What You Will Find on a Design Researcher's Bookshelf

Sometime around 1996 I found myself standing in the upstairs library of a drafty, suburban Chicago Victorian owned by a mentor, marveling at what seemed to be a neurotic collection of books.
Jon Freach

He had volumes on cooking, social science, biology, business, systems engineering, anthropology, architecture, comics, painting, science fiction, classic literature, graphic design, and a batch of academic papers, among others. When we went book shopping together, I often left with a stack in hand similar to what was on his shelves, despite other intentions. “You need these,” he would grumble, leaving little room for debate. Years later, my own library has many of the same lively characteristics. While it was a bit confusing at the time, I’ve noticed a pattern over 20 years. This mixed bag is what designers and design researchers, in particular, read. It takes the form of a curated blend of material that broadens your perspective and forces combinations that may not be an obvious fit, but inspire fresh thinking. Here’s what you’ll find on our design research bookshelf.

What is Design Research?

A Designer’s Research Manual Jennifer Visocky O’Grady, 2009 This is an overview of the methods and approaches for design research. It provides a comprehensive manual for designers on what design research is and how to apply it to design.

Co Design Liz Sanders, 2008 This book analyzes the evolution in design research from a user-centred approach to co-designing, and it argues that this shift changes the roles of the designer and researcher.

Contextual Design 1997 This is a practical, hands-on guide for anyone trying to design systems that reflect the way customers want to do their work.

Design Anthropology Allison Clarke, 2010 Design Anthropology brings together a unique range of cutting-edge design theorists and social scientists to explore the changing object culture of the 21st century.

Design Research Brenda Laurel, 2003 Touches on qualitative and quantitative methods, design improvisation, trend research, formal and structural research practice, tactical discussions of design research process, and case studies drawn from a variety of areas.

Design Research Now Ralf More, 2007 The authors of the essays — all leading international design scholars — stake out positions on the most important issues of design research right now in this series of essays and case studies.

Doing Anthropology Patricia L. Sunderland, 2010 A guide to the theory and practice of conducting ethnographic research in consumer environments.

Ethnography Hammersley, Atkinson, 2007 This introduction to ethnography offers a systematic introduction to ethnographic principles and practice. New material covers the use of visual and virtual research methods, hypermedia software, and the issue of ethical regulation.

Ethnography of New Bikers John Schouten, James McAlexander, 1995 This article introduces consumption patterns as category to better understand people and the manner in which they organize their lives.

The Interpretation of Cultures Clifford Geertz, 1973 A classical text, this book helped define what anthropology is ultimately about. It serves as a great introduction.

Stumbling on Happiness Dan Gillbert, 2006 A great read that perfectly supports the Ford quote, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

The Ten Faces of Innovation Tom Kelley, Jonathan Littman, 2005 A manifesto on archetypes that contribute to innovation. It serves as a reminder to why design research is so important to innovation.

Thoughtless Acts Jane Fulton Suri, 2005 A collection of humorous stories from field research that illustrate how user observation can inspire design. The book demonstrates a common-sense approach that can inspire anyone. What to Do With A Human Factor Rick Robinson, 1993 A short, informative manifesto on the importance of user centered design.

Why We Buy Paco Underhill, 2007 A witty, eye-opening testament to the power of in situ research, “Why We Buy” is an engaging account of hours observing retail environments and how insights gained from research influence the evolution of retail.

frog in field frog, 2011 A collection of thoughts, case studies, and insights from frogs in the field. This publication serves as a manifesto of “how we roll” in the field.

Research Planning and Method Selection

Design Research Through Practice Ilpo Koskinen, 2011 “Design Research Through Practice” takes advanced design practice as its starting point, but enriches it to build a design process than can respond to both academic and practical problems.

Initiating Ethnographic Research Stephen L. Schensul, 2012 This book explores the many critical issues that ethnographic researchers need to consider before going to the field and in the earliest stages of the field experience.

Designing and Conducting Margaret LeCompte, 2010 Written in practical, straightforward language, this new edition defines the qualitative research enterprise, links research strategies to theoretical paradigms, and outlines the ways in which an ethnographic study can be designed.

Specialized Ethnographic Methods Jean J. Schensul, Margaret D. LeCompte, 2012 With individually authored chapters, this book provided cutting-edge approaches to ethnography and includes multimedia strategies for the collection of ethnographic data.

Universal Methods of Design Bruce Hanington, 2012 You will find a detailed mixed methods guide to planning and conducting efficient, field research. The book compiles and summarizes 100 of the most widely applicable and effective methods of design.

Card Sorting Donna Spencer, 2009 Card sorting is an effective, easy-to-use method for understanding how people think about content and categories. The book shows how to plan and run a card sort, analyze the results, and apply the outcomes to your projects.

Remote Research Nate Bolt, Tony Tulathimutte, 2010 Guide to designing and conducting remote research studies, with little more than a phone and a laptop. Includes lots of little tips, tricks to getting the most out of this fast inexpensive method.

Interviewing People

The Ethnographic Interview James P. Spradley, 1979 Step-by-step interview techniques commonly used to research ethnography and culture. The text also describes how to analyze the data and write an ethnography.

How to hack your Body Language Design Staff, 2013 Insightful guide to reading body language and managing the nonverbal aspects of an interview.

Human Centered Design IDEO, 2011 An accessible toolkit for conducting in-field research and getting the most out of time with participants.

Observing the User Experience Mike Kuniavsky, 2003 A practical approach to UX research to help designers and developers see through the eyes of their users. Chapters six to eight give advise and clear tips for recruiting participants and conducting interviews.

Data Capture in the Field

Essential Ethnographic Methods Jean J. Schensul, 2012 Introduces the fundamental, face-to-face data collection tools that ethnographers and other qualitative researchers use on a regular basis. It provides tools to answer questions about setting, participants, activities, behavior, and more.

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes Robert M. Emerson, 2011 A series of guidelines, suggestions, and practical advice for creating useful fieldnotes in a variety of settings, demystifying a process that is often assumed to be intuitive and impossible to teach.

Visual Anthropology John Collier, 1987 Classic, clear, and straightforward guide to visually documenting research most effectively.

Visual Interventions Sarah Pink, 2009 Through a series of case studies based on applied visual anthropological work in a range of contexts, this book examines the range contexts in which applied visual anthropology is engaged, and the methodological issues it raises.

Analysis and Synthesis

101 Design Methods Vijay Kumar, 2012 The first step-by-step guidebook for successful innovation planning, 101 Design Methods is a practical set of collaborative tools and methods for driving innovation in design through design research.

Abductive Thinking and Sensemaking Jon Kolko, 2010 Very insightful article on the process of synthesizing information for design.

Analysis and Interpretation of Ethnographic Data LeCompte, 2011 Treating analysis as both a mechanical and a cognitive process, this book describes approaches for interpretation of ethnographic data and illustrates how the meaning of results can be communicated.

Exposing the Magic of Design Jon Kolko, 2011 This book presents a set of actionable, learnable methods for design synthesis that can be applied to any design problem.

Mental Models Indi Young, 2008 Provides detailed guidance for creating mental models and frameworks for how users relate to products.

Communicating and Translating Insights

Storytelling for User Experience Whitney Quesenbery, Kevin Brooks, 2010 In this book, Quesenbery and Brooks teach you how to craft and tell your own unique stories to communicate, explore, persuade, and inspire.

Making Sense of Making Sense Rick E. Robinson, 2010 Robinson presents a method to analyze perceptions based on a combination of individual, social, and cultural frameworks, and then gives tools to modularize features within those frameworks.

The Persona Lifecycle John Pruitt, 2006 Describes how to create effective personas and using those personas to design products that people love; offers detailed techniques and tools related to planning, creating, and communicating.

Interactive Visualization: Insight through Inquiry Bill Ferster and Ben Shneiderman, 2012 Draws on many disciplines and covers basic principles of inquiry, data structuring, information design, statistics, cognitive theory, usability, working with spreadsheets, and storytelling.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information Edward R. Tufte, 2001 Contains 250 illustrations of the best (and a few of the worst) statistical charts, graphics, and tables, with a detailed analysis of how to display quantitative data for precise, quick, effective analysis.

Envisioning Information Edward R. Tufte, 1990 Beautifully presents the classics of information design, combined with close analysis of design strategies that produce excellence in information displays.

Additional Reading

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men Walker Evans, James Agee, 2001 A collaboration between a writer and photographer exploring sharecroppers in the south during the Great Depression. A great read for anyone interested in ethnographic research.

Educational Psychology Anita Woolfolk, 2006 The text provides solid, up-to-date coverage of the foundational areas within educational psychology: learning, development, motivation, teaching, and assessment, combined with intelligent examination of emerging trends in the field.

A Primer in Positive Psychology Christopher Peterson, 2006 This selection covers major topics that include positive experiences such as pleasure and flow, positive traits such as character strengths, values, and talents, and the social institutions that enable these subjects.