5 UX “must reads” (cheatsheets edition)

I’m often asked about what I use as a design reference. And I have asked that question of people over time too. It’s how you learn, when your discipline does not yet have textbooks… Sadly, I’ve seldom gotten a useful answer, as far as I can remember… so I thought that it would be nice if I at least tried to give a useful answer.

This answer will be in multiple parts.

This first part lists some “cheatsheet” style articles that I return to again and again and again.

I’m starting with this, because once you understand the 10’000ft view of what is available to you and pick up some keywords, you’re all set up for some googling and going deeper in your own time, in your area of interest.

If you work in UX, odds are you know of Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen.

It was Don Norman who coined the term User eXperience Architecture while working at Apple in 1993. He had previously written The Design of Everyday Things (1988), a seminal text where design met cognitive science.

And it was Jakob Nielsen who co-wrote the 10 Usability Heuristics in 1995, giving us all a compass pointing to HCD-North. (HCD: Human-Centred Design)

In 1998, Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen founded NN Group, a human-centred design / usability consultancy. Today, twenty-one years on, they are still setting the bar for best practices in user experience.

These are four articles from NNgroup.com that I believe every UXer should have bookmarked and have ready to hand as a reference. Even after 14 years doing UX work, I still find good ideas there. These cheat sheets and summary articles are a great starting point when you’re looking at a new project.

Which UX research methods to use when – If you’re struggling to choose a research method for your project, check out this article. It helps you think about what sort of things you might want to learn, compares quant to qual, and acts as a handy reminder with a list of activities.

UX mapping cheat sheet – If you’ve often gotten a bit confused between an empathy map, a journey map, and experience map and a service blueprint, be confused no more! A handy little guide with super clear summary illustrations, to tell the four handy little UX maps apart. Also very handy if people on your project keep getting confused, or if you’re the only UXer and struggling to explain _everything at once_.

Quantitative user research methods – If you definitely need to stick numbers to your research, read this one. I re-read it on every project. It helps you choose the best method for the best insight given your situation.

UX Research cheat sheet – The laundry-list article to rule them all. Not as much meat as the others, it aligns the activities (without a chunky description, mind you, so you’ll have to do research separately) to the design phases. It also gives you tips on things to do (professionally) to help the project along, depending on which phase you’re in.

And of course: the Ten Usability Heuristics – I still remember evaluating our library’s website at uni (in 2002) against these heuristics. They were valid in 1995, and you’ll be stunned how many services are still being built in 2019 without respecting them.

Last year, I cheekily added the Ten Usability Heuristics as Epics in the cross-cutting (aka non-functional) requirements JIRA section of a project, because I felt that NFRs being purely technical seriously distracts a project’s ability to think about the humans first.

I have to admit though, writing stories for them was impossible… They were only useful for writing an additional set of test cases / acceptance criteria for each story… to check that it met that heuristic. Still. Better than no heuristics!!

I would love to hear from people who found these useful, or useless, and what else they would recommend as a design reference.

My next article will about my favourite design books.

I should finish it just in time for your summer reading list!! This is on purpose, because many design books are best read in their printed (not kindle) format, because the layout of the pages matters, and makes them more pleasant too.

And where best to read nerdy books than on a beach?