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22 off-topic books all user researchers should read

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Ethos

I recently joined GDS and was excited to discover that my first big user research team meeting would include a subject I really love: Books.

User researchers at GDS make a point of reading up on the subjects of research methods, user experience and design, as you might expect. But any good practitioner knows that there’s more to our practice. Topics like psychology, business, communication and science play an important role in the work we do.

So when the GDS user research community got together in January, we shared recommendations for books that aren’t about UX, but that all user researchers should read nonetheless.

We chose 22 books in total, covering both fiction and nonfiction, new and old reads. All of them can inform our user research practice in interesting and unexpected ways.

Understanding human behaviour

Neurotribes by Steve Silberman (proposed by Louise Petre) challenges preconceptions about what “normal” is.

Irrationality: The Enemy Within by Stuart Sutherland (proposed by John Waterworth) shows the ways we are intrinsically irrational, and how that’s an essential part of our lives.

The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene (proposed by Natalie Baron) breaks down behaviour patterns and encourages the reader to challenge assumptions.

Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential by Carol Dweck (proposed by Katie Valentine) explains how someone’s mindset affects everything they do.

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis (proposed by Will Myddelton) touches on cognitive biases and heuristics.

This Naked Mind by Annie Grace (proposed by Nick Breeze) offers insight into the psychological and cultural factors that affect our behaviour.

Applying best practices

Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz (proposed by Kieron Kirkland) is one of the the best resources for understanding measurement for digital products.

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed (proposed by Chris Marshall) demonstrates why we need to embrace and learn from failure if we want to achieve better outcomes.

Business for Punks by James Watt (proposed by David McCrae) discusses the importance of building a culture that matches your vision.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo (proposed by Leina Elgohari) explains how tidying up can change your life.

On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee (proposed by Jacob Bonwitt) shows how having an evidence based holistic view can transform the way you eat and work.

Pandaemonium by Humphrey Jennings (proposed by Rob Le Quesne) offers insight in how we communicate research to the wider world.

Lying by Sam Harris (proposed by Katie Taylor) emphasises the importance of using powerful and honest language.

Putting people first

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance (proposed by Michael Holland) emphasises the importance of the end user in everything we do.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (proposed by Martha Edwards) offers lessons in compassion and courage.

First steps in Counselling by Pete Saunders (proposed by Angela Collins-Rees) explains how using person-centred counselling principles can help you build empathy, develop active listening skills and keep conversations focussed.

The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS by Elizabeth Pisani (proposed by Polly Gannaway) offers insight on why public health policy isn’t working in developing countries.

Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz (proposed by Ned Thistlethwaite) shows the importance of breaking down assumptions.

Inspiring fiction

Liking What You See: A Documentary by Ted Chiang (proposed by Emma Maxim) gives the reader a chance to consider a contentious issue from multiple perspectives and reminds us to empathise with others.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (proposed by Imeh Akpan) shows the impact contextual research can have on future technologies.

The Fugitives by Panos Karnezis (proposed by a team member) examines the role of outsiders and how they can influence new ways of thinking.

Euphoria by Lily King (proposed by Jeremy Wyatt) explores both the joys and the challenges of being immersed in your work.

What have we missed?

Do you have any ‘off-topic’ book recommendations for user researchers? Which books have helped you the most in your practice? Let us know in the comments section.

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  1. Comment by Joe Lanman posted on

    My favourite is The Invisible Gorilla by Daniel Simons and
    Christopher Chabris, about how common cognitive mistakes are. In fact it's hard to see them as mistakes but just common human nature.

  2. Comment by Elizabeth Kessick posted on

    Great list! Lots to read. I'd also like to nominate Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It's a fascinating take on how humans came to be who we are, with a focus on the development of language, data, religion and the state.

  3. Comment by Dean Chaffer posted on

    My tips for books are

    Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Khaneman (the undoing project is based on this.)

    Steve Jobs Walter Isaacson

    The Lean Startup by Eric Reis

    The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick (about questioning customers.)

  4. Comment by Mitchell Wakefield posted on

    Living With Complexity by Don Norman

    About Face by Alan Cooper

    Ethnography by Martyn Hammersley

    Mapping Experiences by James Kalbach

    • Replies to Mitchell Wakefield>

      Comment by John Waterworth posted on

      Hi Mitchell, we love all those books. But we excluded design/research/ux/hci books to see what other books we were reading and wanted to share.

  5. Comment by Anthony Green posted on

    Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System - Alicia Juarrero

  6. Comment by Edmund Lee posted on

    Quiet, the power of the introvert in a world that can't stop talking by Susan Cain would be my suggestion.

  7. Comment by Tingting Zhao posted on

    Liminal Thinking: Create the Change You Want by Changing the Way You Think by Dave Gray

  8. Comment by Andrew Muir Wood posted on

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

  9. Comment by Dominic posted on

    For storyboarding and conveying narrative:
    - Comics and Sequential Art, by Will Eisner
    - Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud

  10. Comment by Michael posted on

    Terrific list, thank you.
    I would like to nominate Influence: the psychology of persuasion, by Robert Cialdini.

  11. Comment by Alison Macleod posted on

    Looks like some good reading! I would propose:

    The Checklist, Atul Gawande (or indeed anything by Atul Gawande, who writes about medical practice and malpractice)
    Pieces of Light, Charles Fernyhough (an absorbing, beautifully-written take on the psychology of memory)
    Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond (the classic polemic on modern genetics and anthropology)

  12. Comment by Olga posted on

    Thanks for the great list! 'Irrationality: The Enemy Within' is already on its way 🙂

    A book I really enjoyed: 'Through the Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages' by Guy Deutscher (Even though it's quite controversial, it makes you think about the impact of language)

  13. Comment by Veronica Erb posted on

    What a fun list! Martha, are you on Twitter? I'd love to @ you when I mention it.

  14. Comment by Aziz Hamra posted on

    Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely is a good read about how we make the same misled choices over and over again.