What I've Been Reading

A (most likely) incomplete list of books I read in 2014, in no particular order:

  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
  • Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith
  • One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead
  • A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young
  • Laura by Vera Caspary
  • Practical Ethnography by Sam Ladner
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • Moments of Impact by Chris Ertel
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  • What's the Future of Business by Brian Solis
  • Remote by Jason Fried
  • The Pomegranate King by Nishta J. Mehra
  • Hooked by Nir Eyal
  • Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
  • Service Design by Andy Polaine
  • Communicating The New by Kim Erwin
  • Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
  • Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter
  • Remote Research by Nate Bolt
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser
  • Designing for Interaction by Dan Saffer
  • Mental Models by Indi Young
  • Content Strategy for Mobile by Karen McGrane
  • A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

What I've been Reading

Books I read in 2012*, in no particular order:

Tender Buttons by Stein

Heroines by Zambreno

Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office by Frankel

Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom by Northrup

Canal House Cooks Every Day by Hamilton & Hirsheimer

Let My People Go Surfing by Chouinard

Bossypants by Fey

The Road by McCarthy

The Tipping Point by Gladwell

Why Have Kids? by Valenti

Wanton West: Madams, Money, Murder, and the Wild Women of Montana's Frontier by Morgan

Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park by Shultz

My Man Jeeves by Wodehouse

No More Dirty Looks by O'Connor & Spunt

UX Books

Ethnography: Step-by-Step by Fetterman

Designing for the Digital Age by Goodwin

A Project Guide to UX Design by Unger & Chandler

Agile Experience Design: A Digital Designer's Guide to Agile, Lean, and Continuous by Ratcliffe & McNeill

Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook by Greenberg

Storytelling for User Experience by Quesenbery and Brooks

Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences by Anderson

Understanding Comics by McCloud

Design is a Job by Monteiro

The Elements of Content Strategy by Kissane

The Shape of Design by Chimero

Mobile First by Wroblewski

Cadence & Slang by Disabato

*Resolving to read more fiction in 2013

Book Update

The Chicago UX Book Club finished out 2012 with 5 more great books. If you are local, consider joining the discussion in 2013!

Design is a Job: A thoughtful book on what it means to make a living through design work. This book provoked a great discussion on a variety of topics including when (if ever) to work for free and things to remember when starting a freelance career.

The Elements of Content Strategy: A fine introduction, but more of an argument in favor of considering a content strategy rather than practical information on how to go about the process.

The Shape of Design: I wasn't crazy about this book while I was reading it, but I was blown away by the discussion. I'd definitely recommend reading this with other people. The chapters discussing "how" vs. "why" tied in perfectly with some of my thoughts on current UX-oriented graduate programs. More on that some day soon.

Mobile First: I'd been meaning to read this book for a long time. Wroblewski does a good job of succinctly making the case that your digital strategy needs to include mobile and provides a number of UX insights to consider during the design process.

Cadence & Slang: We finished the year with our first author event! Nick Disabato joined us for a great discussion on his UX work, his book, and the writing process. Be sure to check out Distance, too.

What I've Been Reading

It's been a while since my last UX book review. I hope to find the time to go into detail on the following titles, but for now I'll simply recommend them with a few notes. Many of these books were Chicago UX Book Club selections. If you are local, consider joining the discussion!

Agile Experience Design: A uniquely detailed attempt to integrate experience design into the agile process.

Designing for the Digital Age: This is a fantastic handbook for practitioners.

Open Here - The art of instructional design: A fun collection of visual instruction.

Seductive Interaction Design: How to motivate users with the principles of seduction. Some nice examples here.

Sketching User Experiences: Instruction and exercises for various sketching methods used to facilitate design.

Understanding Comics: The history of comics and how we understand visual language.

UX Book Club Chicago


I've been missing the Champaign-Urbana UX Book Club, so I decided to take over the Chicago chapter!

The Chicago UX Book Club was founded in 2009 by Gabby Hon. She decided to take a break from organizing and has passed on the reins. We will be organizing meetings through our Meet-Up page, but you can find more information on the UX Book Club Chicago website and by following us on Twitter.

Join us for monthly discussions and the opportunity to interact with students and professionals looking to share their passion and knowledge of UX, IA, UI, IxD, etc.  Each month, we will choose a book or article to read and discuss. You don't have to read the book to attend -- just come with an open mind and an interest in the subject. We are also open to discussion suggestions and presentations by members related to their own UX research, writing, and professional expertise.

Remote Research


Bolt, N., & Tulathimutte, T. (2010). Remote Research. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 266 pages.

We selected Remote Research for discussion at the November UX Book Club CU event. Nate Bolt is the president of Bolt | Peters, an interaction research and design firm. Tony Tulathimutte has left the world of user experience research and is now a fiction writer. This book is written for a broad audience, but primarily for readers who already have a general understanding of how conventional user research works.

Remote research is user experience research that is conducted through the phone and internet rather than in person. Bolt and Tulathimutte explain how to organize, recruit, and run moderated and unmoderated remote research studies. The book includes a thoughtful and necessary discussion on privacy and consent, methods of analysis, and remote research tools. You can find a similar list on the Remote Research website.

My initial assumption going into this book was that Remote Research would be a cheap way to include a large number of test participants in a study. Interestingly, Bolt and Tulathimutte argue that remote research is not necessarily cheaper. Our UX book club wondered if this assertion was partially a symptom of an agency-only perspective. While this seems like a sensible claim for a commercial researcher billing clients for their time, it seemed to us that remote research would in fact be a cheaper method for an academic researcher trying to get the most out of their grant money, for example. One of our UX Book Club members is currently designing a research study that will require remote research methods. It was interesting to discuss the practical considerations with her as it related to her upcoming project.

The most convincing argument in favor of remote research is that this method is able to intercept test participants while they are performing tasks of interest. By catching users in their natural environment as they are performing a task flow they intended to pursue anyway, remote research allows for more authentic insight into the user experience. Similarly, remote research allows researchers to test participants all over the world, rather than just a new batch of local residents.

This book convinced me that remote research is something every UX professional should be learning about. There's no question that the future of user research will incorporate many of these methods. However, the main issue I have with remote research is part of its largest selling point - What type of user would agree to participate in a study in the middle of a frustrating experience? How many non-tech savvy people will be interested in the added challenge of navigating a remote test? How can you be confident in the integrity of your test sample? Of course, these aren't new issues in user research. Similar things could be said about participants in traditional testing. (Is it an issue that all our participants are free on a Tuesday morning? - for example.) Yet, I want to believe that there is something important about in-person research. That observing facial expressions provides unique insight. That greeting a participant and talking them through a study provides valuable information about how humans interact with technology, in a way that impersonal communication does not. Though, perhaps I'm reading more into in-person user research than I should be.

For more information on the topic, check out the Bolt | Peters Remote Research website, this 2010 article by Kyle Soucy in UX Matters titled, "Unmoderated Remote Usability Testing: Good or Evil?" and Soucy's 2011 IA Summit talk by the same name.

Storytelling for User Experience


Brooks, K., & Quesenbery, W. (2010). Storytelling for User Experience. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 320 pages.

We selected Storytelling for User Experience for discussion at the October UX Book Club CU event. Kevin Brooks is a researcher at Motorola Labs and a professional storyteller. Whitney Quesenbery is a user researcher and usability expert. This book is written for a broad audience and would appeal to both designers and researchers.

It's no secret that I tend to enjoy books published by Rosenfeld Media. They are well-organized, beautifully designed, and generally provide concise and clear treatment on timely topics. While I'm glad I read this book, if I hadn't been leading a book club discussion on the material I probably would not have finished it. In the first nine chapters Brooks & Quesenbery make a compelling case for using stories throughout the user experience design process - from communicating specific requirements to design teams to using stories to craft usability tasks. In the remaining six chapters the authors provide detailed instructions on how to create stories - discussing elements like perspective, plot, and delivery. Embedded within the main text are stories and anecdotes from the authors and other UX professionals. While some of the information contained in the later chapters is useful, I expected a book with more detail on how to use stories in user experience research, not a primer on basic story structure. I think this book could have benefited from stronger editing and could have 150 pages shorter.

Search Analytics for Your Site


Rosenfeld, L. (2011). Search Analytics for Your Site. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 224 pages.

We selected Search Analytics for Your Site for discussion at the first UX Book Club CU event in September. This book by Louis Rosenfeld, co-author of Information Architecture and founder of Rosenfeld Media, will appeal to anyone that works with a searchable website or intranet. Rosenfeld persuasively argues that organizations are sitting on mountains of useful data in search logs, yet few are analyzing this valuable source of information. Search log data can be used to better understand who your users are. This data comes directly from users, highlights user expectations for your site, and best of all describes user activity in the their own words. The book provides a clear and concise introduction to search analytics along with recommendations for interpreting this data to improve your site. Rosenfeld also provides an informative introduction on how to retrieve and understand search logs. This book is a quick read and is packed with useful information. I highly recommend it to anyone working with searchable websites.



Do you live, work, or study in the Champaign-Urbana area? Do you have an interest in user experience, information architecture, user interfaces, or a related field?

Join us for monthly UX Book Club discussions and the opportunity to interact with students and professionals looking to share their passion and knowledge of UX, IA, UI.

Find us on Meetup!

Card Sorting


Spencer, D. (2009). Card sorting: Designing usable categories. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 162 pages.

Spencer is a freelance information architect and interaction designer with extensive experience. This book is written for a general audience, but it will be of primary value for professionals learning how to conduct or improve card sorts. It is one of the only book-length resources available to focus on this subject. This book is primarily about card sorting but addresses the over-arching issue of how to design usable categories of information that other people will have to use and understand. Spencer begins with a clear explanation of what card sorting is, how it may or may not be the best option for the reader, and a short treatment of issues in categorization. The bulk of this book walks the reader through a detailed work-flow of how to think about, set-up, and administer a card sort.  It also includes several case studies and references to additional web content. Spencer is extremely knowledgeable and it is valuable to gain insight into her research process. The most exciting element of this book can be found in the final two chapters, which focus on how to analyze the card sorting data. The book provides a brief overview of various statistical methods and focuses on the three that Spencer uses the most often: k-means cluster analysis, hierarchical cluster analysis, and multidimensional scaling. This is a fantastic book useful for anyone interested in running a card sort. It provides very current, expert, and unique information.



Warfel, T. Z. (2009). Prototyping: A practitioner's guide. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 197 pages.

Warfel is a principal designer at messagefirst in Philadelphia with extensive experience in design research and usability. This book aims to be a concise manual on prototyping for user experience designers. It is written for a general audience, but it will be of primary value for those interested in or already working in the user experience field.  Warfel argues that prototyping is an important step in the design process because it “simulates multiple states” of the final product. The book begins by describing the theoretical framework of prototyping in a web-based environment and includes tips and best-practices for various types of prototyping work.  The middle of the book is dedicated to specific methods of prototyping, including pros and cons of different methods and detailed information on various types of prototyping software. Due to its recent publication date, new practitioners might find this information particularly useful. The last part of this book addresses how to test completed prototypes.  This is a concise and well-written book that will be useful for any professional interested in improving their user experience design.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web


Morville, P., & Rosenfeld, L. (2007). Information architecture for the World Wide Web. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly. 528 pages.

Morville and Rosenfeld are credited with founding the field of information architecture through their work with Argus Associates and both continue to be highly regarded and engaged practitioners in the field. Morville is currently the founder and president of Semantic Studios, an information architecture, user experience, and findability firm. He is also a faculty member at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. Rosenfeld is the founder and principle of Louis Rosenfeld, LLC, an information architecture consultancy firm. Both Morville and Rosenfeld have backgrounds in information science and are co-founders of the Information Architecture Institute. Now in its third edition, “the polar bear book” is the quintessential manual on information architecture. This book is intended for a wide audience including both new and experienced information architects. This is the most comprehensive book on the information architecture field I have found in my research. The book covers a vast amount of information including: Defining information architecture, practicing information architecture, user needs and behaviors, the anatomy of information architecture, organization systems, labeling, navigation, search, thesauri, controlled vocabularies, metadata, research, implementation strategy, design and documentation, as well as practical advice for practitioners on education and ethics, making the case for information architecture in your organization, and two exhaustive case studies. The book is full of references to other information sources for further exploration. This is, without question, the best starting point for anyone with a serious interest in learning about information architecture. Much of the content covered in shorter books like The Elements of User Experience or Content Strategy for the Web is covered here and the rich context that the other content provides is worth the extra time investment. Of particular note, Morville and Rosenfeld do an excellent job of connecting information architecture to the common language of the library and information science field. Additionally, they offer persuasive arguments throughout the book for pursuing good information architecture that will be useful to any practitioner who needs to convey the value of this work to their organization.

Organising Knowledge


Lambe, P. (2007). Organising knowledge: Taxonomies, knowledge and organisational effectiveness. Oxford: Chandos. 275 pages.

Lambe is a co-founder and the principal consultant of Straits Knowledge, a Singapore-based knowledge and information management firm. He has a background in information science. This book is written for a semi-technical audience of information professionals. The first few chapters offer an expertly written overview of taxonomies with clear definitions and examples of various types of taxonomies and their uses. The middle of the book takes a more theoretical approach to taxonomies and how they relate to the knowledge management field. The last portion of the book returns to practical and well-written information on implementing a taxonomy project with case study examples. There are few exhaustive, academic introductions to taxonomies and Lambe provides the best that I have found in my research. His clear writing style makes it easy to make connections among the content that he presents. Though many of the middle chapters seem to primarily function as an advertisement for Lambe’s consulting business, the majority of the pages are packed with highly useful and current information on the field of taxonomy.

The Accidental Taxonomist


Hedden, H. (2010). The accidental taxonomist. Medford, N.J: Information Today. 472 pages.

Hedden is an information management professional and lecturer at Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science.  She currently works as a senior analyst and taxonomy consultant for the Project Performance Corporation.  Previously, Hedden worked in controlled vocabulary and indexing with Gale Cengage. This book offers an organized overview of taxonomy work appropriate for a general audience, but of primary interest to a new taxonomist. Patrick Lambe wrote the forward to this book and he aptly describes Hedden’s effort as one that focuses on the practitioner rather than on the enterprise. This book does a nice job of defining taxonomy related terms. The most valuable feature is Hedden’s clear and concise descriptions of taxonomic relationships (e.g. hierarchical and associative). Due to its recent publication date, the descriptions of current software for taxonomy creation and management will be of interested to new taxonomists. This is a useful book for practitioners who need to quickly learn what they need to do as a taxonomist rather than an individual interested in learning about the theory behind taxonomy development.

Content Strategy for the Web


Halvorson, K. (2010). Content strategy for the Web. Berkeley, CA: New Riders. 192 pages.

Halvorson is the founder and CEO of Brain Traffic, a Minneapolis based content strategy and web writing firm. This book provides an overview of content strategy for professionals interested in improving their organizations’ website. This book begins by making the case for good content and provides general maxims on how to achieve this (like, “less is more”).  Halvorson lays out a workflow for assessing, overhauling, and maintaining web content. The steps to this ongoing process include: Audit, analysis, strategy, project workflow, writing, delivery, measurement, and maintenance. Halvorson believes it is essential to have one person in charge of managing web content. While useful in theory, it is unclear how this might be practical for many organizations. This book offers little new insight, but it does provide a good framework for professionals that may be overwhelmed with a content overhaul project or that will be designing an original content strategy. Professionals working with messy office politics related to web content would be well-served to use this guide as backup if their strategy is challenged, including following her tips on setting up a clear process so that content is less likely to be undermined in the future.

The Elements of User Experience


Garrett, J. J. (2003). The elements of user experience: User-centered design for the web. New York: American Institute of Graphic Arts. 208 pages.

Garrett is a user experience designer and is the president and co-founders of Adaptive Path.  This book provides an effective introductory overview of user experience design for a general audience, but it would be particularly useful for new professionals and hiring managers.  Garrett anchors user experience design to five inter-related elements that provide a conceptual framework for talking about user experience, problems that user experience projects often encounter, and various methods of solving those problems. These elements are: Strategy (site objectives and user needs), scope (functional specifications and content requirements), structure (interaction design and information architecture), skeleton (interface design, navigation design, and information design), and surface (visual design).  Though the organization of this book centers on Garrett’s “five elements,” the content is applicable to the user experience field at-large and focuses on meeting business goals while also advocating for user needs. This book provides a good overview of the user experience field and a helpful guide for new professionals planning their first major projects. Readers seeking in-depth or theoretical information will not find it here.

Reading List

My current reading list follows. My goal is to work through at least seven of these books, as well as a number of journal articles and blog posts. If you have an opinion what I should or should not include, please feel free to share your feedback in the comment section.

Effective UI: The Art of Building Great User Experience in SoftwareJonathan Anderson, John McRee, Robb Wilson - 2010

Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and PlanningDan Brown - 2010

The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and BeyondJesse James Garrett - 2010

Content Strategy for the WebKristina Halvorson - 2009

Designing Web NavigationJames Kalbach - 2007

Don't make me think!: a common sense approach to web usabilitySteve Krug – 2006

Observing the User Experience Mike Kuniavsky - 2003

Organising knowledge: taxonomies, knowledge and organisational effectivenessPatrick Lambe - 2007

Information architecture for the World Wide WebPeter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld  –  2006

Card Sorting: Designing Usable Categories Donner Spencer - 2009

Designing InterfacesJenifer Tidwell - 2010

Measuring the user experienceThomas Tullis, William Albert – 2008

A Project Guide to UX Design Russ Unger, Carolyn Chandler - 2009

Prototyping: A Practioner’s Guide Todd Zaki Warfel - 2009

Information Architecture & Usability

Hello! My name is Gemma Petrie and I recently completed my first year at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I have a background in nonprofit development and professional experience in web site architecture, writing and editing, grant writing, content management, social media, photography, and event planning. I've always had an obsessive interest in both personal and professional information organization, but until I began graduate school, it was not apparent to me that I could integrate many of my other skills into this work. In fact, you could say I had a fairly narrow view of where an advanced degree in Library and Information Science would eventually take me.

This spring, I had the opportunity to work with the  Sears Holdings Corporation Taxonomy &User Experience Department as a practicum student. I was involved in a large-scale usability test for the Sears.com Jewelry Department and gained hands-on experience in customer demographic evaluation, screener development, card sort testing, survey design, working with test participants, evaluating test data, and creating test reports.

My coursework in library and information science is providing me with a strong understanding of taxonomy development, information seeking behavior, and resource discovery. This summer, I am excited to have the opportunity to focus on my professional interests in information architecture and usability research through an independent study. I'll be working with Jenny Emanuel, the Digital Resources and Reference Librarian at the University of Illinois Library. She has extensive experience in usability and information architecture and she has already proven to be a wonderful resource and adviser.

Over the next three months, I will be using this web site to track my research progress as I become acquainted with some of the fundamental publications in these fields. I'll be sharing my thoughts, and probably a bit of my naiveté. I look forward to feedback, recommendations, and conversations with readers who find this web site.