The best books for understanding user research

Who am I?

After a career that took me from designer to design professor, I’ve spent the past decade leading user research practices for growing product organizations. I’m excited about user research because it positions us closer to the people we design for, and challenges us to capture and explain complex scenarios in service to them. Though there are many books that teach user research, my list of recommendations is meant to demonstrate why we research, how we make sense of what we learn, and where research might take us.


I wrote...

Research Practice: Perspectives from UX researchers in a changing field

By Gregg Bernstein,

Book cover of Research Practice: Perspectives from UX researchers in a changing field

What is my book about?

This book is not an argument for doing user research. Nor is it a tutorial or toolkit for common methodologies. It won’t show you how to run a usability session or recruit users remotely. Research Practice captures the day-to-day of the practice itself—what it looks like to work with peers and stakeholders, to raise awareness of research, to make tradeoffs, and to build a larger team.

Research Practice takes you inside the field of applied user research through the stories and experiences of the people doing the work.

The books I picked & why

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Just Enough Research

By Erika Hall,

Book cover of Just Enough Research

Why this book?

In Just Enough Research, Erika Hall masterfully explains the value of user research and how to do it both practically and effectively. I love this book for many reasons, primarily because it’s a timeless and accessible introduction to user research concepts. I also lean on Just Enough Research when my own words fail me and I need a concise and compelling argument for including research in a product or design effort.


Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

By Steve Portigal,

Book cover of Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

Why this book?

Listening to users is essential to product design and development, full stop. Interviews allow us to understand who uses our products and the contexts our products fit into, and Steve Portigal demonstrates how to do it like a pro in Interviewing Users. Steve breaks down every angle of the interview process, from planning to conducting to documentation. (I particularly love Steve’s approach to the interview field guide in chapter 3!)


The Field Study Handbook

By Jan Chipchase,

Book cover of The Field Study Handbook

Why this book?

The Field Study Handbook is both a guide to international field research and a beautiful work of art. Jan Chipchase comprehensively covers every possible consideration for the planning and execution of global field research, including such topics as travel logistics, lodging guidance, division of labor, and working with local guides. Jan’s deep experience from the front lines of field research comes across on every beautifully illustrated page.


The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems

By Christian Madsbjerg, Mikkel B. Rasmussen,

Book cover of The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems

Why this book?

Authors Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen run consulting company ReD, where they put ​​anthropologists, sociologists, economists, journalists, and designers together to deeply understand humans in service of their clients. In The Moment of Clarity, the authors share their methods and approach via rich case studies, including their impactful work supporting LEGO in better aligning its products to its customers.


How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody

By Abby Covert,

Book cover of How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody

Why this book?

If you're a researcher, designer, content strategist, writer, developer, etc., you work with information. And while that information might be understandable to you, it likely isn't clear to your audience or users. That's where this book comes in. Abby Covert transforms the scary, frustrating process of bringing order to information and makes it feel achievable in this enjoyable read.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in decision making, information architecture, and choice and choosing?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about decision making, information architecture, and choice and choosing.

Decision Making Explore 42 books about decision making
Information Architecture Explore 4 books about information architecture
Choice And Choosing Explore 15 books about choice and choosing

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Creative Clarity, Creative Acts for Curious People, and The Catalyst if you like this list.