The best books on making digital technology usable and useful

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been designing user interfaces since graduate school at Stanford, where I studied psychology and computer science. Over the five decades since then, I have designed many digital products and services, learning a lot about how to make them usable and useful. Two decades ago, I turned more towards sharing my knowledge and experience through writing (articles and books) and teaching (professionals and students). I’ve taught at Stanford University, Mills College, the University of Canterbury (New Zealand), the University of San Francisco, and at professional conferences and companies. Google invited me twice to speak in their Authors @ Google series, and ACM and SIGCHI have given me several awards.


I wrote...

Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines

By Jeff Johnson,

Book cover of Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines

What is my book about?

User interface (UI) design guidelines are based on cognitive psychology (perception, memory, language, and problem-solving). Early UI practitioners were well-educated in cognitive/perceptual psychology, but today UI designers enter the field from other disciplines, such as programming, graphic design, software testing, and technical writing. Nonetheless, to apply UI guidelines effectively and manage the trade-offs that inevitably arise, designers must understand the reasons for the guidelines. That requires understanding their psychological basis. 

Designing with the Mind in Mind provides designers with a background in perceptual and cognitive psychology, illustrated with examples of good and bad designs, so UI design guidelines make intuitive sense rather than being just mysterious rules to follow. The book is popular with designers as well as with college instructors as a textbook.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Design of Everyday Things

Jeff Johnson Why did I love this book?

When people hoping to become UI/UX designers ask me what book they should read first, I recommend Don Norman’s Design of Everyday Things

It is a classic in the UI/UX field, even though it is mostly about designing non-digital artifacts. Although it was written in the 1980s and last updated in 2002, it is still required reading in many college design courses. 

That is because it provides a foundation for understanding everything else in the UI/UX field, and most of the analysis and advice in it is timeless. It is also fun to read.

By Don Norman,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Design of Everyday Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Even the smartest among us can feel inept as we fail to figure out which light switch or oven burner to turn on, or whether to push, pull, or slide a door. The fault, argues this ingenious,even liberating,book, lies not in ourselves, but in product design that ignores the needs of users and the principles of cognitive psychology. The problems range from ambiguous and hidden controls to arbitrary relationships between controls and functions, coupled with a lack of feedback or other assistance and unreasonable demands on memorization. The Design of Everyday Things shows that good, usable design is possible. The…


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

Jeff Johnson Why did I love this book?

If you design Web sites, you’ve almost certainly already read Steve’s book; it may be the best-selling Web design book of all time.  If not, do.

It succinctly explains most of what designers need to know about Website usability. The title of the book – Don’t Make Me Think – is the book’s main point: “If your website makes me think about how to use it, distracting me from my own goals (e.g., booking a flight), I’m out of here.” 

In relatively few pages, Steve explains how to design Websites so visitors need not think about how to use them.

By Steve Krug,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Don't Make Me Think as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since Don't Make Me Think was first published in 2000, hundreds of thousands of Web designers and developers have relied on usability guru Steve Krug's guide to help them understand the principles of intuitive navigation and information design. Witty, commonsensical, and eminently practical, it's one of the best-loved and most recommended books on the subject.

Now Steve returns with fresh perspective to reexamine the principles that made Don't Make Me Think a classic-with updated examples and a new chapter on mobile usability. And it's still short, profusely illustrated...and best of all-fun to read.

If you've read it before, you'll rediscover…


Book cover of UX Magic

Jeff Johnson Why did I love this book?

I like this book because it fills a gap in the UI/UX design process: getting from requirements to a final design. 

The title – UX Magic – is actually an insider joke among UI/UX designers: many software development managers believe expert UX designers somehow magically conjure up good designs from requirements.  There’s nothing magic about it. 

Instead, we use knowledge of human perception, cognition, and learning, task analysis, conceptual analysis, UX design guidelines, prototyping, and usability testing to narrow down and weed out design alternatives and progress towards good designs. 

Dan’s book explains how to do that.

By Daniel Rosenberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked UX Magic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It takes conviction to title a user experience book that stands solidly on a cognitive science foundation as “Magic” but through the practice of the Semantic Interaction Design method this breakthrough book introduces, you will appear to many as possessing superhero UX powers. The Semantic IxD method is laser focused on transforming product requirements into experiences guaranteed to result in the minimum cognitive load with the smallest number of screens and fewest flow steps possible. An additional benefit it provides is a 10X speed increase at which designers can achieve these magical results. It provides an antidote to the expensive…


Book cover of Contextual Design: Design for Life

Jeff Johnson Why did I love this book?

This book is the software industry’s “bible” on how to start software development projects. 

It explains how to conduct up-front user research, before design, prototyping, and coding start. User research, followed by analysis of your findings, is how you determine requirements and figure out what features or improvements are needed and which are most important. 

This book presents a collection of methods for doing that. You probably won’t need every method described this book on every project, but having Holtzblatt and Beyer’s toolkit of user-research and analysis methods available when needed is valuable. 

I read it several times, and now several of its methods are baked into my normal design process.

By Karen Holtzblatt, Hugh Beyer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Contextual Design as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Contextual Design: Design for Life, Second Edition, describes the core techniques needed to deliberately produce a compelling user experience. Contextual design was first invented in 1988 to drive a deep understanding of the user into the design process. It has been used in a wide variety of industries and taught in universities all over the world. Until now, the basic CD approach has needed little revision, but with the wide adoption of handheld devices, especially smartphones, the way technology is integrated into people's lives has fundamentally changed. Contextual Design V2.0 introduces both the classic CD techniques and the new techniques…


Book cover of Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works

Jeff Johnson Why did I love this book?

When people browse or search the Web for information, they don’t read; they scan, looking for anything matching their goal. Scan, click, scan, click, etc. 

Most web designers include waaay too much text in their sites, slowing people down, frustrating poor readers (which unfortunately is a large percentage of the population). Most text on the Web is simply ignored. 

I like Ginny’s book because it does a great job of driving that point home and explaining how to cut the text down to what is necessary. It has become a classic in the UX and Web design fields.

By Janice (Ginny) Redish,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Letting Go of the Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Web site design and development continues to become more sophisticated. An important part of this maturity originates with well-laid-out and well-written content. Ginny Redish is a world-renowned expert on information design and how to produce clear writing in plain language for the web. All of the invaluable information that she shared in the first edition is included with numerous new examples. New information on content strategy for web sites, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media make this once again the only book you need to own to optimize your writing for the web.


You might also like...

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

By Joylynn M Ross, Falessia Booker (editor),

Book cover of Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

Joylynn M Ross

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business is for anyone who wants to learn how to make money with their book and make a living as an author. Many authors dive into the literary industry without taking time to learn the business side of being an author, which can hinder book sales and the money that can be made as an author.

This resource serves as a guide to mastering the art of financial literary success and to help avoid the mistakes that many authors make while learning the ropes on their own. This book helps authors “think outside the book” in order to make money in ways other than book sales and create multiple streams of literary income.

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

By Joylynn M Ross, Falessia Booker (editor),

What is this book about?

Do you want to make money with your book? Do you want to make a living as an author? There’s more to doing so than simply writing and publishing your book. Many authors dive into the literary industry without taking time to learn the business side of being an author. This could dramatically hinder your book sales and the money you can make as an author. Without a guide such as this, mastering the art of financial literary success can take you years, and you’ll be sure to make mistakes during the learning phase. Some mistakes could cost you money;…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in user experience, design, and industrial design?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about user experience, design, and industrial design.

User Experience Explore 10 books about user experience
Design Explore 50 books about design
Industrial Design Explore 12 books about industrial design