7 non-UX books you should read

We always have these thought provoking articles. And other sites always have top 10 UX books… so I thought I’d introduce some lighter material: 10 non-UX books you should read

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be – Paul Arden

Get the book: Amazon

Without a single doubt I can say that this is for me the best book around when it comes to attitude-changing books. In ‘It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be’ Paul Arden tells a simple, yet powerful story about the importance of doing what you believe in. It explains his attitude and beliefs when it comes to wanting to be the best in what you do. Like the back cover says, it’s “a pocket ‘bible’ for the talented and timid to make the unthinkable thinkable and the impossible possible.”

For me the best quotes in the book (I have tried them and they worked) are:

  • “Do not seek praise. Seek critisism.” – because when you seek critisism you are able to improve;
  • “It’s all my fault” – only by not pointing to others, but by making mistakes your own are you able to solve problems;
  • “Do not covet your ideas” – share your ideas and more will come back to you.

Yotsuba&! – Kiyohiko Azuma

Get the book: Amazon

Each time an intern of mine leaves the company I give him or her a copy of Yotsuba&! Why? Because the stories in the book are a reminder that we are not the user…

Yotsuba&! is a manga series from Japan about a little girl with green hair called Yotsuba. As a reader you follow her around while she discovers the world. You see her go to a festival for the first time, see what she thinks of a washer and many other things. Her innocence and direct response to these things are for me a great reminder that we as designers are not the user and must always design for both the experienced and first time users. And besides: the stories are fun to read.

By now there are a total of 8 manga books published with the stories. They are available in English and are definitely worth your time.

Blink – Malcolm Gladwell

Get the book: Amazon

People make decisions all the time, but what we don’t know is that many of them are made by our subconscious. In a split second it’s possible for us to make great decisions, while our conscious decisions that follow afterwards can be wrong. In this book Gladwell takes us through a series of interesting stories while making slowly making his point about these subconscious decisions. One of the best examples he gives: a museum buys an extremely expensive mummy after months of deep analysis. But the first second an expert sees it he gets the feeling that it is a fake. After a long period they find out that it is in fact a fake mummy.

The book builds up to a theory that Gladwell calls thin-slicing. According to the author it is all about reducing the amount of information so that an easy decision can be  made. By picking out the slice that is relevant to you (with your specific expertise) it is possible to make decisions in a blink.

Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

Get the book: Amazon

Invisible Cities is a book that is experienced, rather than read. Not in an expansive, descriptive way – the novel is a mere 166 pages – rather, as if Mozart had been a writer. Taking place as a series of conversations between the explorer Marco Polo and emperor Kublai Kahn, the book has the feeling of the state of mind between dreams and reality – evocing deeper meanings without ever being too clever about it  (though apparently the structure of the novel is very clever indeed, employing such techniques as the Fibonacci sequence and sine waves). We’re never entirely sure if the cities that are talked about – the titular Invisible Cities, Cities and the Dead, Hidden Cities – are ones that Polo believes he has visited, or fables for the grumpy emperor.

If I had to suggest a book that captured what magic was, it’d be this one.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat – Oliver Sacks

Get the book: Amazon

Just as truth can be stranger than fiction, the workings of the human mind can be more engrossing than any novel. ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat‘  brings together case studies (but think observations rather than papers) from neurologist Oliver Sacks‘ patients into an engaging insight into the effects of maladies of the mind – the title comes from a patient with visual agnosia (unable to recognise faces, he once mistook his wife’s head for a hat), while other interesting cases include synaesthesia and priopreception.

While Sacks has written many other interesting books that give the layman access into psychology, this remains my favourite because of its range of studies (his later books tend to focus on one subject, such as music).

Enchantment – Guy Kawasaki

Get the book: Amazon

How come that companies like Apple are able to create such enchanting products while others fail? How can one person with the same message get agreement from a crowd while another doesn’t even get their attention? In this book Guy Kawasaki explains to us the power of enchantment, which is “the art of changing hearts, minds, and actions.”

Through many different examples Kawasaki shows us what it takes to become an enchanting person. He gives tips about the clothes you must wear depending on the people you interact with. The stuff you say and moments you can swear and get away with it. And he jumps into the use of social media, where presentations, Twitter and e-mail are great push technologies and Facebook, Youtube and LinkedIn are pull technologies to pull the crowd in.

A very fun book to read that will not make you enchanting in an instant, but it will definitely put you on the right track.

Fun fact: did you know it took 260 designers to come up with the book cover? Check the story behind Enchantment’s cover.

101 Things I Learned in Architecture School – Matthew Frederick

Get the book: Amazon

We know like nobody else that we can learn much from other fields, among which archicture must be one of the most inspirational. So can you imagine what a wealth of knowledge is packed in this tiny book? Matthew Frederick wrote down no less than 101 learnings that he wants to share with us. He presents each thought with a short description and one image, making it very easy to scan and function like a little book filled with zen.

In the book he jumps from one level to the other, describing things about drawing techniques, ways of thinking, presenting, and of course how to create better architecture. And a lot of the ideas in this book are very usable for any designers. It absolutely inspired me the first, second and third time I read this book. Some of his learnings:

  • An effective oral presentation of a studio project begins with the general and proceeds toward the specific;
  • A static composition appears to be at rest;
  • A dynamic composition encourages the eyes to explore;
  • An architect knows something about everything. An engineers knows everything about one thing;
  • Properly gaining control of the design process tends to feel like one is losing control of the design process.

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

Vicky Teinaki

An England-based Kiwi, Vicky is doing a PhD at Northumbria University into how designers can better talk about touch and products. When not researching or keeping Johnny Holland running, she does the odd bit of web development, pretends her TV licence money goes only to Steven Moffatt shows, and tweets prolifically about all of the above as @vickytnz.

8 comments on this article

  1. Great list. I would add ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ by Daniel H. Pink (http://amzn.to/htwy4a) and ‘Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard’ by Chip Heath, Dan Heath (http://amzn.to/hD3k9k) which are both about understanding human motivation and how to effectively create change.

  2. I read many of Oliver Sacks publications while working the field of Traumatic Brain Injury as a Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapist. One of my favorites of his was: An Anthropologist on Mars…

    “Neurological patients, Oliver Sacks has written, are travellers to unimaginable lands. An Anthropologist on Mars offers portraits of seven such travellers– including a surgeon consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette’s Syndrome except when he is operating; an artist who loses all sense of color in a car accident, but finds a new sensibility and creative power in black and white; and an autistic professor who has great difficulty deciphering the simplest social exchange between humans, but has built a career out of her intuitive understanding of animal behavior.”

    We are all designing for other people, regardless of title or process followed. Understanding what drives human behavior can assist all designers in creating better designs while also bridging the divide that exists on many multi-disciplinary teams.

  3. Wonderful list. I seem to recall (perhaps kublai calls polo on it) that the stories are all really about Venice.
    What a book.

  4. I see how UX designers can learn from the books presented above, although digging into neuropsychology is stretching it too much. The pathology of agnosias is specifically related to neurocircuitry and damage to the brain. In this case, perception of reality is severely damaged or distorted not because of how the subject experiences it, but because the formations or circuits in the brain responsible of processing information are physically damaged.

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  6. Josie Sawers on

    @Catalina: Having come from a psychology background into the content strategy field I would say that an understanding of neuropsychology is invaluable (well I would, wouldn’t I?), and that the brain (and human behaviour in general) is most revaling of its workings when it diverges from what is considered normal.

    Great list – just ordered 5 of these!

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  8. Pingback: 7 non-UX books you should read | Angike.com