The ultimate reading list for new user researchers

5 min read David Renwick

Having a library of user research books is invaluable. Whether you’re an old hand in the field of UX research or just dipping your toes in the water, being able to reference detailed information on methods, techniques and tools will make your life much easier.

There’s really no shortage of user research/UX reading lists online, so we wanted to do something a little different. We’ve broken our list up into sections to make finding the right book for a particular topic as easy as possible.

General user research guides

These books cover everything you need to know about a number of UX/user research topics. They’re great to have on your desk to refer back to – we certainly have them on the bookshelf here at Optimal Workshop.

Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research

Mike Kuniavsky

Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research

This book covers 13 UX research techniques in a reference format. There’s a lot of detail, making it a useful resource for people new to the field and those who just need more clarification around a certain topic. There’s also a lot of practical information that you’ll find applicable in the real world. For example, information about how to work around research budgets and tight time constraints.

Just Enough Research

Erika Hall

Just Enough Research

In Just Enough Research, author Erika Hall explains that user research is something everyone can and should do. She covers several research methods, as well as things like how to identify your biases and make use of your findings. Designers are also likely to find this one quite useful, as she clearly covers the relationship between research and design.

Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction

Harry Hochheiser, Jonathan Lazar, Jinjuan Heidi Feng

Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction

Like Observing the User Experience, this is a dense guide – but it’s another essential one. Here, experts on human-computer interaction and usability explain different qualitative and quantitative research methods in an easily understandable format. There are also plenty of real examples to help frame your thinking around the usefulness of different research methods.

Information architecture

If you’re new to information architecture (IA), understanding why it’s such an important concept is a great place to start. There’s plenty of information online, but there are also several well-regarded books that make great starting points.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites

Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Site

You’ll probably hear this book referred to as “the polar bear book”, just because the cover features a polar bear. But beyond featuring a nice illustration of a bear, this book clearly covers the process of creating large websites that are both easy to navigate and appealing to use. It’s a useful book for designers, information architects and user researchers.

How to Make Sense of Any Mess

Abby Covert

How to Make Sense of Any Mess

This is a great introduction to information architecture and serves as a nice counter to the polar bear book, being much shorter and more easily digestible. Author Abby Covert explains complex concepts in a way anyone can understand and also includes a set of lessons and exercises with each chapter.

User interviews

For those new to the task, the prospect of interviewing users is always daunting. That makes having a useful guide that much more of a necessity!

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

Steve Portigal

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

While interviewing users may seem like something that doesn’t require a guide, an understanding of different interview techniques can go a long way. This book is essentially a practical guide to the art of interviewing users. Author Steve Portigal covers how to build rapport with your participants and the art of immersing yourself in how other people see the world – both key skills for interviewers!

Usability testing

Web usability is basically the ease of use of a website. It’s a broad topic, but there are a number of useful books that explain why it’s important and outline some of the key principles.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Steve Krug

Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Don’t Make Me Think is the first introduction to the world of UX and usability for many people, and for good reason – it’s a concise introduction to the topics and is easy to digest. Steve Krug explains some of the key principles of intuitive navigation and information architecture clearly and without overly technical language. In the latest edition, he’s updated the book to include mobile usability considerations.

As a testament to just how popular this book is, it was released in 2000 and has since had 2 editions and sold 400,000 copies.

Design

The design–research relationship is an important one, even if it’s often misunderstood. Thankfully, authors like Don Norman and Vijay Kumar are here to explain everything.

The Design of Everyday Things

Don Norman

The Design of Everyday Things

This book, by cognitive scientist and usability engineer Don Norman, explains how design is the communication between an object and its user, and how to improve this communication as a way of improving the user experience. If nothing else, this book will force you to take another look at the design of everyday objects and assess whether or not they’re truly user-friendly.

101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization

Vijay Kumar

101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization

A guidebook for innovation in the context of product development, this book approaches the subject in a slightly different way to many other books on the same subject. The focus here is that the practice of creating new products is actually a science – not an art. Vijay Kumar outlines practical methods and useful tools that researchers and designers can use to drive innovation, making this book useful for anyone involved in product development.

See our list on Goodreads

We’ve put together a list of all of the above books on Goodreads, which you can access here.

Further reading

For experienced practitioners and newcomers alike, user research can often seem like a minefield to navigate. It can be tricky to figure out which method to use when, whether you bring a stakeholder into your usability test (you should) and how much you should pay participants. Take a look at some of the other articles on our blog if you’d like to learn more.

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David Renwick

David is Optimal Workshop's web writer ✍️. You can usually find him alongside one of the office dogs 🐕 (Bella, Bowie, Tana or Cleo). Connect with him on LinkedIn.