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Top 7 user research books for beginners

Illustration of a person reading a book with a magnifying glass next to a stack of books.
9 January 2020
Lucy Denton
Lisa Nguyen

We’ve surveyed the Dovetail community for books to read when you are entering the wonderful world of user research. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Think Like a UX Researcher: How to Observe Users, Influence Design, and Shape Business Strategy by David Travis & Philip Hodgson

After this list was first published, Stephanie Pratt, senior user experience researcher at GoCanvas and David Hamill, independent UX consultant highlighted that a super important title was missed entirely - Think Like a UX Researcher. It was first released in January 2019 and is already making its way to the top of user researcher’s lists. According to the reviews, nothing like this book currently exists and on top of its freshness, it’s helping the readers excel at their jobs and be better user researchers. The structure of the book means that it is easy to read in different sittings or you can consume it all at once.

David Hamill, independent UX consultant says:

The thing that sets it apart from other books on UX research is that it guides the reader in the mindset a good UX researcher has and how it applies to user centred design.

User Friendly: How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work, and Play by Cliff Kuang and Robert Fabricant

There is a definite hype around this title - author Cliff Kuang is a UX designer and renowned journalist making his voice both distinct and powerful. User Friendly takes the reader through the principles governing how design shapes our current behavior. It is told through the fascinating historical lens of what has gone before and how it has changed the design and human landscape forever.

Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb says:

Rarely do I dog-ear pages as much as I did with this book. Engrossing and rich with rarely-told stories and interviews, User Friendly gives critical insights to make us better, smarter consumers of design.

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights by Steve Portigal

Researchers must love it when they pick this book up and the title reads - how to uncover compelling insights, indicating that the pages within will arm you with the tools you need to discover nuggets of greatness in your next interview. While interviewing is just a small part of the user research landscape, from all accounts, it is an incredibly complicated part. This book isn’t just for readers who are new to user research, the widely held opinion is that all researchers should constantly be revisiting the pages of Interviewing Users.

Elizabeth Churchill, director of user experience at Google says:

Steve Portigal’s book is packed with useful tips, illustrative examples, cautionary tales, and how-to advice for planning and conducting interviews, as well as analyzing and presenting data gathered.

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited by Steve Krug

There’s got to be a reason that Don’t Make Me Think is constantly listed as Amazon’s Best Seller in User Experience. This book went from being purely for web designers and developers in the early 2000s to being a staple for anyone with an interest in the relationship between usability and design. If you have anything to do with a website, this is a must-read.

Jeffrey Zeldman, author of Designing with Web Standards says:

After reading it over a couple of hours and putting its ideas to work for the past five years, I can say it has done more to improve my abilities as a Web designer than any other book.

Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden

This title is a fan favorite and provides an introduction to being lean and agile while simultaneously pulling it into the realm of UX. Various reviewers have indicated that while it doesn’t function as the definitive manual of how to implement Lean UX at scale, it is a foundational piece that creates a base understanding.

Andrew Binstock, a former editor at Dr. Dobb’s Journal says:

This short book is an excellent guide to the paradigm of UX design and implementation, presented here in an agile context that enables developers to integrate this approach into their workflow quickly and effectively.

Just Enough Research by Erika Hall

Just Enough Research is thought of as an ultra-valuable design research primer which includes user research, stakeholder research, competitive analysis etc. The sentiment is that it is jam-packed with practical tips to ensure you understand your customer and optimize your approach based on the things you discover.

Liz Danzico, VP of design at NPR says:

Chances are good that your business is making inaccurate assumptions about your customers’ behavior. Enough! Erika’s book makes research accessible and helps you create an informed plan to better understand—and design for—your customers.

Quantifying the User Experience: Practical Statistics for User Research by James R. Lewis and Jeff Sauro

This book is not we would call a quick read but it is purportedly one of the most useful resources for quant UX researchers! Quantifying the User Experience acts as a practical guide on how to use statistics to solve common quantitative problems that arise in user research. It offers functional applications and considered discussions. Philip Kortum, an associate psychology professor at Rice University:

Serious practitioners of usability science will find this book a valuable addition to the highly qualitative texts that are currently available.

Bonus: The UX Research Book by Apple & Banana

While still untitled and yet to be released, we're super excited about the upcoming book to be published by the folks at Apple & Banana. The book is still a work in progress, but aims to demystify how UX research actually helps build products that customers love and practically tackles the fundamental elements of psychological, technology, and design that UX researchers employ every day at work.

It's already received early praise from UX professionals like Chris Nodder, who says:

I think there's a need for this book. The scope and contents are really interesting...this has the potential to be a useful entry-level handbook [for UX researchers].

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