a web professional's bookshelf (a top-10-plus list)

Submitted by jpamental on

I’ve traded a few tweets over the past day or two on the subject of good books for web professionals. I use that term to avoid ‘designer’ - as that seemed limiting or possibly a bit arbitrary. I think that information architecture, understanding business requirements and translating them into web site features and functionality, usability/user exerience, interaction design and visual design are all distinct enough that they can be a specialization unto themselves.

Even if many practitioners (I count myself in this lot) do or have experience in many or all of these areas - it’s a big, complex set of tasks and many books are devoted to only one or two aspects. (This doesn’t even get into actually implementing the stuff, but there are some great books to list here as well). So what came to mind is a list. I know there are some out there (probably many!) but since it’s come up in conversation both on- and off-line it seemed worth it to put pencil to pixels and write up what I’ve been reading over the past year and have found indispensible, and invite others to add their favorites as well.

The list is somewhat eclectic, but all are extremely readable, most are not too long (so they can be read in a weekend or two, or perhaps a couple of plane trips) - and all have had a huge impact on my work, my thinking, and my enjoyment while engaged in daily professional life.

They’re not overly organized, but generally in order of how much impact they’ve had for me.

The Laws of Simplicity - John Maeda

As you might guess - short, simple and to the point. A wealth of ideas to take away that apply not only to design but to many other aspects of life. Entertainingly written, profound and very hard to put down.

Don’t Make Me Think - Steve Krug

Everyone talks about it, but I know I was guilty of not actually reading it until last year. Don’t make the same mistake - buy it, read it and embrace it! I think it’s possible to take this too far, but I don’t think the phrase ‘users will learn this very easily’ is one that any designer should fall back on. If they have to learn it, it’s probably more complicated or unintuitive than it needs to be.

The Elements of User Experience - Jesse James Garrett

Really well written explanation of the entire ‘stack’ of tasks and processes that go into designing and developing a web site. One of the best info graphics about the whole process as well.

The Design of Everyday Things - Don Norman

Originally written in 1986, with a new edition in 2002. Every bit as relevant today as it was then. If you can get your head around what makes a door or a teapot well-designed and usable, you’re on your way to applying those same principles to any design project - especially in the easily over-complex world of the web.

MTIV - Hillman Curtis

Really inspiring - and some great examples of process and methods for approaching web design with your clients or within your organization. I saw him present at FOWD last fall (2008) in NYC - you have to check out his videos on his site as well.

The Invention of Air - Steven Johnson

Not really anything to do with web design, but everything about innovation and inspiration, set in the context of some fascinating history and historical characters. I had the pleasure of participating in a book talk with the author, and can’t recommend this one enough. I’m looking forward to picking up Ghost Map as well - I’ve heard it’s excellent.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web - Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville

The famous ‘Polar Bear Book’ - and a gold standard in learning and understanding information architecture. Even if you don’t read every chapter, it’s a crucial reference.

Designing with Web Standards - Jeffrey Zeldman

Part theory and part practice, this book is perfect for both directors and do-ers. By explaining the concepts behind web usability and accessibility, he makes it simple to not only justify designing and working in this way, but shows just how critical it is to do so. There’s no reason to allow the response from a client or stakeholder like ‘we don’t need to worry about WCAG/508 compliance right now’ to derail this approach. Compliance is only one benefit to be realized from this approach. Better stability, ease of use, less complex/costly to maintain and extend, and more. The book then goes into concrete examples and real-world scenarios, so you can see concepts can apply to what you’re doing now, how you work, and how you can work differently on the next project.

CSS: The Definitive Guide - Eric Meyer

Really clear explanation about CSS and many of the trickier aspects such as the ‘Box Model’ (and how it works - or doesn’t - in various browsers). Also a gold standard desk reference.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information & Visual Explanations - Edward Tufte

I got these from my dad many years ago, and I confess did not read them until I was signed up to go to his seminar a year or two ago. I’m SOOOO glad I did. While not overly connected to web design per se - his ideas and influence are tremendous. I HIGHLY recommend going to his seminar if you can, and if possible read the books ahead of time and you’ll get much more out of it.

I’m sure there’s more - I know I have a few on the shelf at home that I’m waiting to dig into. I hope that I can convince others to comment here with more suggestions. I’ve only posted books that I’ve read personally, and will add to it periodically as I come across others.

On the ‘to be read’ shelf: Paul Boag’s Website Owners’ Manual, adaptive path’s Subject To Change, Reginald Gollege’s Wayfinding Behavior: Cognitive Mapping and Other Spatial Processes. There’s lots more on the ‘wish list’ at Amazon, but these are my ‘next up’s’.




The one diagram of Napolean's march on Moscow is such a great meditation on multi-dimensional data visualization.