I love books! As much as I love being taken away to another world through a good work of fiction, I have a soft spot for non-fiction. I love the potential of learning something new every time I crack open a new book. In the spirit of learning, here are six books that have made me a better UX researcher. Some of these books I have gone back to over and over again. Others gave me a new perspective that have made me a more well-rounded researcher.
Observing the User Experience. I actually picked up this book in 2005 as part of my coursework at the University of Michigan. Fifteen years later I still find myself browsing through it and using it in my work. I really can’t think of a better reference book for anyone who’s starting out as a UX researcher. It goes through a variety of common UX research methods and even includes sample interview guides, surveys, and diary study prompts. I’ve lost track of how often I’ve recommended this book to people starting out in the field. My tattered grad school copy is sadly back at the office. I love this book so much; I may end up ordering another copy during quarantine.
About Face. About Face is similar to Observing the User Experience, except it focuses on interaction design and user experience more broadly. I find that a lot of UX researchers who come from a more academic research background tend to not have as strong of an understanding of interaction design or the user-centered design process. This is the book that I recommend for people transitioning from academic research to user research.
Radical Candor. If you’ve spent any time with me over the past two years then you already know my passion for Radical Candor! I read this book about two years ago when I first started managing my current team at Google. At its core, Radical Candor is management 101. But even if you’re not a manager or not interested in becoming one, I still highly recommend that you pick it up. The first half of the book is really all about interpersonal communication. I wish I had been exposed to so much of the advice in this book earlier in my career. And if you’re interested in organizational behavior or culture, Kim Scott writes a bit about the differences in culture between Google and Apple (based on her experiences as an executive in both companies). The first season of the Radical Candor podcast goes through a lot of the book’s major topics.
The Power of Habit. There’s a lot of UX work that’s around asking people to adopt a new app or feature. And that’s really asking someone to change their routines and habits. The Power of Habit delves into research around behavior change and habit formation. While you’ll probably pick up a few tips that might help you with your personal goals or productivity (I know, I did), you’ll also gain some insights that you can use in your everyday work as a UXR.
Salt Sugar Fat. This recommendation might seem out of left field but I can’t think of another book I’ve encountered that has so many interesting examples of product research. Salt Sugar Fat is primarily a health book about the ill effects of processed foods and the ways the processed food industry has optimized ingredients like salt, sugar, and fat to hook American consumers. That part of the book is eyeopening and well worth your time. But if you apply a user research lens while reading this book, you’ll also find a lot of fascinating examples of experimental research, along with insight into marketing and business (areas that I think a lot of UXRs aren’t as familiar with). My favorite chapter (chapter 9) describes how Lunchables came to be, which is a really good case study of how consumer research and design thinking can drive the development of a new product.
The Millionaire Next Door. I know this one might also seem far-fetched. I recently picked it up to learn a bit more about personal finance but I’m finding it also informative in learning about wealth and class in America. The Millionaire Next Door challenges our assumptions about the wealthiest Americans and talks about common attributes of Americans with a net worth of at least one million dollars, both in terms of consumer behavior but also investing and saving habits. So why should you care as a UXR about any of this research? I’ve worked on both budget and premium consumer products. People (including UX researchers and other UXers) seem to make shallow assumptions about who would buy or use something based on their socio-economic status that are rarely in-line with reality. Like Salt Sugar Fat, this book does talk a bit about how they conducted their research. And isn’t it fun to learn about how other people in other domains conduct research?! I’m only about halfway through this book but I do want to warn you about a couple of things. It’s a bit dated (and was clearly written before the internet was such a big part of everyone’s lives) and is surprisingly (and unapologetically) gendered.
What books have been indispensable in your growth as a UX researcher?
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