Hello, I’m Joni

an excitable brand strategist

My Current UX Reading List

07 June 2016

So I’ve been reading a lot of UX books again recently and have been thoroughly enjoying myself for the most part. I find that more and more my focus is shifting back to strategy and research (much like when I was a grant writer—full circle) over visual design with each project I’m on.

Joni Bologna pig logo holding book

Getting back to this work has been lovely. However, it’s easy to often time find myself thinking “I know this isn’t right, but why exactly? How do I then explain exactly why?” The most challenging part of design for me has always been relationships. Communicating design decisions with stakeholders and truly understanding users is something I will always be working towards getting better at and these books have certainly helped.

There have been a few that really stand out as being some of the most useful, practical books I’ve read so far in my career. Many times design/development books can be difficult to push through, honestly; perhaps the subject matter isn’t super relevant at that moment or, to be completely frank, the book ironically isn’t designed well and therefore difficult to read. None of this is the case for the books mentioned in this post.

Here’s a look at the most impactful UX books I’ve read recently, my primary takeaways, and a few of my favorite quotes from each:

Validating Product Ideas

Validating Product Ideas by Tomer Sharon is the most recent book I’ve read and by far the most handy and pragmatic.

Photo of Validating Product Ideas

All too often with projects I join UX has been an afterthought and, directly as a result, things are not moving forward and there’s no clear strategy/vision.

Earlier this year someone told me the following: “We haven’t had a UX person on this yet because we wanted to keep it simple”. I think about these words a lot and this book, to me, speaks directly to why this type of (unfortunately common) thinking makes no sense and how to integrate UX correctly from the start.

It’s organized in such a way that promotes the reader to absorb the information in select bits as needed over requiring cover to cover consumption and that just so happens to be my favorite way to read design books. I need to be able to get information as it’s relevant to me, otherwise it’s impossible to retain.

I also adore that each proposed stakeholder question is followed by a “Why Is This Question Important?” section to really drive the point home but also better prepare you for inevitable client pushback.

So much of the job is asking the right questions and this book speaks directly to what questions to ask and why, as well as what to do with the answers.

Main Takeaways

  • How to quickly but effectively apply research techniques to projects.
  • A better understanding of how to figure out what people need to generate evidence, validation, and invalidation for various features.
  • Bunches of crucial stakeholder questions.
  • Understanding how people currently solve a problem is critical. Truly understanding a problem goes a long way toward solving it with a product, feature, or service.
  • Sincerely getting to know your audience allows you to make better product roadmap decisions when no other data is available and prevents the team from going into exhaustive debates over assumptions.
  • There are two types of information about people that you need: demographics and behaviors.
  • Friction occurs when people have a certain, specific way of completing a task, yet the digital product that is supposed to help them forces them to change their ways.

Favorite Quotes

  • “When you realize the importance of first finding out what people need, then you start asking yourself if you should build a product, rather than if you can.”
  • “Falling in love with a problem happens through observing it happen in a relevant context, where the problem is occurring to people in your target audience.”
  • “Many products are developed based on a hunch, a judgement call, incomplete information, or faith-based hallucinations. Only after they fail miserably do developers ask themselves why.”
  • “The alternative is that you get a Frankenstein product that is just a conglomerate of features that has everything for no one.”

Just Enough Research

Just Enough Research by Erika Hall had me hooked on page four after reading the following: “Businesses and designers are keen on innovation, as well they should be. But the better you know the current state of things and why they’re like that, the better you will be positioned to innovate.” :raised-hands:

It seems that far too often stakeholders are reluctant to spend time examining the existing product and don’t see value in understanding current pain points in more detail. However, it’s essential to learn from them for the next iteration/version. This book helps equip the reader with the tools to standup against such thinking and make an undeniable case for proper research.

So while budgets are always tight, more than anything a project cannot afford to overlook this crucial process.

Photo of Just Enough Research

The most useful chapters for me right now were four and five: “Organizational Research” and “User Research”. An excerpt from chapter five can be found here.

Main Takeaways

  • There are often underlying reasons why someone would oppose user research for a project. For example, they could be afraid to be wrong or are uncomfortable talking to people.
  • Assumptions are insulting.
  • It's not the users' job to know what they want.
  • A better understanding the different parts of the interview process and how to ask the right questions without guiding the users' responses.
  • Exactly what to include in research documentation and how to know when it's done.
  • How to integrate research into the product lifecycle (even on agile projects).
  • How to create and use the very best personas.
  • Context. Always be sure to inquire into the real-world context surrounding your work.

Favorite Quotes

  • “… never ask anyone what they want … Your challenge as a researcher is to figure out how to get the information you need by asking the right questions and observing the right details.”
  • “The questions you ask directly and the questions you want answered are two different sets of questions.”
  • “Asking hard questions of people throughout an organization will force those people to come up with answers, leading to at least a modicum of reflection.”
  • “When blue-sky thinking meets reality, reality always wins. Make friends with reality.”

The Field Guide to UX Strategy

This one is a free ebook by Robert Hoekman Junior. After the first few pages I realized I needed to print this off as a reference. I started out highlighting useful bits but it quickly got out of control.

Photo of The Field Guide to UX Strategy

So much of discovery can rely on intuition; you have a good sense of how things should be and what you need to know but there can be gaps that show themselves later on. This is the missing quickstart manual to the process that every significant project should undergo.

Main Takeaways

  • Above all else discovery is about establishing yourself as the leader of the project.
  • Be clear about communication expectations up front and build consensus around the best approach.
  • The UX strategy doc is crucial in empowering other people in the project to make the right decisions on their own.
  • You can spend three or four weeks on a project before you write a single line of the strategy document.
  • A well crafted vision statement should only be a few sentences and define the scope and purpose of the product without getting specific about how the purpose will be achieved.
  • Validating the UX strategy through feedback is crucial and often overlooked.
  • Don’t fall in love with any single solution.

Favorite Quotes

  • “The key is to leave no question here that the stakeholders are in capable hands. Your relationship will be collaborative, for sure, but you are leading this thing.”
  • “People can lie. Data allows you to better triangulate the truth.”
  • “The thing is, it doesn’t matter so much about who the users are as what they’re doing.”
  • “When you’re presenting a strategy document, you’d better mean it.”
  • “Not every negative metric demands reactionary redesign. Be patient and evaluate.”

That’s a Wrap

I still have loads of new design books lined up for my summer reading list (and a vacation coming up!) so I will be sure to write another post soon.