My design journey didn’t include any formal education and I owe most of what I learned to the internet. But, luckily the internet also introduced me to some great books, designers and authors.
I love books and perhaps in an old-fashioned way, I never made the switch to ebooks, even if I read a few. Walking into a bookstore and seeing shelves stacked with books next to each other is a feeling that I can never get tired of.
This is not an exhaustive list and I might be adding more books over time, so bookmark this page if you want to follow its progress.
1. The Manual: Issue 1 — Various
This is especially useful if you’re interested in web and UX. At the time of its writing, the web was still in its development phase; for the first time, we had web fonts and a long list of screen resolutions to cater for. This started raising questions on how web and graphic design were different and where they overlap.
A collection of six essays and six personal stories written by various designers who were making an impact on the future of the web at the time and luckily you can read it for free on the Manual’s website.
2. Design is a Job — Mike Monteiro
This book is powerful. You can still have fun with your job but be professional about it and treat it as a proper business and Mike Monteiro shows us how. One of the toughest challenges I always found in my job is dealing with clients — Mike Monteiro shows us how this can be done.
3. The Design Method — Eric Karjaluoto
The Design Method is a structured process that gives you control and confidence as your work on a project. This is of course not the best or only process but it is one that we’ve been using for more than five years at Hangar now. Just like any process, it needs revisiting every now and then but this gave us a departure point.
4. Thinking with Type — Ellen Lupton
I’m a strong believer that mastering typography is an imperative skill in becoming a great designer. Most of our work as designers primarily consists of typography (branding, editorial, web etc.) and if you know nothing yet about type this is where you should start.
5. Detail in Typography — Jost Hochuli
Especially with type, no detail is too small, as this book proves in no more than 60 pages. Learn how to work with type with more confidence and appreciate the little nuances such as leading, measuring and when to use small caps and how. Working with such small details requires a trained eye and Detail in Typography is the training session you need.
6. Ruined by Design — Mike Monteiro
As far as I’m aware this is the only book that focuses on ethics and the responsibility of designers. Design is a profession and professionals should be held accountable. Mike Monteiro describes designers as gatekeepers and uses real-case scenarios such as Twitter to explain the impact that design has on communities.
7. Creative Confidence — Tom Kelley and David Kelley
I’ve already made reference to this book in the previous post How to build creative confidence, so it’s no surprise that this book made it to the list.
Brothers Tom and David Kelley, renowned for their design and innovation firm IDEO, believe that everyone has the potential to be creative and that it’s not limited to a select few. Through this book they teach us to overcome self-doubt and fear of judgment and to embrace a mindset that allows for experimentation, collaboration, and learning from failure. They explore various techniques and approaches for generating ideas, prototyping, and refining solutions.
8. Imagine — Jonah Lehrer
Most of the time designers talk about creativity as if it’s something that you either have or don’t. In truth, it’s a bit more complex than that and creativity can be honed, disciplined, nurtured and in a way controlled. It’s more about external factors rather than internal and this book explains how this works.
9. Emotional Design — Don Norman
Don Norman is known as the godfather of UX and this is not his only book on the subject. While his book the Design of Everyday Things talks more about the functionality of objects, this focuses on why we build relationships and fall in love with objects even though their primary purpose is to serve a function.
10. Geometry of Design — Kimberly Elam
If you’re getting started in design, this is a must. The book explores the relationship between geometric principles and visual design such as symmetry, proportion, grids, and patterns, and explains how they can be effectively applied in graphic design, architecture, and other visual arts. It offers practical examples, case studies, and exercises to help you grasp the concepts and apply them in your own work.
11. It’s not how Good You Are, it’s How Good You want to be — Paul Arden
We all have different degrees of ambition and when you’re starting out, it’s important to recognise that. Following someone else’s path doesn’t mean is the right model for us, but finding how good you really want to be should be used as your north star. These lessons can guide you.
12. Marks of Excellence — Per Mollerup
This was one of the first books I read about the topic of branding. It talks more about logotype and marks rather than branding as a whole, but it shares important historic insight to learn what makes marks special and timeless.
13. Do Purpose: Why brands with a purpose do better and matter more — David Hieatt
In this book, David Hieatt (Hiut Denim) explains how brands with a purpose have a story to tell and it is this story that builds relationships and draws customers in. The lessons here are broken down into concise essays that are very easy to read and memorise.
14. The Win Without Pitching Manifesto — Blair Enns
The sooner you read this, the better. This book teaches you how you can still win big projects without pitching for free, but it also teaches you how to value your work while still earning the respect of your clients for it.
15. Your are not so Smart — David McRaney
I recommend this book to anyone working with people and that probably makes up the majority of us. Our brain is constantly tricking us into believing things that are not necessarily accurate. We are constantly influenced by biases and conditions and being aware of them is a good start.
16. The Laws of Simplicity — John Maeda
In this book, Maeda presents ten laws that can help you simplify processes, products, and overall approach to various aspects of life. This book is about reducing complexity and streamline the presentation of products and information while explaining why this is important for communication.
17. Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making — Tony Fadell
This is the most recent book on this list and it’s not really a design book. What makes this book useful is getting a better understanding of how businesses run. Both from a client point of view or running your business, this is a very comprehensive guide on how to scale a business and understanding the customer journey.
18. Things that I have Learned — Stefan Sagmeister
This wasn’t design to be read sequentially. On the contrary, this was designed to be visually appreciated. Admired almost. This book is a beautiful collection of lettering experiments, beautiful photography and fun printing techniques. But it is also packed with valuable lessons by Sagmeister himself.
19. Show your Work — Austin Kleon
I should have picked up this book earlier. It’s a very quick read but overcoming your fear of exposing your work is a valid lesson to learn. There’s more to your work than just your work.
20. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World — David Epstein
I mentioned this book in my argument in favour of being a generalist. Epstein’s argument is that generalists are like a Swiss knife of skills, ready to pull out the right tool and adapt to any situation.
He presents compelling examples from various fields, including sports, science, and business, to illustrate how individuals who have explored diverse interests and developed a broad set of skills can bring unique perspectives and adaptability to their work.
If you have any questions, recommendations or simply want to know more about any of these books, feel free to send me an email on email@example.com.