Articles"? The first content inside "Articles" is named "7 practical tips…", so shouldn't it be under the "Design tips" category?

So I went back to the top of the page, thinking I had missed the more generic links. Hmm, of course, those blue words in the header sentence must be links… No they are not.

Now I don't even want to read the content.

That seems really unfair, I think they do have some really valuable advice especially for programmers.


Their book also just came out and looks great, albeit grossly overpriced.


This is to UX/IxD literature what „just add water“ meals are to cooking. A collection of patterns you can copy. To really make it worth while you‘d have to look behind the presented patterns and ask why they work (and when they won‘t). This, you can also do by looking at real products in the wild.

For $249 (fake price anchor, I know) you can get all the classics from Tufte, Cooper and Norman, a bookshelve and a stool to sit your behind down and study first principles.

There is room for both and I’m sure you can find a lot of value in the applied examples as well, but at $249 RSP I would not recommend it.

While I agree with your analogy, it is entirely possible to sink an inordinate amount of time into learning design theory with those books, and have absolutely nothing to show for it in terms of a real world website that reflects good design principles in a way that is apparent to the average web user.

I've read "The Design of Everyday Things"; I appreciate its role in providing a kind of philosophical grounding for HCI education. But if I were building product to compete in the same space as Robinhood, or Airbnb, that book wouldn't tell me a damn thing about how to design a UI that engages users. And increasingly, a lot of "engagement" comes down to whether or not the app "feels" like a premium experience.

Unfortunately that feeling isn't something you can recreate by reading about the circumstances in which a door would be designed to be push or pull based.

I don’t disagree, but I will add that copying proven patterns without an understanding of the core mechanics will only carry you for a short distance.

Very similar to how one could be very productive by glueing together stackoverflow snippets and random 3rd party modules for a while, but once the first tough problem arises it is a lost cause.

With code that is usually tangible in form of a bug or performance issue.

With design, it might still tick all the „look and feel“ boxes and yet be utterly broken.

„The design of everday things“ is often recommended because it is so relatable even for readers with no expertise in the field. This is not to say that reading it is sufficient to make you a capable designer.

I saw this advertised on product hunt. Apparently it's a good thing that you can read it in 1.5hrs. Maybe but not with a $79 price tag for a PDF.

The amount of value I got out of reading this PDF will far exceed $79.

I'm mostly a backend guy who does the Bootstrap thing. The techniques and examples in the content are gold for someone like me.

It's more of a reference book so you continue earning back that investment over time.

You can get a lot of his tips for free here in this curated Twitter Moment: https://twitter.com/i/moments/880688233641848832

I'd happily pay $79 for original content _in print_ that delves into why each of those tips works the way they do (you can connect each of those tips to fundamental principles of design, for example).

But for a compilation of tweets in a PDF? There are renowned books that go for less than that. I got 3 hard back volumes of Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming for around £70. Is this book of that caliber?

And, what do other design professionals say about it? From a quick perusal of their material, accessibility seems missing from it (e.g. contrasts, designing to work with assistive technology etc)

I am interested because I find design books to be too theoretical, and at the end I'm left thinking "Yes and..?". I need practical examples. I think I would get $79 of value, but it would also last for 12 months before the content dates.

I'm reticent to pay $150 dollars for a PDF without a print copy.

Yup, I was excited about the book, and then I saw it was PDF only.

One of my favorite books as a "hobbyist" web dev (my real job is in reporting and analytics) is Jon Duckett's HTML/CSS and JavaScript/Jquery books. Gorgeously designed ink-and-paper books that give you a truly visual understanding of the box model, floats, functions, loops etc. The combination of visual design and easy-to-understand examples make the book a constant reference for me.


Ironically from the same author: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18614071

I don't understand why I'm being downvoted. I follow one of the authors on Twitter (Steve Schoger) and I think his design tips are fantastic. I haven't purchased the book (yet) as I think it's a bit spendy, but I have so much admiration for Steve and Adam, so I'm sharing here.

You're being downvoted because of the unfortunate timing of this post and the potential commercial bias of your answer.

People come to HN to discuss things that hold real intellectual value and not to get subtle ads. Suggesting an e-book that was released yesterday looks like blatant advertising even if that's not your intention.

I really find hard to believe that someone can legitimately recommend and stand behind a book that was released yesterday, just because the author teased his/her Twitter followers with some of the book's potential content. Also, how can you objectively say that this book "Is the best UI actionable advice" when you already accepted that you haven't even read it yet?

Sorry, but the question is "What's the best book on modern UI/UX?". Suggesting something that was released in the last 48 hours feels very disingenuous.

I didn't say the book is the best actionable UI advice, I said http://refactoringui.com is, whose content is free. All I said about the book is that it's available if you seem to like all the other content. I made no comment about how good the book is, as I haven't bought it, but I think it's fair to assume it's an extension of the rest of their work.

I get it. I do believe you're genuine about it, tbh. But I wanted to explain why you're being downvoted and why your answer may not be the most valuable or suitable in a thread about the "best book on modern UI/UX."

I get what you're saying, but I still stand by my answer. I've read many of the books discussed in this post, from Don Norman to Jef Raskin to Edward Tufte, and I think Steve and Adam's work is far more practical and actionable than most of the other stuff. If you want to chew on UI/UX philosophy (it really is interesting), then sure, read Tufte, but if you want to improve the design of real UIs without all the intellectual posturing, Refactoring UI is better.


$80 bucks... uh no.

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