Everyday Information Architecture by Lisa Maria Martin

I’m a three-time failure at reading the Polar Bear Book.

I’m also a Principal Information Architect with 10 years’ experience.

I’m not telling you not to read the Polar Bear Book. I am telling you that if you want a short, direct, and well-structured book on what Information Architecture is, how to get started practicing it, and real-world examples of prior work, Everyday Information Architecture by Lisa Maria Martin is the book to start with.

It is the IA cohort to The Elements of Content Strategy And y’all know I’m a big fan of that book.

I started this book while sitting in a hospital room watching my husband sleep. It’s readable even under extreme stress. The book starts with the LATCH system of organization, which I had learned… but when I’d learned it through the quasi-apprenticeship of a mutual fund company’s design department, it didn’t have a name. So here I was, middle of the afternoon, snoring and beeping filling the room, and ten-year veteran of information architecture, learning things I didn’t know on page 5.

Your milage may vary (YMMV), especially if you’re one of those younger folks for whom information architecture degrees were available. (We had library science but I was too short-sighted to major in it.)

The book is vibrant and well-structured enough that I could put it down for a week at a time if I needed to and pick it up again and keep reading and understand where I’d left off. (Also, YMMV.)

Plus, this book isn’t afraid to use Star Trek, Ravelry, cooking, self-deprecating spreadsheet jokes, and colorful, useful examples.

To sum up, this book is going on the list of books anyone who asks me how to start a career in UX, along with Don’t Make Me Think, How to Make Sense of Any Mess and Universal Principles of Design.

Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski

Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski (Also available from the publisher, A Book Apart, possibly for cheaper depending on your edition. Support your small press publishers!)

I’ll admit I probably should have read this book back when Luke Wroblewski wrote it, but I didn’t think I needed to. I had attended one of the An Event Apart conferences where Luke presented the ideas the book is based on, and I followed him pretty closely on Twitter at the time, so most of what is in the book I’d learned through other means.

But it’s been seven years, and I’m introducing a new company to mobile design for the first time, so it was time for me to take a refresher course. This book was perfect for that task.

The goal of this book is to teach you what it means to design a website or application first from the mindset of a mobile design. It came about because, before mobile, we designed everything for the computer desktop, and after mobile, that sucked pretty badly all things considered. If you don’t remember the era of m-dot sites and dumbphone sites and total lack of iPhones, well, I envy you a little. (Also, go ask an old person about the Netscape browser wars.)

The book promises no code and to keep things short; it delivers on both promises. At the same time it delivers explanations of why mobile is important, how to think about mobile use cases beyond the idea that everyone is doing things “on the go” (they’re not), and a light but effective introduction to how to think about design elements such as touch areas, hover states, form elements, and page layout in a mobile context.

I hope that A Book Apart commissions a second edition, because the first edition is pushing close to 10 years old, and a lot has changed in the last 10 years. I’m not honestly confident that it will make as much sense to someone who just joined the industry as it does those of us who were hand-coding our Geocities sites back in the late 1990s. But regardless of the slightly dated statistics (and screenshots) and the assumption that none of us know what this “mobile” thing is, the theories and mindsets introduced are sound. It’s still a valuable read all these years later.

Update December 2018: The paperback is sold out at A Book Apart and I’m hoping that means there’s a new edition coming out! In the meantime, the e-book is a good deal.

Designing for Emotion by Aaron Walter

Designing for Emotion by Aaron Walter is definitely less expensive if you buy it from the publisher, A Book Apart. As of this writing it’s $41 on Amazon and you can get two of them from ABA for that price. Support small press publishers!

I put off reading this book for a long time because I thought it was about designing for emotional situations. Shows what kind of reading comprehension I’ve got! It’s actually about designing a product or interface to resonate with its own emotion – giving your product a personality and voice and tone.

As a UX Designer, it invites me to think of different interactions that my designs can have with our users – from silly and playful to sincere and human. It talks about techniques for researching both the design persona one starts with and the usability tests one uses when the design persona has been drafted.

Like most of the A Book Apart books, this book isn’t designed to be the be-all-end-all on the topic, but rather an introduction to it, which will give you enough information to move more deeply into designing for emotion either by experimenting or by using the resources listed at the end of the book.

I would’ve liked a few more examples of what can go wrong, but otherwise, it was a well put-together book and one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

CSS 3 For Web Designers by Dan Cederholm

CSS 3 For Web Designers by Dan Cederholm (also available from the publisher, A Book Apart, possibly cheaper. Support your small press publishers!)

This book actually spurred me to update my entire A Book Apart library this year. I’d read it when the original edition came out in… 2011? Something like that. And at the time it was a cutting-edge book covering all the things we hoped would be in supported in browsers sometime this decade.

So when I did a reread earlier this year, I discovered that not only were most-to-all of those things implemented, but a whole bunch of new things that Dan could only dream of in 2011 had also crossed the finish line. So, upgrade central.

The new edition covers everything through about 2016 I believe, which considering how quickly CSS is moving, means it doesn’t quite get to CSS Grid… on the other hand, A Book Apart has a book for CSS Grid now too.

Meanwhile, if you want to learn or refresh on all the goodies in CSS 3 this is an excellent place to get the not-flashy basics down, and understand what may yet be to come.

The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane

The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane (also available from the publisher, A Book Apart, possibly cheaper. Support your small press publishers!)

Note: at the time of this writing, the paperback has been out of print for quite a while. I’m hoping that’s because they’re doing a second edition because this is a fantastic book. Meanwhile the e-book version is still available through A Book Apart through the links above.

As an Information Architect, I’ve dabbled in the more IA-like parts of Content Strategy for a number of years… but without necessarily knowing that’s what I was doing. CS has been a thing that the Documentation/Writing/Marketing teams did, not something that directly affected me. On the other hand, when I’ve worked with Content Strategists, we’ve produced better projects than I could dream of doing on my own.

Erin Kissane’s book, as a primer on content strategy, will provide you with a short history of the field, the kinds of skillsets that are adjacent to Content Strategy, the kinds of work that Content Strategists do, and the kinds of pitfalls to look out for as a Content Strategist.

If you know nothing about Content Strategy, pay close attention to the Design Principles provided at the beginning of the book. Strategists I’ve worked with who align to those principles have been highly successful; strategists who work off of “please the client” principles instead have caused nothing but disruption for otherwise on-track work.

For me, one of the biggest takeaways is that I need to learn more about editorial work if I want to pitch in as a content strategist as needed. Your takeaways will likely be different, because you likely don’t have my work history ;)