Recommended User Interface Books

by Jakob Nielsen on January 1, 2007


Interaction Design, 3rd edition, by Yvonne Rogers, Helen Sharp, and Jenny Preece, (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
Basic textbook about interaction design. The other books listed here are more fun and probably more insightful (written by practitioners whereas Interaction Design is written by academics), but also more limited in their perspective and coverage. In contrast, Interaction Design is a good old-fashioned textbook that aims to be complete in its coverage of the field.
Universal Principles of Design: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design, 2nd edition, by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
As the title says: a description of a hundred basic principles of usability and design. Few of these will be new to you, but it's good to have them collected in one place with simple description and a few illustrative examples of each principle. Serves as a nice checklist to read through as you are thinking about the usability of a design problem. For example, one technique is "highlighting": the book gives the guideline to highlight no more than 10% of the information and lists five common ways to highlight (bold, different typeface, color, inverting, and blinking). Reading this short description may give rise to the following questions about your design: Did we highlight something that users should be directed to give special attention? Did we highlight too much? Did we use the best highlighting technique for the context, or should we use one of the others?
Tog on Interface, by Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
Classic and entertainingly-written book about user interface design. Some people may be annoyed by Tog's extensive use of examples from the design of the Macintosh, but it is important to recognize that they are only examples (and from a particularly successful design at that - one that worked for 18 years). Who cares that the book is from 1992 - what matters are the human interaction principles, and they are still as valid as ever. And it's more fun to read about the basics in Tog's style than in the more traditional academic textbooks.
GUI Bloopers 2.0: Common User Interface Design Don'ts and Dos, second edition, by Jeff Johnson (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
Almost an anti-textbook, Johnson focuses on what not to do. This is a much more entertaining way of learning basic interaction design principles than the usual "first principles" approach. This book is about application design, not website design.
Designing from Both Sides of the Screen: How Designers and Engineers Can Collaborate to Build Cooperative Technology, by Ellen Isaacs and Alan Walendowski (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
Many good guidelines for interaction design. More importantly, the book discusses the usability issues in the context of what it will take to get them implemented. It's not a programming book, but it is a book about how to get things done in a development team and how to resolve design trade-offs.

Theory and Research

Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction, by Ben Shneiderman and colleagues (5th edition). ( Buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
Probably the broadest academic textbook about the field of human-computer interaction. Gives a good overview of the theory behind user interface design, with plenty of references to the research literature. 

Usability Engineering

Usability Engineering, by Jakob Nielsen (revised paperback edition). Buy from Amazon USA or buy from Amazon U.K.
Basic textbook that covers the entire usability engineering lifecycle from early product conceptualization through design and evaluation to field installation and follow-up studies. This book focuses on the practical methods that can be applied at each step with a particular emphasis on "discount usability engineering" methods that can be used despite the most severe deadlines and budget restraints. The full table of contents is online.
Human-Computer Interface Design: Success Stories, Emerging Methods, and Real-World Context, by Marianne Rudisill, Clayton Lewis, and Peter G. Polson. Buy from Amazon USA or buy from Amazon U.K.
As the title says, this book is a collection of success stories where the use of usability methods have resulted in major product improvements. It is probably not reasonable to expect all projects to be this successful, but the book is certainly an inspiring read.

User Testing

Moderating Usability Tests: Principles & Practice for Interacting, by Joseph Dumas and Beth Loring. Buy from Amazon USA or buy from Amazon U.K.
Title tells it all: detailed coverage of how to conduct a usability test. I am immodest enough to suggest that the chapter on user testing in my own book is all you need to get started, but Dumas and Loring wrote a great book for people who have already run some studies and want to refine their technique.
Paper Prototyping: Fast and Simple Techniques for Designing and Refining the User Interface, by Carolyn Snyder. Buy from Amazon USA or buy from Amazon U.K.
Detailed advice on the cheapest and fastest way of generating an artifact that can be tested with users. Get test data before you spend time and money on coding up pages or software that will have to be changed later. The simplest way to expedite the usability engineering lifecycle is to use extremely rapid prototyping. Many people don't believe in paper prototyping because it is so simple and cheap. But it does work. (For a vivid demonstration of paper prototyping in action, see my 32 minute film on DVD.)

Usability Inspection and Heuristic Evaluation

Usability Inspection Methods, by Jakob Nielsen and Robert L. Mack
Classic book with chapters by the main inventors of each of the most important usability inspection methods. Inspection has a rich tradition in other fields and is fast becoming a standard part of most user interface projects as well. Heuristic evaluation is my own contribution and is the fastest and most pragmatic of the usability inspection methods (but the more advanced methods are also very useful). The full table of contents is online.

Field Studies

Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems, by Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt
How to gather data (mainly qualitative) from the users' workplace and convert it into design requirements for systems that match users' needs. Written by two of the inventors of the Contextual Inquiry method. Mainly about field studies of "serious" applications: less useful for gathering data about entertainment or home computing though many of the principles would still apply. This book will be particularly useful in planning an intranet design.
User and Task Analysis for Interface Design, by JoAnn Hackos and Janice Redish.
Task analysis finds out how users do the things you want to support in your user interface design. It is thus a step that should be mandatory in all design projects before you have composed a single screen. Most of the book contains practical advice and field study methods for collecting information from users in their own environment.

Focus Groups

Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research (4th edition), by Richard A. Krueger and Mary Anne Casey
Focus groups are often overused in the development of interactive systems such as websites, but they can contribute to a project if used appropriately. This book covers all the steps in planning, executing, and analyzing a focus group.


Mail and Internet Surveys: The Tailored Design Method, by Don Dillman. Buy from Amazon USA or buy from Amazon U.K.
Two caveats: (1) Surveys only tell you what users think and not what they actually do, so beware of using them too much. (2) Web-based surveys need to be extremely short: no scrolling allowed. If you still want to run a survey, this book tells you how to write the questions and response categories so that you'll get valid answers. If you just make up the first questions that come to mind, you will likely get bogus results.


The Persona Lifecycle: A Field Guide for Interaction Designers, by John Pruitt and Tamara Adlin ( buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
Without a doubt, the best book about personas, based on the authors' extensive experience applying personas to major design projects at Microsoft and plus contributions from a large number of outside experts (including Don Norman), relating their experience from other companies. The coverage is extensive, thorough, and immensely practical with lots of hands-on tips: there's no sense of "this is a proprietary process that you need to pay a special consulting company to really use" about this book. Those would be reasons enough to like any book, but I particularly like this book because it emphasizes that personas should be representations of real users, and not something you make up in a conference room. Too many others use personas to say "Mary wouldn't like this design idea" when "Mary" doesn't exist as anything but a figment of their personal imagination of how they would like their users to be. Pruitt and Adlin tell you how to ground personas in real users.

International Usability

International User Interfaces, by Elisa del Galdo and Jakob Nielsen (John Wiley and Sons).
The full table of contents is online.

I used to also recommend Tony Fernandes' book Global Interface Design, but unfortunately it is out of print.


Remember that it is not an excuse that "we can explain it in the manual." Nielsen's First Law of Computer Documentation states that users don't read the manual. Even so, documentation is sometimes needed and certainly works better if it is usable.

Standards for Online Communication: Publishing Information for the Internet/World Wide Web/Help Systems/Corporate Intranets, by JoAnn Hackos and Dawn Stevens
Basic textbook. Focus on online documentation, but then almost all documentation is delivered in online formats these days.
The Nurnberg Funnel: Designing Minimalist Instruction for Practical Computer Skill, by John M. Carroll
Great book on the design of manuals and other instructional materials that are short enough that users may actually read them. OK, no user will ever read an entire manual, but whether you are designing online help, printed manuals, or cuecards, the users will have a better chance of finding and applying the information they need if you follow minimalist principles.

See Also: List of recommended books and websites about writing for the Web.

Advanced Topics

Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information, by Peter Pirolli (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
A thorough discussion of information foraging and information scent by the inventor of these concepts. As the book title indicates, this is a rather theoretical book: figuring out the implications for your company's Internet strategy is left as an exercise for the reader. But this is the ultimate source if you want to understand why the Web works the way it does and why users behave the way they do. Probably the most important book ever published about Web design (even though it's not about Web design!).
Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things, by Donald A. Norman (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
Don Norman presents his theory of the three levels at which people engage with designs: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. Many traditional appearance designers have focused on the visceral level, usability has traditionally been strongest at the behavioral level, and many marketing experts have focused on the branding aspects of reflective design (while ignoring other angels of how people think about their personal history of using products). Norman brings it all together in a unified theory of design. The book is the most useful for readers who are designing physical objects where the visceral level has more dimensions to work with and where users also get more time to engage the reflective level. Web design is more dominated by the behavioral level, but the other two certainly matter as well.
The Trouble With Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity, by Thomas K. Landauer (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
Insightful discussion of the productivity paradox: why the productivity of computer users seems to be stagnant. Useful background if you are designing systems that are supposed to enhance user productivity. In some ways this may be the most important user interface book in recent years: it explains how bad UI design has cost the U.S. economy about $600 billion.
Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do, by B.J. Fogg (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
A groundbreaking book with a large number of guidelines for making your design more credible and for influencing users. See also my review of this book.
The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places, by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass buy from in the U.S. or buy from in the U.K.)
The authors' work is most famous as the theoretical justification for the talking paperclip in Office'97; despite this, the book is more useful than one may think at first. It is one of the few in-depth discussions of affect and users' subjective experiences with computers, and even if I don't agree with all the authors' conclusions, understanding their methodology makes the book well worth reading.
Maximum Accessibility: Making Your Web Site More Usable for Everyone, by John M. Slatin and Sharron Rush (buy from in the U.S. or buy from in the U.K.)
Detailed coverage of how to design to facilitate use by users with disabilities. I particularly like the many case studies where a blind user describes how he uses various websites and the difficulties he encounters because of various design problems on the sites. The book is very thorough from a technical perspective with substantial advice on how to encode Web pages to improve accessibility. (See also Nielsen Norman Group's user experience guidelines based on usability testing of users with disabilities and the report on how to conduct your own usability studies with users with disabilities.)
Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability, by Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney (buy from in the U.S. or buy from in the U.K.)
A highly specialized book about one particular element of Web page design: the form, by people who spend all their time designing and testing forms. How can anybody write hundreds of pages about so little? Because the Devil is in the details, as they say. Even a small improvement in a form can add several percent incremental profit for a website, since most of the business value requires users to interact with a form at some stage. The smallest problem with the form, and your conversion rate drops. That's why it's worth reading a big book about a small topic.

See Also: Separate lists of books about visual design and the future of user interfaces.

Background Reading

The Design of Everyday Things (2nd edition), by Don Norman (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
This book is the best introduction to the importance of usability in design: much of the value comes from the fact that it is not about computers but about all kinds of other things that we suffer from every day (even nerds can identify with the examples in this book, though they usually claim that "well, typing mumble-foo-META-F4 is not that hard to remember" when confronted with an example of bad user interface design). This is the revised paperback edition. The first hardcover edition was entitled The Psychology of Everyday Things, leading to the often-cited acronym POET. The second edition is revised with new examples and a bit of new theory, though most of the insights remain the same as 20 years ago, which shows the durability of these fundamental principles.
Design Crazy: Good Looks, Hot Tempers, and True Genius at Apple, by Max Chafkin (buy in the U.S. or buy in the U.K.)
Oral history of design at Apple from about 1990 to 2012, based on interviews with about 50 formed Apple human interface staff. A bit too much focus on hardware design as opposed to user interface design, but still very interesting and written in an approachable manner that's easy reading for a broad audience.

Gift for Friends and Family

To give friends and family an appreciation for user interface work and the development of modern user interfaces, this is a nice book that can be read by people without a technical background:

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