Books for Solo UX Designers
My go-to list of essential design books for solo UX Designers.
When I find myself working as a solo UX Designer, I crave resources that help me save time, enable me to do the most research and testing with the least amount of money, and provide me with insights into working efficiently with non-design teammates. I've found this list of books to be helpful when I'm managing a project alone, working as the only designer on a team, or freelancing, as they've taught me how I can maximize the effectiveness of my work to provide the most value for my team or client.
Just Enough Research
by Erika Hall and Jeffrey Zeldman
As many UX Designers have likely experienced, it can be challenging to advocate for having a solid research foundation on which to build products. For freelance designers or those serving as the only designer at a startup or small company, you may not have access to the right resources and may struggle to find time to conduct UX research.
In her book, Hall provides a guide of her tried-and-true research methods, which can be implemented easily and quickly no matter your timeline or budget, making this a great read for solo UX Designers. You'll learn how to ask the right questions, understand your own biases, discover your competitive advantages, and apply research insights to your product.
"You can optimize everything and still fail, because you have to optimize for the right things. That's where reflection and qualitative approaches come in. By asking why, we can see the opportunity for something better beyond the bounds of the current best." - Erika Hall
Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager
by Kory Kogon, Suzette Blakemore, James Wood
Chances are, as a solo designer, you have to manage your own client work and design process. When working at a startup, you may not have authority over your non-design teammates, but you have an opportunity step in as an unofficial Project Manager. The authors provide tools and actionable advice to help you formalize your management process, whether it be for professional, personal, or volunteer projects. If you prefer to read this book as part of a group or book club, there are chapter reflections and a discussion guide at the end.
"Successful projects are transparent....Information is broadly shared and there’s no guessing, enabling people to make small adjustments that keep the project in alignment. In unsuccessful projects... people are expected to work in silos, keep their heads down, stay focused on their own part of the project, and are discouraged from asking questions.” - Kory Kogon
The User Experience Team of One
by Leah Buley
Buley shares tried and true approaches to design that do more with less, and she provides practical tips for each method that can be used by both newbies to the field or more seasoned designers. She also shares ideas for how to gain insights from each tool and effective ways to express these insights with the rest of the team to gain support for your work. The book is split into two sections; the first focuses on the philosophy of what it means to be a UX team of one and the second serves as a reference guide to putting UX tools into practice. Each chapter comes with templates and examples to help you get started as a lone UX wolf.
"You don't really need permission to be a UX team of one. You can infuse the UX philosophy into work that you're currently doing. You can also find small opportunities to get started." - Leah Buley
by Sarah Richards
I have a particular interest in content design and UX writing, so I really enjoyed this book. However, even if you don't share this interest, you should be strategizing about the content of your designs, especially as a solo UX Designer.
Richards distills her experience with redesigning and simplifying the gov.uk website (which originally combined over 400 individual government websites!) into an easy-to-read, highly digestible resource for anyone who wants to design content that users want - in short, every designer! With this book, you'll learn how users of digital products read and understand content, how to find the right SEO terms for your product, how to write compelling content that users gravitate towards, and how to translate the value of content design for stakeholders.
"Content design is answering a user need in the best possible way for the user to consume it.” - Sarah Richards
Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days
by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz
This book was written by three former designers at Google Ventures, where they created the idea of a 5-day sprint to solve problems using design, prototyping, and testing. Although the concept can be applied to companies of any size (and in any industry), I think it's particularly helpful in a startup environment, where you may be the only designer and things move very quickly. The design process can be messy, but this book provides a structure that helps create value for your company.
“Longer hours don't equal better results. By getting the right people together, structuring the activities, and eliminating distraction, we've found that it's possible to make rapid progress while working a reasonable schedule.” - Jake Knapp
What are some of the books that you've found to be really useful as a solo designer, either from a theoretical perspective or for practical application?