Unless you are designing zoo habitats your end user is probably a human. Understanding how those humans think and what drives them is critical to creating intuitive and successful products. Here are five books I recommend to help you deepen that understanding. Each one left me with a new perspective on how we function and perceive the world.
1. Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things, by David Rose
This book changed my view of technology more than any other book that I can remember. Rose explores four possible technology futures and their implications on society, before settling into a comprehensive look at the emerging Internet of Things. But, it is his exploration of the 6 fundamental human drives that gives the book a spot on this list. From telepathy to immortality, Rose walks through a set of universal human desires rooted deep in our mythology and fantasy. He then turns to how the design of future technology will enable us to fulfill those desires. It’s a fascinating look at what our stories say about our innermost wants and how we can design the future to get there.
2. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, by Susan Weinschenk
Susan Weinschenk nails it with this book. She tackles 100 concepts core to human psychology and perception, and how they apply to design. Things like how people read, how they see, how they remember and how they focus their attention. Each concept is clearly articulated in it’s own concise chapter, complete with practical takeaways. If you only grab one book on this list, this should be it.
3. Metaphors We Live By, By George Lakoff & Mark Johnson
This book takes a deep dive into how metaphor influences our perception of reality. With the core premise being that the way we talk about things shapes the way we think about them. Covering concepts like time as a limited commodity (How do you spend your time?), to arguments as war (He shot down all my points.), as well as why we feel positively toward “up” and negatively toward “down”. Lakoff and Johnson fundamentally changed the way I think about metaphor, language and how we interact as humans.
4. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman, psychologist and Nobel Laureate in Economics, takes an in-depth look at the factors and biases that influence human thought. He lays out two systems of the mind, System 1 and System 2, which represent our “irrational” and “rational” mind respectively, and explores the interplay between the two in determining how we make decisions and process events. Decision making and human motivation (things like “aversion to loss”) are a big focus, and this book delivers a ton of eye-opening observations on both of these topics. The only downside is that it can be a little dense at points.
5. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, by Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein
Nudge is all about decision making, both how we do it and how we can influence it (for the better). It looks at why humans sometimes (or often) make decisions that are not in their best interest and identifies practical approaches to help steer people toward better choices. Thaler and Sunstein do a great job of explaining somewhat complex psychological concepts in clear, concise language with simple examples. While the book doesn’t always go as deep as Thinking, Fast and Slow, it has a number of concepts that overlap, and often describes them in a more simplified and comprehensible way.