15 Must-Read Web Design Books of 2017

By Oliver Lindberg11 Dec 2017News

A round-up of the best web design books of the year covering accessibility, inclusive and ethical design, user research, prototyping, design systems, SVG animations, project management, web typography and much more.

Originally published on the Shopify Partner Blog.

This year’s roundup of the best books for web designers is a real snapshot of the industry, but also of society as a whole: it’s not a surprise that inclusive and ethical design feature quite heavily this time.

The list also covers a wide range of practical web design issues (including content design, user research, design systems, prototyping, animations, and project management) as well as inspirational advice on how to launch and run a profitable business. Just like last year, there are actually more than 15 titles hiding here if you look closely. Whether they’re for your own holiday wish list, or for a colleague, friend, or partner — there’s something here for everyone.

Of course, all the big publishers in web design and development are present — O’Reilly, Apress, A Book Apart, Smashing Magazine, SitePoint, and Rosenfeld Media — but there are also a few self-published books, some of which started life on Kickstarter.

Self-publishing is getting easier and easier, and if you have an idea for a book and are interested in this approach, be sure to read Brad Frost’s article Self-Publishing a Book for Fun and Profit.


1. Accessibility for Everyone

Accessible and inclusive design finally got the attention it deserves in 2017. This book addresses the challenges of designing for disabilities and impairments, explains laws and guidelines, and walks us through techniques on how to plan for, evaluate, and test our designs.

Accessibility for Everyone was involuntarily helped to fame when typography legend Erik Spiekermann sent a poorly worded tweet to author Laura Kalbag, telling her she had just written a text, not a book. A Twitter storm ensued with JK Rowling coming to Laura’s defense and Mashable, the Huffington Post, and Teen Vogue covering the issue. Positive side effect: a whole new audience has now been introduced to the importance of accessibility.

2. White Hat UX

The web is full of dark patterns, tricks used in websites and apps that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn't mean to. But it’s time to leave the dark side. White Hat UX, written by Trine Falbe, Kim Andersen, and Martin Michael Frederiksen, a group of UX experts, researchers, and strategists from Copenhagen, Denmark, focuses on the next generation in user experience.

Featuring an introduction by Aral Balkan, it defines UX, describes the deceptive design practices many companies employ, and suggests how you can improve the user experience of your product or service by being honest and empathetic.

Does this topic pique your interest? Then you should also checkout Design Ethics by Mike Monteiro.

3. Technically Wrong

Continuing with the theme of ethical design, this book’s subtitle is ‘Sexist apps, biased algorithms, and other threats of toxic tech.’ Sara Wachter-Boettcher, who wrote Content Everywhere and co-authored Design for Real Life with Eric Meyer, has done it again. Technically Wrong is a fantastic look at how tech industry bias and blind spots get baked into digital products — and harm us all.

Sara covers chatbots that harass women, sign-up forms that fail anyone who’s not straight, social media sites that send messages about dead relatives, and more. Anil Dash has called the book “an essential guide for people who care about ensuring that today’s tech is humane and ethical.” He couldn’t be more right. The time to design for inclusion is now.

4. Tragic Design

The fourth title in our little roundup of books about inclusive and ethical design focuses on the impact of bad design, and how to fix it.

Written by Jonathan Shariat, currently senior interaction designer at Intuit, and Cynthia Savard Saucier, director of design at Shopify, Tragic Design explains how poorly designed products can anger, sadden, exclude, and even kill people who use them. It features in-depth interviews and real case studies to inspire you, help you advocate for ethical design, and discover tools and techniques you can use to avoid harmful design decisions.

Jonathan got inspired to write the book when he heard about a young girl dying in a hospital because the nurses caring for her were too distracted by badly designed software. Read his Medium post on the experience.

5. Launch It

Shane Mielke is not only one of the most talented people in the industry (for 10 years he was the creative director at Flash pioneers 2Advanced Studios), he’s also one of the nicest.

Shane loves mentoring people and so he scoured through years of old emails, interviews, presentations, and conversations for any advice that he had given others. The result is this self-published handbook for digital creatives, available as an ebook or paperback, which compiles 300+ things Shane has learned as a designer, developer, and creative director. It covers everything from work ethic and motivation, the creative process, and skill acquisition, to career tips including handling clients, self-promotion, and work/life balance.

Also check out launchit.shanemielke.com, a three.js-driven data visualization, highlighting the locations across the globe that Shane has shipped copies of the book to. Did we mention just how talented Shane is?

6. Start! Stop Procrastinating and Pursue Your Passion

Designer and educator Christopher Murphy is passionate about helping others fulfill their goals. For this purpose he’s written a little, yet highly practical ebook — also available with accompanying screencasts, slide decks, worksheets, and even a one-hour mentoring session, which will help you turn an idea into a reality, and launch and build a profitable business.

Based on over two decades’ experience in teaching and setting up businesses himself, Start! underlines the importance of pursuing your passion, how to identify core values and put them at the heart of the business. If you’ve ever had an idea, but didn’t know where to start, well, start here.

Watch out for the next title in the Tiny Books series, called Eureka! Unleash Your Creativity by Building an Idea Factory, which will be about ideas and where they come from.

7. Hello Web Design

Hello Web Design, funded on Kickstarter, is a fantastic introduction to design fundamentals and shortcuts for non-designers. It teaches you the basics — design principles like typography and white space, as well as the process including prototyping and getting feedback — in easy-to-understand language, with plenty of real-world examples.

Written by designer and developer Tracy Osborn, author of Hello Web App and Hello Web App: Intermediate Concepts, this book is aimed at programmers, developers, marketers, and anyone else without any design experience. You can order just an ebook, an ebook plus paperback, or a package that includes the ebook as well as 17 videos and screencasts.

8. Content Design

Content strategist Sarah Richards has written an excellent little book based on her experience of inventing the discipline of content design while working at the UK’s Government Digital Service, where she was faced with a monumental task: her team had to transform over 400 separate government websites into a single site, focused on user needs.

In Content Design, she covers why content matters, analyzes how we read and discusses various practical techniques, and how to apply them to your own organization and projects.

The book — a must-read for anyone who works with content — can be bought straight from the site of Sarah’s Content Design Centre, or from Amazon.

9. Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries

If you want to know what user researchers really experience when they go out into the field, you need to read this book. It features 65 ‘war stories,’ personal accounts of the challenges researchers encounter and what we can learn from them.

The stories that Steve Portigal has compiled are sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious but they are always full of insights gathered from mistakes and mishaps that happened while conducting fieldwork. For anyone in the world of product development who’s involved in user research, this is incredibly valuable and makes for an absolutely compelling read.

You can find additional war stories, videos of Steve’s talks, and further resources on his blog.

Want more on user research? Pick up Researching UX: User Research by James Lang and Emma Howell.

10. Design Systems

This year was all about design systems, and the topic’s popularity is showing no sign of waning. There are entire conferences dedicated to design systems, and they finally have their own book.

Design Systems, written by Alla Kholmatova, is a practical guide to creating effective design languages for digital products, divided into two parts. The first one provides the theoretical foundations, while the second part is more practical.

It’s based on Alla’s experience of working with design systems, and features case studies from AirBnB, Atlassian, Eurostar, TED, and Sipgate, as well as 18 months of interviews, in which Alla figured out what works and doesn’t work in real-life products. If you want to establish and evolve a design system in your organization, this is an essential read.

Are you all about design systems this year, too? Take a read of Atomic Design by Brad Frost.

11. Designing UX: Prototyping

Prototyping is pretty essential these days, and this book — aimed at beginner-level UX professionals, web designers, and developers — dives into a variety of techniques to help you communicate and test design ideas.

Written by Ben Coleman and Dan Goodwin of fffunction, a design agency in the southwest of the UK, Designing UX covers how to use prototypes in your project workflow, paper and HTML prototyping, as well as tools such as Axure, Balsamiq, Marvel, InVision, and Adobe XD. Available as an ebook as part of SitePoint Premium, or as a paperback on Amazon. Also, you’re able to read a free excerpt.

12. SVG Animations

Sarah Drasner is an infectiously passionate web developer and designer who travels the world with and without Val Head to teach web animation skills. Now she’s written her first book, which dives deep into animating SVGs, from common UX implementations to complex responsive animation.

You’ll learn how to make SVG cross-browser and backwards compatible, plan and debug animations, animate data visualizations, use tools such as DrawSVG and MorphSVG, as well as GreenSock and React-Motion, while keeping performance in mind all the way.

Grab SVG Animations from the O'Reilly website or Amazon.

Animation got you all excited? Check out Animation at Work by Rachel Nabors.

13. Web Typography

Another title funded on Kickstarter, Web Typography is a handbook for designing beautiful and effective responsive typography, written by Clearleft co-founder Richard Rutter.

The 334-page book explains how to set type to be read, typographic details like ligatures and vertical rhythm, how to choose and use fonts, and more. It’s an essential reference guide for all things typography on the web that should be on the bookshelf of any self-respecting designer or front end developer, whether you work with CSS or not. Available as an ebook and a paperback.

Want to learn more about this topic? Pick up Webfont Handbook by Bram Stein.

14. Project Management for Humans

It’s this simple: this is the book about project management.

Written by Brett Harned — a digital project management consultant with more than 15 years of experience, as well as founder and organizer of the Digital PM SummitProject Management for Humans covers principles and methodologies, how to estimate and plan tasks, manage resources like communication, and how to set and manage expectations.

The book isn’t just aimed at project managers, though: designers will also get a lot out of it and can use Project Management for Humans as a practical reference guide that is crammed with tips, templates, advice, real examples, and personal stories that anyone can relate to.

As publisher Louis Rosenfeld puts it, you’ll want to read and keep the book handy to “help you resolve problems before they mushroom into crises.”

15. The Definite Guide to Shopify Themes

Gavin Ballard, software developer and CEO at Disco, a company that helps businesses succeed on Shopify, has written an essential guide on the design techniques and practical skills needed to build Shopify themes and world-class ecommerce sites, and in turn run a profitable business.

You’ll learn how to apply your existing web skills to the development of Shopify Themes, discover workflows, principles, and processes, learn how to design product pages and checkouts, optimize for performance, and how to use Liquid, Shopify’s templating language, as well as Slate, Shopify’s theme framework.

Bonus: Free books!

If you’re on a super tight budget, there are also plenty of great free books that you should check out. Here are a few we recommend:

  • Resilient Web Design — Jeremy Keith, the co-founder of Clearleft, has written a book about the web and how we can build the websites of the future, designed to be read on the web (with or without an internet connection), but also available in PDF, ePub and MOBI formats, and as a podcast.
  • Essential Image Optimization — A web book by Google’s Addy Osmani that dives into ways to reduce image size through modern, efficient, and automated compression techniques, with minimal impact to quality.
  • Collaborate: Bring People Together Around Digital Projects — Ellen de Vries, content strategist at Clearleft, has written a book for GatherContent, which covers techniques for digital professionals to facilitate effective collaboration across their projects. Available to read for free online, or — in exchange for your email address — as a Kindle or ePub version.
  • Grow Vol 3: Building a Profitable Design Business — The latest edition of Shopify’s Grow guides contains everything you need to know to drive sales, get paid, and ensure your finances are in order, from pricing projects to invoicing clients, so your business is as profitable as it can be.