- Designing Visual Interfaces: Communication Oriented Techniques , by Kevin Mullet and Darrell Sano
- This is the number one book about visual design: it is recommended whether you are a visual artist or not. It is useful even if the only visual design you do is to lay out buttons in a dialog box. As indicated by the title, the authors stress communication as the goal of visual design, so they tell you how to produce designs that help users accomplish tasks and not simply look good. The instructional goals of the authors are accomplished through eminently understandable explanations of the fundamental principles and ground rules of the design of interactive visuals. The book is richly illustrated by many examples of good and bad design, and even though the illustrations are only in black-and-white, the book still wins because of the way the authors point out why the various designs work or don't work. I liked this book enough to write its foreword .
- Site-Seeing: A Visual Approach to Web Usability , by Luke Wroblewski
- Nice book about visual design for the Web. There are plenty such books, of course, all with pretty pictures, but most of them ignore the fact that humans ought to be able to use the pictures to achieve their goals in an interactive system. In contrast, this book actually talks about how visual design can help support the interaction design of a website.
- Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten , by Stephen Few
- Introductory textbook on the design of graphs and tables. If you need to visualize complex information, this book will show you how. Actually, it's useful even if your info is not all that complex: for example, most investor relations pages could be made much easier to use by applying the principles in this book. (Compared with Tufte's book on charting, Few is more applied and provides more explicit guidelines for everyday datasets. Also, Few emphasizes business information, whereas Tufte emphasizes scientific datasets.)
- Quick Read: The Non-Designer's Design Book : Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice , second edition, by Robin Williams
- A thin book that provides a quick introduction to many of the same visual design principles as Mullet and Sano's book. If you only want to spend an hour to brush up your visual design vocabulary, then this book is for you. If you have time for more depth, then Mullet and Sano is better.
Coffee Table Books
- The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information by Edward R. Tufte (Graphics Press)
- Less recommended: Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative , by Edward R. Tufte (Graphics Press)
- All three of Tufte's books are famous and all three are richly illustrated with many of the best information design works throughout the ages (most done before the computer - which may be telling). The first is the best, the second is the most beautiful, and the third is a little disappointing compared to the others. The only one from which you actually learn fundamental design concepts is The Visual Display of Quantitative Information . Most of the illustrations are black-and-white (it was done before Tufte got famous enough to demand 100% color printing), but that does not matter much because the emphasis is on how to visualize different kinds of numeric data. The main value of the book comes from its detailed discussion of a small number of design principles (e.g., chart junk and repeated instances) that are useful in thinking about how to visualize complex data in ways that help users make sense of it. The second book, Envisioning Information is truly beautiful and a work of art: not much in the way of theory or in-depth conceptual discussion of the examples, but oh! what examples. The third book is less interesting: it mainly rehashes ideas from the first two books with slight variations (and new examples - buy this book for the examples if you liked the first two and want a fresh dose).
- In Your Face: The Best of Interactive Interface Design , by Daniel Donnelly (Rockport Publishers).
- Seeing the cover of this book almost made me refuse to read it: a very busy and overblown design that screams at the reader "look how cool I am." Once you get past the cover, the book is quite good, though. It has many series of screenshots from a variety of highly graphical interactive systems (mainly CD-ROM; some Web). The explanations and discussions are rather superficial (you are not going to learn any deep concepts from this book), but seeing the many pictures is a great source of inspiration and ideas as to how interactions can be visualized. A strength of this book compared with my other recommendations is that it usually shows many steps in the use of the various products it covers.
- The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
- Great book about simple data visualization. Currently, it is hard to go beyond Tufte's examples on the Web. But looking ahead, much more can be done with interactive visualizations of complex and dynamic data. Yes, I already mentioned this book once above, but it's one of the few books (and the only one of Tufte's) to be worth recommending twice.
- Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think , edited by Stuart Card, Jock MacKinlay, and Ben Shneiderman
- State-of-the-art thinking about advanced visualization. This book should be required reading for anybody working on the next release of Internet Explorer and other Internet Desktop designs. And it's good food for thought for the rest of us as we consider use of advanced visualization techniques to enhance our communication with the user (currently, most Web animations do nothing but annoy and distract the user; let's aim to do better).
- Designing Web Graphics.4 , by Lynda Weinman
- Fourth edition of a very popular book on the details of Web colors, dithering, and many other low-level graphics issues.
- Ultimate Visual Dictionary (Dorling Kindersley)
- So how do you get ideas for how to show things? A method that has worked well in some of my projects is to look up concepts, items, and metaphors associated with the project in this dictionary: it translates from words (nouns only) into pictures by showing how each word looks. Here's a set of drawings of tools, here's a series of hats, here are a bunch of buildings, and so on. (The dictionary also works the other way: if you know how something looks, you can find out what it's called.)