The Top 10 Psychology Books You Should Read

NOTE: I’ve updated this list. Go to this blog post for the newest list of Best Psychology Books.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about my favorite psychology and usability books. Since then there have been more great psychology books to hit the bookstores, so I thought it was time to update the list.I’ve also decided to split the list, so this one is just psychology books. I’ll do another post on UX and Design books.

I do have an Amazon affiliate account, so I’ve included a link to each book after the description if you are interested in purchasing or just getting more info.

1. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, 2011 – If you want to understand how people think and how and why they react, then this is a must read. Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel prize winner in Economics, but this book is all about how people think and react. It’s very well written, but I will warn you, it’s not an easy read. Plan to spend time reading this one. But it will be worth it for the understanding you get into why we do the things we do.

 

2. Redirect, by Timothy Wilson, 2011 – This is the second book of Timothy Wilson’s on my list. If you want to know how to make permanent and lasting change in your behavior, or the behavior of someone you know, then this is the book to read. Wilson covers the recent and often very surprising research on interventions and therapies that result in people actually changing. Permanent behavior change is hard to come by. This book tells you what does and doesn’t work based on research.


 

3. Drive, by Daniel Pink, 2011 – What really motivates people? This book covers the research on human motivation in the last few years. It’s well written, and an easy read, and will explode some long-standing beliefs.

 

4, The Invisible Gorilla by Chabris and Simon, 2011 – Chabris and Simon explain their research that shows how what we think we are seeing and experiencing is not really what’s out there. A fun book about how we deceive ourselves.


 

5. Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy Wilson, 2004 – This is the book that actually got me started seriously on the topic of the unconscious. I had read Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) and although that was an interesting book, I wanted more depth and detail. Gladwell referenced Wilson’s book so I started reading it and light bulbs went off for me. This one is a bit more academic and psychological, especially the first few chapters, but all in all, a great book with lots of interesting insights and strong research.

 

6. Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert, 2007 – This is a fun read. I don’t think it’s really about Happiness, so I don’t totally understand the title. To me it’s mainly about memory of the past, and anticipation about the future, and the research on how accurate or inaccurate we are about both past and future. It’s full of fascinating research, but is written in a very readable way.

 

7. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini, 2006 – This is a newer version of the original book that came out several years ago. This book is the “granddaddy” of all the other books on the topic of persuasion. A very worthwhile read. Interesting too, because at the time he originally wrote this book each chapter had a section on how to RESIST the persuasive techniques. He wasn’t a proponent of using them; he wanted you to know about them so you wouldn’t fall prey. He did a turn-around on that mindset for his later work and writing.

 

8. Brain Rules: 12 Principles For Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, by John Medina, 2009 – This is a somewhat misleading book. From the way it’s described you would think it’s a very practical book, for everyone, not academic or research oriented. But actually it’s quite a treasure trove of research, which I think is a good thing. He has this weird section at the end of each chapter where he tells you how to apply the principles in that chapter to your everyday life. I think those sections are the weakest, actually. But the material in the body of each chapter is solid, well referenced and well written. If you want a basic book that explains some basic brain functioning I would definitely read this book.

 

9. Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely, 2008. There is some great content in this book, but I have a basic disagreement with the premise. If you have read my blog posts or books you know that I believe that it is not that our decision-making or mental processing is “irrational”.  It’s unconscious, but that doesn’t mean irrational or bad. Our unconscious mental processing works most of the time. Ariely’s view is that we are irrational and irrational means bad, and that we should learn how to counteract our mental processing. I don’t agree. But the research in the book is still good (it’s his interpretations and recommendations I take issue with).


 

10. And please forgive me if I put one of my books on the list! — my latest: How To Get People To Do Stuff

Do you agree with my list? Do you have some favorites that I’ve failed to mention?

If you like psychology check out the YouTube channel Brain Signals. It’s a collaboration between the Brain Lady and animator Truscribe.

 

4 Ways Personas & Scenarios Result In Great Design

 

Drawing of stick people connected by dotted lines

I find myself these days working on two streams: on the one hand I’m working on my next new project (which is another book called “How To Get People To Do Stuff”) and on the other hand I’m recording a series of online training videos that cover the basics of doing usable design. Sometimes I think we get all caught up in new stuff and new ideas (Pinterest! apps!) and forget about the great stuff we’ve all worked hard to figure out… like personas and scenarios!

Developing and documenting personas and scenarios as part of a design process is not new. It’s been around for at least 30 years, and maybe more. But I was recently reminded of how powerful they both are in ensuring you do great design.

So in case you have forgotten WHY using personas and scenarios on your project results in great design, or in case you never knew, or in case you know but sometimes have a hard time explaining it to others, you can use this blog post, and the short video that goes with it, to remind yourself and/or explain to others.

I took excerpts from my latest online video course, “How to Develop & Document Personas & Scenarios”. to make a short video on the 4 Ways Personas & Scenarios Result In Great Design:

 

Here’s a summary of the video.

4 Ways Personas & Scenarios Result in Great Design

 1. Bring assumptions into the open — When you do design there is always a moment (actually dozens or hundreds of moments) when you are deciding something. For example, should I put the button here? What should I call this? Should I separate this into 2 pages? Whether you are aware of it or not, at that moment you are making that decision, you have many assumptions operating about your audience, who they are, what they are trying to accomplish, etc. Some of those assumptions are based on your knowledge and facts, other assumptions are probably biased, as in, “I think this would be best” (implying your audience will think so too, but that might not be the case, since you are likely not your audience). When you take some time to develop personas and scenarios before design then you are bringing all these assumptions out in the open. You can see if your assumptions are the same as your other team members. You can see if your assumptions can be validated.

2. Ensure you are designing what your audience needs & wants — How can you design what your audience needs and wants if you don’t know what they need and want?! When you go through the process of creating personas and scenarios you are collecting data on what people really need and want, not just what you think they need and want.

3. Design for what is critical & important, not the exception — The process of creating personas and scenarios is the process of deciding “if we can’t design for everyone doing everything then let’s concentrate on the most important users doing the most important things.” You have to identify what’s important, what’s frequent, what’s critical, and what’s an exception. Then when you design you can be sure you are designing for what 80% of the people need/want to do 80% of the time, instead of being distracted too much by exceptions — things that rarely occur or aren’t that important.

4. Communicate clearly — How many times have you left a meeting sure that everyone is all in agreement about the audience and the scenarios for the product you are designing. But if you don’t document those decisions they are easily forgotten, or they change over time. When you create personas and scenarios you have documents that you can use throughout the project to communicate clearly to other team members, as well as stakeholders, what the decisions and design parameters are.

 

What do you think? How do you think personas and scenarios help create great design? Are they used in your organization?

For more on personas & scenarios, you can watch the first couple of lessons of the new course for free.

  

 

A Podcast With Paul Boag — Author of Client Centric Web Design

Picture of Paul Boag
Paul Boag

Picture of Paul Boag

I was sitting in the audience in Newcastle, UK in April 2012, and Paul got up on the stage to talk. About 5 minutes into the talk I was sending him an email asking if he would be willing to do a podcast. That’s how good his talk was.

It may sound obvious that we need to take client needs and wants into account when we do website design, but that’s not all Paul covers in his book Client-Centric Web Design, and that’s not all we talked about during our podcast.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on this link It’s 30 minutes in length. Here’s a sampling of what we talk about:

  • The relationship between client-centric vs. user-centered design
  • How you communicate with the client affects the success of your project — what to do and not do
  • How to manage client expectations
  • Why and how collaboration with the client affects your project
  • Why limiting the number of iterations is a bad idea
  • Why clients get nervous and how to avoid it
  • Why structured feedback is critical, and how to do it
  • Why you should never ask your client “What do you think?”

If you work on web design projects of any kind, I suggest you listen to this podcast!

Here’s more info on Paul’s book, and here is Paul’s website.