There are thousands of great books out there covering every imaginable corner of design. So, as a beginner, where should you start?
Read on for our list of 12 essential books to kick off your learning. They include introductions to visual composition, color, typography and user experience – as well as helpful guides to working in the industry.
First, get inspired.
1. Caroline Roberts – Graphic Design Visionaries
You’ll be wowed by the 75 design greats in this rich compilation. Organised chronologically, Caroline Roberts’ book doubles as a history of design, told through individual creative work.
Available here: Graphic Design Visionaries
2. Paul Rand – Thoughts on Design
Thoughts on Design is a classic by Paul Rand, a graphic design legend who created iconic logos and campaigns for clients including IBM, UPS, and Westinghouse. In this book, Rand explores how design can integrate the beautiful and the useful.
Next, explore visual design principles...
3. Christian Leborg – Visual Grammar
Visual Grammar presents the principles by which a visual field can be composed, and how the relationships between elements create meaning. It’s an abstract, illustrative book that conveys principles such as “influence” – the way two objects appear to act upon one another.
Available here: Visual Grammar
4. Counter-Print’s Logo series of books
British publisher Counter-Print have published this amazing series of six short books, each of which explores a different category of logo design – including “Abstract”, “Alphabet”, and “Animal”.
...and don’t forget typography and color!
5. Ellen Lupton – Thinking with Type
Thinking With Type is a practical typography resource that introduces the principles of typography, and explains how to choose and work with type across a range of projects and applications.
6. Sean Adams, Terry Stone, Noreen Morioka – Color Design Workbook: A Real World Guide to Using Color in Graphic Design
Color Design Workbook gives an introduction to color theory, and presents a wide range of case studies and examples of color systems. This is a thorough, practical point of reference for using color – one of the most difficult topics for design beginners.
Then, find out about user experience design and design thinking.
7. Steve Krug – Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach To Web Usability
This classic text is named after “Krug’s First Law of Usability”: Don’t Make Me Think. If you’re interested in user experience design – how to make a user’s experience of a product or service both efficient and enjoyable – this book is a great place to start.
8. Tim Brown – Change By Design
In Change By Design, IDEO CEO Tim Brown explains design thinking – a collaborative, human-centered approach to innovation – and how it can help to transform products and organisations.
Available here: Change By Design
Read our write-up: Great Design Thinkers – Tim Brown On Design Thinking
Get different perspectives on the industry.
9. Aaron Draplin – Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything
Aaron Draplin’s first book, Pretty Much Everything, tells the story of his career so far. Inspiring, fun, and brutally honest, he explains how he got started in the industry – completing small design gigs, working on a snowboarding magazine, and even creating the Field Notes brand of notebooks.
10. Phil Cleaver – What they didn’t teach you in design school
What they didn’t teach you in design school is packed with practical advice from Phil Cleaver, a designer with over 40 years of industry experience. His tips range from putting together a portfolio and what to wear to interview, to exporting documents for handoff and managing relationships with external contractors.
Available here: What they didn’t teach you in design school
And finally, take a look at these manifestos – and remember not to let all this reading inhibit your own creativity.
11. Michael Bierut – How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World
Pentagram partner Michael Bierut presents a retrospective of his career, offering deep insight into his process through preliminary drawings, models, as well as finished work.
Available here: How To Use Graphic Design
12. Frank Chimero – The Shape of Design
Frank Chimero describes himself as a multi-disciplinary designer, accidental writer, and lapsed illustrator. He’s best known for The Shape of Design, this beautiful and insightful meditation on the designer’s vocation. It’s available to read online for free.
Available here: The Shape Of Design
Read our take: Great Design Thinkers – Frank Chimero on The Shape of Design
Learn the fundamentals with Designlab
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