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15 books every designer needs to read

The best books about design and creativity.

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Every craft has its history, and every artist has their mentors. In order to find your own unique voice, you must go through the arduous process of first understanding and studying the voices that have come before—or are currently happening right beside you. This is why so many artists are as much creators as they are commentators of their own market. They enjoy watching where things are headed, and the technically proficient tend to be well-versed in how things came to be—the history behind their art.

When it comes to design, there is no shortage of inspiration out there. In fact, the term “design” is so broad that it encompasses everything from interior design to UI design, graphic design to architecture, painting, magazine spreads, fashion, and beyond. All great designers borrow, trade, replace, mix and match from different industries and inspirations.

As a designer, one of the best things you could possibly do for yourself and your own craft is to spend as much time studying others in the design space, as you do playing around and trying new things.

That said, here are fifteen books every designer should have on their desk at all times, and re-read on a regular basis:

1. How To by Michael Bierut

One of the world’s most well-known graphic designers, Michael Bierut, details the creative processes behind his most recognized projects. Client examples include: Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Yale School of Architecture, the New York Times, Saks Fifth Avenue, the New York Jets, and more.

This is the kind of book you read when what you really need is to hear, even if in the undertone, “I did it—and so can you.” Michael’s story is a special one, and has been looked at by graphic designers over the years as a case-in-point for what it means to stay true to your own creative vision.

2. Graphic Design Theory by Helen Armstrong

Who better to learn from than those in the field? From the 1900s to modern day, this is your crash course on the progress of design as an art and field.

3. Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton

A literary anthem for design’s role in visual communication, Thinking With Type is a must-read for those who want to take a deeper dive in understanding how typography choices not only change across various mediums, but can impact the viewer in different ways emotionally.

From style sheets to ornaments and captions, small caps and mixing fonts, this is an all-inclusive guide on design rules—and then how to break them.

4. 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design by Steven Heller

From technique to style, object discussion and the evolution of design concepts, these are 100 moments every designer should know about that helped shape the field as a whole.

5. Design Elements, Color Fundamentals by Aaris Sherin

Color theory and beyond, this is the perfect go-to grab whenever you are in need of a quick jolt of inspiration—starting back with the basics.

6. Graphic Design Visionaries by Caroline Roberts

75 influential designers, including M/M Paris, Wim Crouwel, Tom Eckersley, Stefan Sagmeister, Irma Boom, and more, tell their personal stories and how their experiences shaped the work they became best known for.

These personal stories cover the development of design culture, specifically as it relates to typography, magazine layouts, film, iconic poster work, and corporate American branding. Part story, part visual entertainment, this is a glimpse into the humans behind some of the most recognized design work to date.

7. Patternalia by Jude Stewart

Want to get funky with it? Look no further than Patternalia: An Unconventional History of Polka Dots, Stripes, Plaid, Camouflage & Other Graphic Patterns.

8. The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

Words matter—a lot. But the typeface those words are in arguably says just as much about the words themselves. This is a must-read for every designer that wants to use the perfect typeface.

9. Mastering Type by Denise Bosler

What’s the right type to use on digital? How does the platform change the design? For any UI designer, especially, this book should be on your desk.

10. Logo Design Love by David Airey

A best-seller, and guide to creating an iconic brand identity, this is where you start when you are trying to get to the heart of a logo and everything it needs to stand for.

11. Logo by Michael Evamy

Consider this your bible, but for logo design. With more than 1,300 symbols and enclosed logotypes, this is the ultimate collection of some of the most well-known logos in the world—and the process that manifested their creation.

For logo designers, especially, this is a crucial resource for knowing what’s been done before, if for no other reason than to challenge your own creative process to come up with something truly unique. This book covers categories including: crosses, stars, crowns, animals, people, handwritten, illustrative type, and more, to show the different forms logos can take.

12. Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler

This isn’t just a book for designers. Think of this as a guide for your marketing team as a whole, and something that explains to the strategic marketers what truly creates a longstanding brand.

13. Editorial Design: Digital and Print by Cath Caldwell & Yolanda Zappaterra

From the early days of print to the digital age, this is your a comprehensive look and the fundamentals of editorial design.

14. 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People by Susan Weinschenk

A fun and quick read, this glimpse into the eyes of consumers is written by a PhD in Psychology. Weinschenk has over 30 years of design communication under her belt, and proves it to her readers.

15. Creative Workshop by David Sherwin

What do you do when your creative juices have stopped flowing?

Compressing your process into a hard timeframe is one of the biggest struggles a designer can face. Which is why it’s essential that you keep resources on deck to help re-inspire your best work.

This book provides 80 different creative challenges intended to spark strong thinking and get your wheels spinning again. These exercises include everything from timed design challenges to full project suggestions, all with various accompanying brainstorming exercises.

Think of this as your practice playbook for design.


Nicolas Cole

About the Author Nicolas Cole

Nicolas Cole is an author and entrepreneur. His work has been published in Inc, TIME, Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and more. He tweets @nicolascole77.