UI design is extremely underrated.
It’s always “UX trends” and “UX design tips.” Maybe “UX/UI” at best.
What we don’t realize is UX as a whole cannot exist without UI. We’ve got Best Interface is No Interface by Golden Krishna here on this list, but that does not mean the UI is not important 🙄
Putting all that aside, there are so many good books for UI designers-to-be, UI design experts, and even for those who simply want to understand UI design a little better.
And we’ve got them all on the list.
Let’s dive into:
- Best UI design books for getting in the mindset,
- Best UI design books every UI designer should read,
- Best UI design books for experienced designers looking for a new perspective
But before that, let’s go over one crucial thing. Why read a UI design book?
Why read about UI design?
There are many reasons to pick up a non-fiction book about color theory, visual design, or a digital product. It could be optimizing your design thinking or design process, or simply because Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think made you think.
But honestly, the real question is: why not?
As user-centered design becomes more and more critical in today’s digital world, a beginner designer, a CEO, or even a user like any of us may be interested in UI design.
At the same time, it is a real commitment if you actually want to learn something, and picking up any book is out of the question.
Who reads what and why then?
👉 You might want to start working as a UI designer. Then you’d have to start with some primary sources on user experience, graphic design, and cognitive psychology.
👉 You might be a CEO looking to understand the logic behind what your designers presented to you. Then you’d need to go through books on elementary UI design.
👉 You might as well be a seasoned UX/UI designer looking into understanding UI design in hopes of broadening your perspective and/or switch fields of expertise. You’d then prefer books that propose a new understanding of UI design or books to refresh your memory.
Whatever your reason is for reading about UI design, there are many books out there. And some of the best are on the list.
Let’s take a look.
Best Books to get in the mindset
1- The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Extended by Don Norman
There is no UX/UI designer book club that has or can skip reading The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.
Forget every book you “must read”, this is the OG must-read.
And the funny thing is, the book isn’t about UI or even UX as we understand it today. It really is about the design of everyday things but explained in a rather philosophical sense that is supposed to inspire designers and broaden their horizons.
In most cases, it does.
Though if you are looking at the book from a totally practical outlook and you want it to direct you into doing something material, you might be disappointed.
The Design for Everyday Things is a good book for people looking to understand the philosophy behind creating user friendly design and still making it more than just a user friendly design.
“I bought this because I’m moving my teaching towards a design focus (I’m sick of seeing my workshop filled with dozens of identical projects!), and this book is fascinating. It’s definitely going to take two reads to get the full message from it. But, generally, if you find yourself getting frustrated by the made world around you – doors you can’t find, taps that turn the wrong way – this is the book for you.”
2- UI is Communication: How to Design Intuitive, User Centered Interfaces by Focusing on Effective Communication by Everett N. McKay
UI is Communication by Everett McKay is not your run-of-the-mill UI book. Why?
It is easy to read, it is beginner-friendly, it is no-nonsense.
Everett McKay is no scholar, he is a UX design consultant. And that makes all the difference because he doesn’t go into theory, long references, or incomprehensible methodology when talking about UI design.
He just gives you a solution when you most desperately need it.
And that makes UI is Communication not only a great book for beginners but also experts who are willing to optimize their workflow and/or projects.
“I have beginner level skills in UX and product design. This book cuts through all the noise in the UX field and provides a clear action plan to design a product from scratch. As a bootstrapped founder, I found this book very actionable and I was able to make rapid progress in my project. It includes lot of actionable content and practical advice. I have purchased about 15 books on UX and product design. This book is the number 1.”
Books every UI designer should read
3- Sketch Handbook
Sketch is easily one of the most widely used software for UI designers.
What’s not so common is someone who knows every single function of Sketch. Honestly, it’s not vital information. But wouldn’t it be wild to know everything about Sketch?
Thankfully there is a book that can teach you. Not every single feature of Sketch, but how you can use it better.
The best part is, the book is a good fit for all.
From beginners to experts of UI design with years of experience, everyone can learn something from Sketch Handbook. So if you are looking into starting with Sketch or optimizing your workflow, this is the top guide.
“The setup of the book is simple. The writing is clear, concise, and more importantly gives immediate returns on investment once you try out some of the helpful tips. These tips are sprinkled throughout each chapter. Each chapter is organized in a logical progression of ideas and parallels the building of a professional quality interface. At the end, you will have built amazing and beautiful graphics and “retooling” your workflow to be better at using Sketch.”
4- Design for Hackers by David Kadavy
“If you want to learn to create great design yourself…there simply is no way to do so with lists of rules. Instead, I want to provide you with a new set of eyes through which you can see the world anew” said David Kadavy, the author of Design for Hackers.
Some people think Kadavy’s statement is exaggerated as he barely directs users to certain points and his pages-long content doesn’t come together like a perfect puzzle.
But that’s why the rest of the readers pick up the book in the first place.
Putting together the history, guidelines, the fundamental principles, and frameworks of UI in Design for Hackers, the author does not dictate a specific set of rules everyone must follow but rather lets readers digest the content and go their own, self-picked route.
A great book for readers looking for an easy-read, comprehensive book on UI design.
“Anybody that comes anywhere near building user interfaces or hard-copy publications (…) should read this book – even if only to stop you looking like a total design amateur. It’s genuinely fascinating in the way that it explains why fonts, colours, layouts, and logos, look the way they do from a historical context. The message that design is a product of both intent and environment is re-iterated and illustrated with examples throughout the book. The level of detail seems unnecessary at times, but by the end of the chapter it becomes clear that the author’s judgement was spot-on. You may think you don’t need to know some of this stuff but actually you do.”
5- Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Müller-Brockmann
A grid system is a fixed framework that helps designers in organizing information on a given page.
And Grid Systems in Graphic Design is a book that helps designers help themselves do that.
Considered one of the essential books when learning graphic design and UI, Grid Systems in Graphic Design was written by Josef Müller-Brockmann, a celebrated twentieth-century Swiss graphic designer and teacher.
The information in the book dates back to decades ago but it being relevant to this day tells enough about why you must read it.
“This book is freakin awesome. It was recommended to me by a talented graphic designer who said I wouldn’t regret picking this up, and I certainly do not. After reading this book, my portfolio looks amazing and I feel much more confident in presenting my work. This book was the answer to all my misguided wanderings.”
6- The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
Fun fact: Robert Bringhurst is an accomplished poet.
And honestly, I can’t think of a better profession for a person I’d want to hear from about the etiquette of typography.
The Elements of Typographic Style was named many things since its first release 30 years ago, and the bible of typography was just one of them.
Now, like any “bible” book, as we like to call them, this one’s a bit dated but thankfully it was republished n 2013 with revised information and hopefully, it will keep enlightening the career paths of typographers.
If you are just getting into typography and want to learn about its history, best practices, and more, this is the book for you.
“Excellent book. You may disagree with some of the opinions, but you’ll have to admit that the guy has valid points and knows his material, which should be abundantly clear. This is someone that clearly loves type and the book, itself, transcends its subject matter. Anyone that writes so well and with so much love deserves to be read widely.”
7- Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines by Jeff Johnson
Design with the Mind in Mind is, as the title might give it away, a book on human psychology and how designers can use basic human understanding to help them experience better interfaces.
Explained by a computer science professor with degrees from Yale and Stanford and years of experience as a designer, Jeff Johnson.
You’d think, “this has got to be same long long complicated book.”
It isn’t. The contents of Designing with the Mind in Mind are in fact well-researched, backed-up with good references, and deep. But at the same time, Jeff Johnson offers real-life examples and a great structure.
The focus on cognitive human behavior and its implications on UI technology make this a must-read for every UI designer.
“This is an exceptionally useful book, not just for designers of user interfaces but for designers and interested readers of all sorts. It provides not only clear guidance about what to do; it helps the reader to understand why certain approaches work as they do, and it does so with clear language, illustrative graphics, and intriguing examples. It is fascinating reading for anyone interested in how the human brain actually works, and if you are like me, you won’t be able to put it down until you have read the whole thing.”
8- Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design by Jenifer Tidwell
With over 500 pages and already on its third edition, Designing Interfaces is basically an encyclopedia of design patterns.
The book encompasses many types of design patterns a designer would need to use while designing for web products, and it does so at a pretty elementary level. For the interested, it is a fun and refreshing read.
Though reviewers are in disagreement whether this book is best for beginners or more seasoned designers, one thing is for sure. It touches upon different principles of interface design and is not too complicated to read along.
“Nice book with explanations and examples of most of the common user interface elements and idioms. An excellent reference with thoughtful and in most cases very recent examples illustrating the patterns. As with any design book, this is not complete but covers most of the bases extensively and a lot in it has been motivated thoroughly but remains disputable. Let neither of those put you off.”
9- About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper
About Face by Alan Cooper, a pioneer in the user experience design field and the person who introduced concepts like persona that we use daily today is nothing short of its author.
Tackling many issues in UI and UX design while also addressing new topics with its latest edition, About Face is one of the most important books on design fundamentals.
Though reviewers seem to agree that it could’ve been an easier read, the book still serves its value.
If you are a design beginner, the book might just be a lot to take in. But along the way, it is a must-read.
“Every developer should read “About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design”. It is a real eye opener, with some very clever things one can apply to UI design, and it also highlights the common mistakes made. This edition also includes mobile device interfaces and web design too – which the previous editions didn’t have.”
10- Digital Design Essentials: 100 ways to design better desktop, web, and mobile interfaces by Rajesh Lal
Rajesh Lal is a practitioner and an innovator of user interfaces for mobile. Certainly what he has to say about UI and UX design has some weight to it.
In Digital Design Essentials, he goes through 100 design tips through real-life examples, case studies, and more, discussing how to create user friendly and accessible user experiences and interfaces.
The book is highly recommended as a reference book and for everyone looking for a real-life solution when stuck during a project, it might be the one.
“Even if you are trying to learn the basics of blogging design, begin your own online business, or combining different designs to enhance your website-Check this book out! It’s a great tool, you learn a lot, and it’s perfect for using as a guide for your next project.”
Best Books for a new perspective
11- Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation by Chris Nodder
Coming to terms with UX and UI being fancy ways of manipulation is a part of becoming a real UX/UI designer.
Evil by Design by Chris Nodder is a devilishly fun read for both UX/UI designers looking for deeper reasoning for their design decisions AND for users trying to figure out the baits and traps scattered all around the internet.
The book is divided into chapters according to the seven deadly sins, and each chapter discovers design choices that manipulate users into doing what they want to do.
If you are looking for a book that will make you face the realities of designing for people and, in doing so, improve your design (good deal), this one is for you.
“This is such an excellent book. I got it because I wanted to understand UX better for my own work as a process analyst, but what it gave me is a wealth of information about how to avoid getting caught in the various traps used by web designers and marketers, as well as avoid scams… Yes, scams, they use the same techniques! I’d recommended this book for anyone, not just those that want to learn about user experience and/or design.”
12- Simple and Usable: Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design by Giles Colborne
There are two words I can use to define this book: simple and usable.
Giles Colborne offers the reader an easy-to-read book filled with real-life examples, case studies, and exercises. The goal is to have you improve your design skills, and surprisingly, even pro designers seem to be getting something out of it.
Give Simple and Usable a read if you are looking for a readable book on design principles usable on all sorts of products.
“I read through this book in a 1.5-2 hour sitting. I found it to be a very useful and enjoyable read. I think the simplicity is conveyed, well, very simply. The design exercises and case studies are valuable, and the information is very straightforward. I like the part about user stories for user-centered design processes.”
13- The Best Interface Is No Interface by Golden Krishna
Are you tired of hearing the phrase “there is an app for that”?
So was Golden Krishna. Then he wrote the infamous book with the infamously blank-looking cover, The Best Interface Is No Interface.
In a world where we are constantly surrounded by screens and interfaces, there has to be a way to co-exist better with technology. Krishna’s criticism that often gets to be funny and relatable touches upon precisely that.
If you need a fresh outlook on how you design or how you want to design, The Best Interface Is No Interface is what you need to take a look at.
“If you like unconventional approach to design and life in general as well as interesting case studies from big players, this is a book you are going to love. As a User Experience and App designer I found it very challenging at first to agree with ideas presented in the book by Golden but after reading a bit more I came to conclusion that this is a very fresh and innovative concept and it is not at all diminishing current processes in design world but it creates an interesting perspective on where we should be in the future and how important is the role of UX in designing for people. Great read.”
14- Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences by Stephen P. Anderson
One does not simply pick up a UI/UX design book and find out it has nothing to say about human psychology.
What if there was a book that linked universally acknowledged psychological phenomena to actual real-life user interface examples?
Design leader Stephen Anderson did exactly that with Seductive Interaction Design.
If playing around with your interface is boring now and you want to start actually influencing what users feel and do, Seductive Interaction Design is the way to go.
There certainly is many subfields of UI design, and the fact that it is a huge chunk of UX design doesn’t make it any easier to categorize each book.
Hopefully, this list with a wide range of books from different subfields and with different proficiency levels will help you pick the best books for your UI design journey.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you teach yourself UI design?
Yes. There are many self-taught UI designers in the design industry who started just with a couple of books. Becoming a UI designer is arguably more about practice and research than it is about former education.
What should I study for UI design?
To become a UI designer you do not need a degree in a specific field of study. However, psychology, computer science, or design degree can be beneficial in seeing forward.