A list of 12 Really Useful Usability Books Worth Reading, and Re-Reading
On my bookshelf in my office (ok, it’s a cube, but it’s kind of a big cube) is a rather largish accumulation of usability books. There’s other books thrown in there too, such as Customer Experience, online marketing, and even “The Handbook of Employee Benefits” which is definitely NOT in my opinion a “handbook,” being upwards of 1,300 pages of really, really small font size text. Anyway, as I was saying, I have lots of usability books on my bookshelf.
In reality, most of the books on my bookshelf, although interesting, I’ve only read once. However, there is a small group of them that I consider to be really useful, and I’ve actually re-read them, and refer to them from time to time when going about my usability work. Not all of these really useful books could strictly be classified as “usability” books, but in one way or form they all have significance to usability principles. Therefore, I present them to you and hope you find them interesting or helpful too! And by the way, don’t be shy about adding your own favorite books to this list as well!
So, here with no further ado is Craig’s…
Top 12 list of really useful usability books
1. The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value by Frederick F. Reichheld and Thomas Teal
Usability is all about making things easier and thus more satisfying for the people that have to use a web site or web application. But why should we care about satisfying people, what’s the business value for “satisfaction?” This book provides the arguments for why a satisfied and happy customer is a loyal customer, and why loyal customers are so amazingly valuable to a business. After executives read this book at one of my former companies, all of a sudden usability (and satisfaction) took on much more value, and projects to improve our web experience were initiated. This book still provides excellent arguments for why customer satisfaction and usability projects should be prioritized very high in an enterprise.
2. Customers.com: How to Create a Profitable Business Strategy for the Internet and Beyond by Patricia B. Seybold and Ronni T. Marshak
This book in my opinion was (and still is) brilliant, and way ahead of its time. Years before social media was born, and the voice of the consumer became omnipresent, this book explained the rationale for providing a good customer experience online. Patricia Seybold explained that customers more than ever before have the power to influence each other, and thus influence the profitability of a company like never before. Thus providing a good user / customer experience is critical to the health of an enterprise. She provides great examples of good vs bad experience that still apply today.
3. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
If you only read one usability book in your entire lifetime, read this one. I consider this the epitome of how an educational book should be written. It’s very easy to read, has lots of extremely useful information, uses visual examples to brilliantly explain good vs bad concepts, and is funny. It was written specifically to be read in one sitting, for example when flying from New York to Los Angeles, thus is an Executive’s best friend. Give this book to any executive at any firm and if they read it I guarantee they will seek to initiate usability improvement projects as soon as they can turn their cell phones on after landing.
4. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web by Rosenfeld & Morville
The second best book ever written about usability and web design. Who would have thought that librarians (librarians of all people!) would have the ultimate secret for how the web works, and how to design a perfect web site? Turns out the web and your web site is exactly like a library. Like a library, you have lots and lots of content. Your job is to make this content fit into categories that people expect it to be in. You have to use a labeling system that is simple, accurate and consistent to help people find those categories and content. That’s it! That’s the ultimate secret of a perfect web site. And the good news is if you read this book Rosenfeld and Morville will exactly explain how to go about creating those categories and that navigation.
5. The One to One Fieldbook by Peppers & Rogers
A prerequisite for this book is “Enterprise One to One” which defines how a company can and should be focused at the individual customer level, and why in this online age that is critical for success. Assuming you get the fact that your enterprise should be managing customer relationships at the individual level, how do you actually go about making it happen? This book explains how to make that vision happen. You can’t move a hill with a teaspoon yourself, but give every single person in your company a teaspoon and the will to dig, and all of you, working together, can. Companies that move to managing individual customer relationships (Apple and Zappos come to mind) seem to do quite well.
6. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
Your single most important tool on the web is language. Without using thought-out, clear and easy to understand language, nothing else matters. I use this guide to remind myself of the dos and don’ts of proper writing style. Writing for the web is different to writing for print or other media, that’s true, but the basics of writing style and the core rules of well constructed language apply to the web just the same. Perhaps even more so! This is your guide (at least for the English language anyway) for the rules of the road of well-written content. PS – If your content writer has no clue what this book is – fire them and find someone who does!
7. Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design by Jenifer Tidwell
I originally was influenced to buy this book because I liked the picture of the duck on the cover, true story! I had no idea that this would be such a useful and usable book! Ever wonder why some web sites, even though they have complex subject matter, are so easy to use? This book explains the details of why, using best practices and patterns of design to help reinforce concepts. I think your book, like mine, will become very dog-eared over time! And that duck is just so darn cute!
8. Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability (Interactive Technologies) by Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney
I’m kind of surprised that this book didn’t sell out shortly after printing. By reading and using this book, any web site manager that has forms on his or her web site could probably double conversion rate! It’s a well-known fact that the vast majority of your form visitors will at some point abandon your form. Why? This book will help you easily answer that question. By applying the knowledge you gain from the best practices and principles in this book, you’ll decrease the number of abandonments, and increase the number of conversions. You’ll probably get a raise, or at least a bonus, and can finally take that trip you’ve always wanted to go on to Paris, the South of France and Italy (unless of course you happen to live in Paris, the South of France or Italy in which case you’re probably going to Walt Disney World).
9. The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman
Why is it so darn hard to change the time on a digital watch? Because the digital watch designers did not read this book! I consider this the grand-daddy of usability books. If every developer of a new device or software application was required to read and comprehend this book prior to development, our world would instantly become a much happier place to be. Read and refer to this book when you begin a design project and you will absolutely create a better design.
10. Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works (Interactive Technologies) (Interactive Technologies) by Janice (Ginny) Redish
Are you looking for a way to double your online sales or transactions? Usability of content is critical to web site success, because content and language are your primary tools and thus critical for success (hmmm, I think I heard that someplace before)! Simply read this book, apply the concepts to your content, and viola! Your web site sales or transactions will increase right away! This is another one of those books that I refer to again and again, because the writing tips and guidance Ginny Redish provides are universal, meaningful and impactful. I can’t find the words to describe how helpful this book is for designing content that sells (reaching for the book), but I know where to go to get some advice!
11. Web Analytics: An Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik
Usability is not just about Persona’s and usability testing, it’s about metrics and numbers and analysis of the those numbers as well. A smart usability practitioner is always watching the numbers. What are the trends? Where are the good numbers, where is the web site working well? Where are the bad numbers, what’s not working well? By understanding and analyzing web metrics, a good usability practitioner will know where the problem areas are, or if a new problem area pops-up. In addition, because metrics are the lifeblood of most of the rest of the company, you’ll be speaking the same language and thus able to communicate with your co-workers much more effectively. This book provides excellent guidance and advice into what metrics to analyze, how to analyze them and what to do with that analysis.
If your company uses landing pages for online lead generation activity, and you conduct usability testing for a company, you may not have focused heavily on landing pages. That’s not a good thing. As with online forms, landing pages can have very high abandonment rates, which means lost revenue for a company. Stated in a more positive way, any usability improvements made to landing pages will almost certainly mean improvements in conversion, which means improvements in revenue. However, landing pages are tricky, they do not have the same purpose or function as a content-laden marketing page, and must be designed and tested differently. I like this book because in it Tim Ash provides clear and easy to understand guidance on how landing pages work. He provides design best practices and defines what analytics to measure and how to analyze them. This is another dog-eared book I refer to from time to time.
So that’s it! That’s my list of 12 really useful usability books. I hope you find it helpful from time to time.
If you have your own useful books please do share that by posting it in a Comment. That way, we can all have more helpful and useful usability information at our fingertips!