Summer Reads for Instructional Designers and Learning Professionals 2019

Summer’s a special time to read. Maybe it’s at the park, in a hammock, or under a tree. Or maybe you’re on the beach with the sound of the waves filling the gaps between the turn of the page. For me, it’s often listening to an audiobook while on a walk—something about it helps my mind drift into creative possibilities.

As instructional designers, summer’s a great time to explore related fields to stretch your skills and the way you think about design (and perhaps beat the dreaded design slump). †So, here’s a few books to inspire you.

Accessible for All

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences, Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery

When we design for accessibility, it improves the experiences of all. Horton and Quesenbery explore what elements to consider as you design, including structure, wayfinding, plain language and tone, interactions, and usability.

Design for the Brain

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, John Medina

Our brains are pretty amazing. Medina discusses what he calls “rules” of the brain as well as how these rules play out in our everyday lives.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink

Our performance and satisfaction depend on our motivation to succeed. Pink looks at common misconceptions about motivation and what actually works to motivate us.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth

Much like motivation, we need perseverance to finish a difficult task. Duckworth shares the stories of high achievers to show how it’s not talent or luck but grit that led them to success.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg

Changing our habits changes our brains. Duhigg draws on the experiences of people and companies that used the transformative power of habit to change lives.

Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

Our brains use two systems to navigate—one that reacts quickly and emotionally and another that’s strategic and takes its time. While this book is longer than the others on my list (and might take you all summer to finish), it’s packed with insights into the competing systems.

Design of Writing

Write and Organize for Deeper Learning: 28 evidence-based and easy-to-apply tactics that will make your instruction better for learning, Patti Shank

When you create a course, the design of writing is just as important as what content you include. Shank provides strategies and tactics to use writing and design to improve the learnability of your content.

Technical Writing Process: The simple, five-step guide that anyone can use to create technical documents such as user guides, manuals, and procedures, Kieran Morgan

Clear, clean documentation makes learning step-by-step procedures easier. Morgan designed this book to mirror the technical writing process.

Information Environments

Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places, Jorge Arango

Online environments, especially those that involve information, should be thoughtfully designed to meet the needs of the user. Arango looks at how the world of architecture speaks to building successful information environments.

Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture, Andrew Hinton

We experience our environments through context. While Hinton dives deep into theory, this book explores ideas that you’ll find useful as you frame learning environments.

Inspire Creativity

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, Austin Kleon

As learning professionals, we’re asked to use both the creative and critical sides of our brains. Kleon explores how everyone can lean into their creative side.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, Twyla Tharp

Artists aren’t the only ones who can access creativity. Tharp gives advice on embracing the habit of creativity in your life.

Make it Memorable

Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions, Carmen Simon

Your audience is likely to only remember 10 percent of what you present. Simon shows how to help your audience remember the parts you want them to through cognitive science—something that’s very useful as you craft memorable messages to help learners learn and retain the correct information.

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Peter C. Brown

Students often cram for exams, but this method does not help them learn the materials. Brown describes the study habits and practice that actually help the learner encode, consolidate, and later retrieve the information.

Presenting Ideas

The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand, Lee LeFever

Often, we need to explain complex topics in a simple way. LeFever (founder of Common Craft) looks at how to plan, package, and present information in an easy to understand format.

The Non-Designer’s Design Book (4th Ed.), Robin Williams

Visual design impacts how information comes across online or in print. Williams explains graphic design principles to help the novice present information like a professional.

Telling Stories

Storytelling For User Experience: Crafting Stories For Better Design, Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks

Stories help us learn and understand information. Quesenbery and Brooks show how to use stories to center your design on your audience’s needs.

Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, Lisa Cron

Great stories share certain elements that hook the brain. Cron breaks down these triggers and helps you ignite the brain’s need to learn what happens next.

User Experience Design

The Design of Everyday Things, Donald A. Norman

Originally published in 1988, Norman’s book continues to guide the human-centered design of physical and digital products, environments, and services.

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug

Design shouldn’t just be pretty—it also needs to usable and intuitive. Krug provides practical advice that should guide you as you design learning environments.

With hot days and warm nights, the slower pace of summer inspires us to read outside of our normal routines. So whether you’re reading on a sunny day or enjoying a book in a screened porch while it rains, I recommend checking some of these books out of your local library this summer.

Have you read any of the books on this list? What books do you plan to read this summer? Let us know!

Author: Jessica Bishop, Instructional Designer

Jessica is a designer and writer focused on learnability, storytelling, sensemaking, wayfinding, and removing barriers to learning. A Michigan native, she likes crafting, reading, walking, and spending way too much time in the distant corners of the internet. You can also find her at

6 thoughts on “Summer Reads for Instructional Designers and Learning Professionals 2019”

    1. Thanks Tammy! There’s so many great books out there—I definitely had to curate my list. What’s your favorite book I mentioned? Did you add one to your summer reading list?


    2. I definitely want to reread that one! It’s short, but it includes great tips about writing for learnability.


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