Between Christmas and New Year I found the time to read through two great books. Both are short, entertaining and insightful. One introduces the practice of Information Architecture, the other illustrates basic principles of visual design. I recommend them to anyone who wants to learn more about the essentials of user experience design.
“Picture This - How Pictures Work” by Molly Bang
Illustrator Molly Bang tells a compelling story about how certain visual elements make us feel. Step by step, she creates a scene of Little Red Riding Hood (the one you see on the cover) by only using geometric shapes. That's an excellent way to learn about visual design principles like position, size, contrast, and color. Her principles remind me of the Gestalt Principles, but focus more on the emotional effects on people (e.g. white or light backgrounds feel safer to us than dark backgrounds because we can see well during the day and only poorly by night). Some of these principles may sound obvious at first sight, but going through them based on one perfect example makes the book very intriguing.
“Making Sense Of Any Mess” by Abby Covert
Abby Covert is the president of the Information Architecture Institute (where I am currently member of a volunteer team). Her book can be read “in the time it takes to fly from New York to Chicago” she says. Although I haven't tried that out myself, I can say that it gives a very good overview of the process behind Information Architecture in a rather short amount of time. The process from identifying and defining IA problems to solving them by structuring and clarifying things is described very comprehensibly. Important principles like “Information is not data or content” or “The way you organize things says a lot about you” are laid out with great clarity using real-life examples. I think this book is both a great reference for experienced IAs and a good high-level introduction for IA students. By the way, meanwhile the book has been made available online.