A UX writer’s bookshelf

Jennifer Bost
Feb 14, 2019 · 5 min read

Whether you’re just getting started as a UX writer, or looking for a kick of inspiration, I’m showing a little love to my must-read list this Valentine’s Day.

Writers sit at the junction of product design, creative development, and brand strategy. Which, when you think about it, makes us ideal partners.

We’re great with language, and we’re good, structural, systematic thinkers.

A UX writer’s mind works in a particular, special sort of way. Our natural born curiosity leads us to delve into the psyche of why people behave the way they do. And we use that knowledge to emotionally connect with our readers. Mix in our obsessive, grammar-oriented minds that frolic in the sea of detail, and you’ve got someone who can run up and down the strategy and tactics ladder with ease.

We’re like equal parts catalyst and stabilizer. If that’s even physically possible.

How did we get that way?

As with everyone, I suspect, my instincts and skills have evolved over time. Due in large part to many, many writers and thinkers who have influenced me over the years. And they’re all on my bookshelf. At the ready for anyone that has need of them.

For those getting started, or just looking for a kick of inspiration, here are a few mentors that have helped me along my path. Perhaps they’ll be of use to you.

A wonderful reading list for a wonderful 2019.

Strategy

Truth, Lies & Advertising, by Jon Steel

I sort of love account planners, and how they approach their work. It’s that systematic process that Jon Steel offers up and it’ll give you a shot of adrenaline to make your creative concepts better. Never forget to look to the past for sage inspiration.

Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This, by Luke Sullivan

Luke Sullivan wants to know if you’re adding something to someone’s life? Is it useful, entertaining, or beautiful? Are you inspiring them, provoking them, entertaining them, or giving them status in their life? Never forget, humans feel before they think.

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire, by Simon Sinek

You must be clear about your purpose, cause, or belief and make sure that everything you say and do is consistent with and authentic to that belief. Never forget your why.

Positioning: the battle for your mind, by Al Ries, Jack Trout

Get off your high horse, put your ear to the ground, and get on the same wavelength as your prospect. Never forget, you can’t change peoples minds for them.

A More Beautiful Question, by Warren Berger

Question your motives. Dig deeper. It’s in our asking difficult questions that leads to revealing and powerful answers. Never forget to search for peoples’ motives, orientations, and attitudes.

Design

Creative Confidence, by David Kelley

A full-time career takes up a lot of time and energy. It’s easy for time to slip away in meetings, or at your desk in front of a computer delivering on deadlines. But creativity feeds on the new — new people, new experiences, new environments, new routines. Never forget to get out of your habits, out of your head.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

Because it’s the bible of user interaction design. It’s a trove of common design terms, case studies, and the history behind how we got here (as a profession). Never forget to know your shit.

The Nordstrom Way by Robert Spector

Technically, not a design book. But it is 100% about designing experiences, and delivering superior service. And in our connected, 24/7, digital world, really that’s what we’re talking about. Never forget to learn from all masters.

Value Proposition Design by Strategyzer

The Microsoft Office Design Studio are fans of this one: customer jobs. It’s the jobs customers are trying to perform and complete, or the need they’re trying to satisfy, that matter. And that means knowing what’s important to your customers, not what you think is important from your perspective. Never forget your job.

Behavioral studies

Nudge by Richard Thaler

The products we build change people lives. And the words we write are meant to help people toward action. Like Spiderman says, with great power comes great responsibility. Know your ethical debates, have a good think about what you’re contributing to, and pay attention to the choices you’re making. Never forget to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Persuasion IQ by Kurt W. Mortensen

This Ralph Waldo Emerson quote sums it up nicely, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.” Never forget the power of thoughts.

Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman

Our thoughts are either automatic (System 1), which is our easy button. Or they’re controlled, analytical, and require lots of effort on our part (System 2). You’ll mostly be designing for System 1 thinking. Never forget which part of their brain you’re asking people to use.

Practical Empathy by Indi Young

Let’s be honest, these days data is king. Most folks don’t trust intuition or experience as much as they trust data. But Indi Young reminds us not to jump to conclusions about customer behavior by data inference. Always make sure to follow up quantitative data with qualitative, so you can ask people about their actual guiding principles. Never forget, data isn’t prefect.

Writing

Elements of Style by Willian Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White

The grammar handbook that goes everywhere. For those days when you need a quick refresher. Never forget to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

Writing is a craft that takes practice, practice, practice. It’s how you get better over time. Zinsser offers prompts, advice, and comparative examples that will improve your writing. And we all need more of that. Never forget, you need mentors and writing partners.

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

Keep your writing simple, not simplistic. That goal alone will keep you busy for years. Never forget it’s not just about what you say, it’s about what you don’t.

Nicely Said by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kieffer Lee

An easy-to-read guide that explains voice and tone in a no nonsense way. Which is helpful if you don’t quite know how to articulate those, yet. Never forget, people remember how you made them feel.

Content Design by Sarah Richards

Because the world doesn’t need more content, it needs smarter content. That’s Sarah Richards’s mantra. Hallelujah! Oh, and she also has great advice about how to host constructive crit reviews. Never forget, there’s lots of great advice out there in the world. Read up!

There’s always more to learn. I’d love to hear what’s on your bookshelves. Any recommendations?

Jennifer Bost

Written by

Writer + Strategist @ Microsoft. Bringing ideas to life. Putting words to work.

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