“Are there any books, blogs, or shows that I should be reading or watching?” This is probably the most common question I’ve been getting from people interested in UX and the Games Industry. The answer, of course, is yes!
About five years ago Nikki Silver, a former colleague of mine, made an absolutely wonderful reading list that I still reference to this day. And in that spirit I thought it’d be nice to provide a 2020 version to answer the question “As a UX Designer interested in games, what should I be reading or watching in 2020?” I’ll caveat this with the fact that not all of these books or channels are new. Some have been around for a long while, but their value and relevance is what made me include them on this list.
I intentionally kept the list pretty short, so you can finish it before the end of 2020. If you’re looking for additional recommendations, including absolute staples you’d expect to see on a “UX Best of…” list, please go check out Nikki’s list which has 38 more recommendations that are all worth reading. So without further ado, below is a list of some of the books,channels, documentaries, and podcasts you should check out in 2020.
Books to Read
How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
Communication is a crucial and fundamental part of being a designer. Beyond just being able to communicate your design intent and thinking to other designers, you need to be able to understand and communicate cross-disciplines with engineers, business people, and even lawyers. This book, in addition to being a generally fun read, will help you evaluate how you think and how others think, too.
Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
If you don’t know who Jane McGonigal is already, do yourself a solid and go watch all of her Ted Talks. Seriously. Then come back and read her book. As a lover of games and user experience, the idea of utilizing the incredible art of games to change the world for the better is fascinating to me, and incredibly inspiring.
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A Project Guide to UX Design by Ross Unger and Carolyn Chandler
If you’re like me you might have started your design career by executing other peoples’ ideas. Maybe your creative director or product lead did a very good job of providing you with all the constraints and requirements you ever needed to execute exactly what your project entailed. But how do those projects come about? How does one take an idea and pump it through an organization and a design team to produce an outcome? This book is great for individual contributors and managers alike. Whether your goal is to have a shared vocabulary or learn a framework for UX planning, this is a great place to start.
On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee
As experience designers we tend to be naturally drawn to psychology and understanding how humans work and interact with the world around them. While this book’s research may no longer be cutting edge, many of the thoughts and ideas here are still relevant today.
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The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo
Maybe you’re at a stage in your career where you’re thinking about management or you’re wondering how people became managers in the first place. Julie Zhuo does an amazing job of breaking down what it takes, and what it’s like to go from designer to design manager.
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- GMT, or Game Maker’s Toolkit, is a wonderful channel run by Mark Brown. In his highly informative videos he goes in extreme depth on specific game concepts, design patterns, usability problems, and everything to do with design. This is one of very few channels I consider a must-watch.
- This is a very old, but very well known channel and its content is still useful today. Whether you’re a UX designer or a game designer, this channel is highly informative and can help shape how you approach some interesting problem spaces.
- Your first reaction might be to think this is a troll recommendation. Dunkey is, after all, a satirical comedy channel. That being said, a surprising number of his game reviews, in addition to being hilarious, are deeply insightful and touch on both player motivation and fundamental design principles and philosophies. More than once I’ve been caught off guard by the articulate way Dunkey has broken down why something is good or bad.
Documentaries and Podcasts
- Playing Hard on Netflix is a really interesting look into the world of making and working on a triple A game. While every studio is very different, and this documentary doesn’t exclusively look from a design lens, it’s definitely worth the time to watch.
- I’m pretty biased here, obviously, but I genuinely think League of Legends Origins is a wonderful look inside not only the games industry, but the evolution of a game. Even in 2020 the number of games we can look at to study how games evolve over time is extremely limited. Leslie Iwerks does a fantastic job at capturing that evolution.
- Chances are if you listen to podcasts and are interested in the games industry, you’ve heard of Game Dev Breakdown. The reason I included it here is because of its focus on interviews. While not every episode is design focused, it can be really informative to hear from the perspectives of other people in the industry and get insight into their thoughts and challenges.
- Another podcast worth taking a listen to is Designer Notes as it has a more direct design lens. While it still features interviews across the entire spectrum of game development roles, a large portion are designers and the podcast is run by two veteran designers.