Want to be as knowledgeable about development and design as me? Well reading these books is a good start.
Web Design in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference by Jennifer Niederist
Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
This book serves as an introduction to usability on the web. Written in simple language, with lots of illustrations and examples, it is itself a study in usability. At only 185 pages it’s also very short. Basically there’s no excuse not to read this book. If you care at all about usability (and you should), then this should be the first book you pick up. Short, easy to read, full of actionable items. Seriously there’s no excuse for not reading this.
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
A discussion of the design of such mundane objects as light switches and doors, telephones and faucets. These “everyday things” have a lot to teach us about design. We take these things for granted but how frustrating is it when we come across one that’s poorly designed? We’ve all flipped light switches at random wondering what they control at some point in our lives. Topics such as affordances, feedback, and constraints are basic human factors and ergonomics and apply just as much to our virtual products as the physical ones that Norman is studying.
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
I have an older edition of this book before the addition of the chapters on online commerce. I still found it incredibly useful. The goal oriented design of a store draws easy parallels to guiding a user through a website or application. For example one anecdote involves the placement of items on the shelf. Underhill suggested to a drug store owner that he move the trendy cosmetics to a lower shelf and place items typically purchased by older folks on the shelves on the middle shelves where they’re easy to see and reach. This goes contrary to the branding efforts of most stores that try to place trendy popular items in easy view and hide the more mundane stuff. However this store owner eventually conceded and found that the sale of trendy items was unaffected by the move. Meanwhile the sale of those items moved to the middle shelves greatly increased. The younger customers were still able to find and purchase their trendy cosmetics. The older customers were now able to find and easily pick up the items they wanted for purchase. Whereas before they might not see them or decide that it wasn’t worth the effort of stooping over to examine the items for purchase. The parallel to beginner/advanced users and the features of your application is pretty obvious. Go ahead and hide the more advanced and confusing features behind another tab. The users who want them will find them and the users who would be confused by them won’t be scared off by them appearing right away.
Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions by Gary Klein
This book follows research into how high pressure decision makers make their decisions. As you read you’ll meet firefighters, police officers, military officers, and nurses caring for infants in the ICU. These people are faced with decisions that involve peoples lives but their processes are the same as all of us. Understanding the decision making process allows us to anticipate and guide our users through our sites. As a bonus the high stakes decisions described in the book make for interesting reading. Much moreso than a dry text on psychology.