Product Design 101 Reading List

Apr 16 · 6 min read

I made the following in October 2018 when I was at Intercom. At the time, I was mentoring a few junior designers and thinking about how to scale the design team’s beliefs and practices as well as what good product design writing is. It was my attempt at a crash course in product design. I’m sharing this now in case it’s valuable to other people, especially if you’re starting out in the field or trying to learn about software product design in general.

It’s rather Intercom-dogma-heavy, so take of that what you will. I won’t attempt to critique it now, but I will say a lot of it is still helpful to me and part of how I work. I will also admit that I haven’t read some of the books on this list but they were referenced by and suggested from multiple sources.

I’ll try to keep this updated (especially if I do read those books!). I probably have much more to add here about research from my work since 2018.

See list background, goals, and principles at the bottom of this article.

Toy kitchen assembly December 2018. You gotta start somewhere.

Reading List

Part 1 — Start with the problem

Discussion and topics

  • How do you work with PMs?
  • How do you start a project and plan your design process? What should you anticipate?
  • How much time should you estimate and what factors should you consider for that estimate?
  • How do you gather information and evidence?
  • How do you work with researchers and analysts?
  • How do you interview and build relationships with stakeholders?
  • How do you evaluate and apply insights from data, research, and internal interviews? What information is most important? What evidence is most valid?
  • Why do you need to frame the problem (for your design process)? How should you do so?
  • What is product thinking?




Part 2 — Writing is design

Discussion and topics

  • Why do we write?

Writing help us learn to internalize problem, analyze design decisions, and build effective arguments.

Writing creates documentation that is accessible to other people, people who are new to the team, new to the company, or new to design.

  • What is content strategy/design? How do you incorporate content into your design process? How do you work with content designers?




  • Google Docs
  • Dropbox Paper
  • Basecamp
  • Hemingway
  • iA Writer

Part 3 — Everything is connected

Discussion and topics

  • What is systems thinking and related concepts (mental models, information architecture, object-oriented UX)? How do you apply systems thinking in your process?
  • What are our design principles? How should you make design decisions?

Other topics include

  • Storytelling, customer journeys, flows
  • Accessibility, ethics/human impact, bias, diversity
  • Service design




  • Whimsical
  • Milanote
  • Google Draw
  • LucidChart
  • Whiteboard/Jamboard
  • Pen & paper
  • Figma
  • Sketch

Part 4 — Creativity is a team sport

Discussion and topics

  • What does collaboration look like?
  • How do you present at design critiques? How should you give feedback?
  • How do you internalize and respond to feedback?
  • How can you explore solutions with a group and run creative workshops/sprints? How do you avoid groupthink?



○ Jon Steinback: A list of creative exercises for creative teams


Part 5 — What you ship is what matters

Discussion and topics

  • How do we reach the highest bar in our craft and execution? How do we get the details right and improve the quality of our designs?
  • What are the materials of our craft? How can we better understand and work with them?
  • How do we work with engineers throughout the design process?
  • What are the best ways to explore, sketch, and prototype throughout the process? What kinds of deliverables should we produce throughout the process?
  • How can we identify and think through all use cases and edge cases?




  • Framer
  • Invision
  • Marvel
  • Figma
  • Sketch
  • Development environment

Other Resources



The only UX reading list ever


As our design team grows, the need to educate designers not only new to Intercom but also new to the profession grows. To build a strong design culture, we also need to teach non-designers about how we work. In any curriculum, reading materials reinforce principles and practices alongside hands-on work, through perspectives and examples from practitioners across the field. More generally, reading materials define concepts, teach the language of the field, codify practices, and serve as references.


Supplement hands-on project work with reading and introduce our most important design practices to new designers.

List principles

How I chose the readings.

Progressive learning

New designers have to learn very quickly. The reading is designed to follow the course of a 6-week (cycle) design project. As a designer goes through the phases of the design process, their reading will help them understand each phase, from broad to specific, definition to delivery, exploration to execution.

  • Essential reading — This is a short list of articles that are small enough to digest and discuss in a week.
  • Further reading — This is more comprehensive and allows the designer to delve into those topics on their own.

Practical methodology

The reading list should help answer the question of how a designer translates strategy and goals into products and solutions. Resources should cover the “how to” of design and why we do things the way we do them.

Topics included:

  • Case studies
  • Concrete concepts, methods, and rules

Topics not included:

  • Specific tool/skill/technique
  • Specific trends and patterns
  • Design principles or systems
  • Design theory and critique
  • General career, profession, industry

Definitive reading

Resources on the list should be authoritative, substantive, and current.

  • Authoritative — Written by experienced design leaders.
  • Substantive — The author covers more than just a single point — you can’t deduce the substance of the article from the title alone. The author includes specific examples, either from personal experience or reasonable critique. The writing is high-quality.
  • Current — The resource is still relevant for today. Articles are written in the last 5 years. It’s not trendy.

through a glass, darkly

Designer Confessions