There’s a famous quote from poet and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that captures how we humans approach life and legacy: “Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.”
James Brown, that funky Godfather of soul music, held an important contrast: “Thank God for the journey”.
Between the depressing scepticism of Nietzsche and the enduring passion of Brown, there lies some wisdom for how we can approach our vocations.
There isn’t a clear-cut, authoritative approach anywhere that can guarantee a successful career, whether that be in user experience design or any other field.
This is both daunting and exciting; daunting because achieving our dreams is a unique and slippery struggle, but exciting because identifying, planning and thriving in a career can be one of the most meaningful and satisfying things we ever do.
We might begin surmounting the daunting pathway by simply taking pause to mindfully assess our position and set some goals; once we’ve set our goals we can start taking the steps to make them happen.
For example, we might be strategic and deliberate about our next career move, whether it’s that promotion to product manager, moving into a coveted in-house role, or striking out on our own as a freelancer.
There are troves of career advice all over the internet, but sometimes we must wrestle and go a little deeper to find wise and honest help. And that’s where it pays to pick up a book to explore the heart of your strengths and weaknesses and for gaining a more complex understanding of something outside your own experience.
Here are seven of our favourite books we recommend you dive into for the next step in your UX career.
1. The UX Careers Handbook – Cory Lebson
Cory Lebson’s definitive book on UX careers is for newbie and experienced designers alike. Industry-leading UX professionals share how they got their start and how they evolved their careers over time. Across four sections, the book covers career pathways, learning, personal branding, networking skills, building resumes and portfolios, and actually landing a UX job.
Cory is a strong believer in education as the foundation for success for UX professionals, including continual learning. He also shares our opinion that UX has many pathways—that there is no one single career trajectory within UX.
The book has an accompanying website full of links to resources building on the foundations of the book. In particular, Cory provides further reading and study options for each UX profession, including recent articles and study options from content strategy to service design. It’s a great online reference to find out the specifics of each UX stream.
2. How to Get a Job as a Designer, Guaranteed – Ram Castillo
This is great one for newbies. Ram Castillo’s blog-turned-book is pitched at students and new graduates looking to break into the industry. The title makes a pretty big promise, but Ram does cover all the essentials to prepare for your first design job: education, design, networking, interviews and building a portfolio.
The content is grounded in Ram’s own experience working his way up the ranks in his first agency job, and he aims to help others learn from the successes (and mistakes) he made along the way.
3. Stand Out – Denise Anderson
For designers and UX practitioners, a portfolio is a key collection of evidence about your experience. Denise Anderson’s Stand Out is an excellent guide for creating a portfolio that demonstrates your strengths. While it’s primarily aimed at helping students, many seasoned pros will also benefit from revamping their portfolio following Denise’s guidance.
The book takes you on a step-by-step journey, beginning with defining your personal brand and brand story. Once you’ve understood this, you’re ready to start building your portfolio, choosing the most appropriate projects, and designing a portfolio that communicates who you are and what you do. You’ll also find helpful handouts on the book’s associated website to help you through each stage of putting your portfolio together, and eventually building your ideal career.
4. Pivot – Jenny Blake
Having no single entry point, people often come to UX from a multitude of different careers. Jenny Blake’s Pivot is designed to help you harness your existing skills and strengths and translate them into a new job. While not UX specific, it’s a practical read for side hustlers or anyone looking to harness an existing skill set for a career in UX.
Jenny advocates a cautious approach in her four-stage process, drawing from her own experience moving from Google to launch her own book and brand. The book teaches you how to test ideas by running small experiments, and how to learn from failure. Plenty of agile development analogies in here!
5. The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Survival Guide – Leah Buley
More survival guide than career planner, this book by Leah Buley teaches readers how to make the most of working as the only UXer in a cross-functional environment. It’s aimed at helping UX professionals understand the other members of their product team, and helping those other product team members understand (and potentially cross over into) a UX role.
If you find yourself in a UX team of one, you’re likely to be charting your own course and figuring out your own career path, without many close role models to follow. Leah works through the foundations of building your team of one, first explaining the fundamentals of UX and how to build support for your work. She then goes on to work through research and design methods, and how these can be adapted (you guessed it) for a team of one.
We suggest reading it cover-to-cover and then using the techniques section as a reference when you’re embarking on a new project.
6. Mike Montiero – Design is a Job
A must-read for anyone working with clients—which is essentially all of us, whether we work agency, freelance, or in-house with internal stakeholders. Written in Mike’s irreverent style, Design is a Job is packed with pithy advice based on Mike’s personal experience managing design businesses for the past 20 years.
Mike Monteiro guides designers through designing their business, from choosing the right work, following process, presenting design, and managing feedback— including all the nitty-gritty details of contracts and actually getting paid.
An easy, personable read packed with insightful gems, you can easily read this over a weekend afternoon. But you’ll spend years remembering the lessons it contains. Pick it up if you want to improve your design business savviness, or if you need a new approach to managing clients.
7. Get Started in UX – Luke Chambers & Matthew Magain
Of course, no list of UX career planning titles would be complete without our very own ebook Get Started in UX.
We wrote this because there was nothing else like it available anywhere—the UX community was asking the same questions but no-one had put together the essential, practical advice for aspiring UXers in such a straightforward fashion. So we collated advice from our own experience into six steps for building your UX career, starting with options for education, and assessing your current skills.
From there, all the basics are covered; from choosing the right tools for the job to building a portfolio, getting a mentor, and finally, landing that dream UX gig. You’ll also find plenty of useful templates to help you out at each step. Overall, this is a concise and highly practical guide for those looking to break into the field.
For more books covering every UX topic under the sun, make sure you check out our top recommendations in the epic list of UX books.