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Booksourcing: Design Books

In the next category we’ll step away from projects and into a subject that may interest some of you: Required Design Books. This section will showcase the best design books — and maybe I should emphasize, the best graphic design books — that designers should read/see. These can be text-driven books like Looking Closer, monographs like Soak Wash Rinse Spin, compendiums like Marks of Excellence, or any other book where designers can learn about the profession. You can suggest The Fountainhead if you must.

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.07.2008 BY Armin
Adam Okrasinski’s comment is:

Thinking with Type, Ellen Lupton

DIY, Ellen Lupton

Grid Systems in Graphic Design, Joseph Muller-Brockman

On Feb.07.2008 at 08:25 AM
Ben’s comment is:

"Art and Fear" by David Bayles and Ted Orland - amazing book that covers the wonders and pitfalls of "creating."

"The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst

On Feb.07.2008 at 08:44 AM
Jude Landry’s comment is:

I guess I'll be the first to say it:

The End of Print, David Carson

Obey the Giant, Rick Poynor

On Feb.07.2008 at 08:45 AM
Mike’s comment is:

- Pocket Pal, International Paper
- Anton Stankowski, Monograph
- Form, Folds, and Sizes, Poppy Evans
- A History of Graphic Design, Phillip Meggs
- The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst
- Drip Dry Shirts, Lucienne Roberts
- How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, Adrian Shaughnessy (despite some of its reviews)

On Feb.07.2008 at 08:53 AM
drew kora’s comment is:

A few I like...

"Making & Breaking the Grid" by Tim Samara

"Type Rules" by Eilene Strivzer

"The Education of an Art Director" by Steven Heller

"The Education of a Graphic Designer" by Steven Heller

On Feb.07.2008 at 08:54 AM
Chad K’s comment is:

Paul Rand by Steven Heller (you can probably just make a chapter for Heller)

Maybe stating the obvious, but: Edward Tufte books

On Feb.07.2008 at 09:00 AM
Olivia R’s comment is:

"The Medium is the Massage", by Marshall McLuhan

On Feb.07.2008 at 09:14 AM
Jen Montgomery’s comment is:

"Logotypes & Letterforms" by Doyald Young (or just at least one of his books)

On Feb.07.2008 at 10:28 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

Paul Rand's "From Lascaux to Brooklyn" & "Design Form and Chaos" are indispensable.

Alan Fletchers "The Art of Looking Sideways"

"How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul", Adrian Shaughnessy

And most importantly the first design book that changed my life. "Tibor: Perverse Optimist" Booya!

Also, the second design book that changed my life.
Yes indeed, it's "The Fountainhead". Atlas Shrugged is even better but less "Design"

On Feb.07.2008 at 10:42 AM
Rob’s comment is:

Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton

The History of Graphic Design by Phillip Meggs

The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life by John Maeda

The Form of the Book by Jan Tschichold

That, is at least, my short list.

On Feb.07.2008 at 11:19 AM
Christopher’s comment is:

"The Elements of Typographical Style"

"The Art of Innovation"

"Thinking with Type"

"Death and Life of Great American Cities" to learn about the importance of challenge the system, to create design that fits into the urban fabric instead of ripping it apart.

and a couple social theory books that have greatly influenced my perception of the world and the way that I think about what design means:

"Imagined Communities," Benedict Anderson

"Patterns of Culture," Ruth Benedict

On Feb.07.2008 at 11:19 AM
Duane King’s comment is:

I actually have been working to create a list of books that have inspired me (and others) at a website I created called Thinking for a Living. These books are either from my personal collection or from mentions by designers in books or speeches. Hopefully it will be useful to others. A new version of the site with new content and functionality is in the works at this very moment.

On Feb.07.2008 at 12:11 PM
NIki’s comment is:

I think I may have bookmarked this link from Quipsologies!

30 Delightful Design Books

On Feb.07.2008 at 01:08 PM
Hollis’s comment is:

These four had a big impact on me:

Paul Rand, Steven Heller

Design, Form and Chaos, Paul Rand

Made You Look, Stefan Sagmeister

Perverse Optimist, Tibor Kalman

On Feb.07.2008 at 01:17 PM
Peter Whitley’s comment is:

A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander

Design of Everyday Things, and other books by Donald Norman

On Feb.07.2008 at 02:06 PM
Victor’s comment is:

these are pretty sweet:

Hand Job: A Catalog of Type / Michael Perry

DADA / (Exhibition Catalogue), Various

On Feb.07.2008 at 02:28 PM
Chad K’s comment is:

I second Peter's vote for: Design of Everyday Things
I just got Design of Future Things and can't wait to read it

On Feb.07.2008 at 02:29 PM
Kathleen Losche’s comment is:

Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

Inside/Outside by Malcolm Grear

Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton

The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten

Interaction of Color by Josef Albers

Trademarks & Symbols of the World by Yusaku Kamekura (out of print, but work seeking out)

Forms, Folds, and Sizes by Poppy Evans

Graphic Arts Guild's Pricing & Ethical Guidelines

These are not specifically graphic design, but...

Elements of Style by Strunk & White (I adore the version illustrated by Maira Kalman)

Eva Zeisel: On Design

On Feb.07.2008 at 04:29 PM
B.McGuigan’s comment is:

The short list

"79 Short Essays on Design" by Michael Bierut
-a good look into the thinking behind the profession

"Area" by Editors of Phaidon Press
-a good overall view of hotness

"Noise Four" by Attik
-a collection of random "cool things"

"Typography" by Emil Ruder
-a classic

"TDC" annuals
-(most) for a good reference book

"Soak Wash Rinse Spin" by Tolleson Design
-good info graphic samples

On Feb.07.2008 at 05:11 PM
NIki’s comment is:

I hope I don't get flamed for this entry, but it's sentimental.

Before I was a graphic designer, I was a musician. It was this book (which ironically has a hideous cover) that made me want to change professions. I saw it and thought - WOW - text looks so much nicer when you group it like this! I want to do this to EVERYTHING.

I would like to think I've grown beyond these basics - but this served as a great foundation for me when I was first starting out.

The Non-Designer's Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice by Robin Williams

On Feb.07.2008 at 05:14 PM
marko savic’s comment is:

Four years of design school summed up in books: most of which have already been mentioned, but here's a few more.

Problem Solved!, Michael Johnson
Stop Stealing Sheep and Find Out How Type Works, Erik Spiekermann & E. M. Ginger
Conscientious Objectives: Designing for an Ethical Message, Yolanda Zappaterra & John L. Cranmer
The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman

For the Heller Chapter,
Citizen Designer

And the obligatory,
The Elements of Typographic Style, Bringhurst

On Feb.07.2008 at 06:27 PM
pnk’s comment is:

All the biggies from my list are already here, but I'll add one more:

Understanding Comics / Scott McCloud

On Feb.07.2008 at 06:36 PM
Jim Antonopoulos’s comment is:

Alan Fletchers "The Art of Looking Sideways"

Wally Olins' "On Brand"

John Grant's "Brand Innovation Manifesto"

Tolleson's "Soak Wash Rinse Spin"

On Feb.08.2008 at 12:26 AM
Scott Gericke’s comment is:

The "Instruction Manual" books from Quirk Books are must-haves.
The Baby Manual book in particular has come in handy for us!

On Feb.08.2008 at 01:24 AM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

Reading (if you can call it that) graphic design books is definitely not the way to improve oneself as a designer. For that, I've found casual time in the company of other designers to be much more beneficial. Or read Speak Up or Design Observer.

But when it came to opening my eyes, my mind and my heart, one could do no worse than reading Leo Steinberg's masterpiece The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion.

My friends, if you think that I'm just being contradictory, rest assured that I've never been more sincere when it comes to recommending a book. Want to learn how to design? First, learn to see.

On Feb.08.2008 at 02:11 AM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Non-design books that designers should read.

Pattern Recognition by Gibson
Technopoly by Postman

On Feb.08.2008 at 06:06 AM
robin’s comment is:

i apologise if i missed it but i couldnt see A Smile in the Mind by Beryl McAlhone in the list.

A great, great book and a must for any designer.

On Feb.08.2008 at 08:34 AM
robin’s comment is:

i apologise if i missed it but i couldnt see A Smile in the Mind by Beryl McAlhone in the list.

A great, great book and a must for any designer.

On Feb.08.2008 at 08:36 AM
Chad K’s comment is:

Zag by Marty Neumeier hold more thought provoking content in such a brief writing than most text books.

Not sure if this fits the category but:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

On Feb.08.2008 at 12:55 PM
David E.’s comment is:

Reading (if you can call it that) graphic design books is definitely not the way to improve oneself as a designer. For that, I've found casual time in the company of other designers to be much more beneficial. Or read Speak Up or Design Observer.

I don't agree. The main way I improved my work was studying the work of others in books. I probably learned more from books than I did in college. The very best examples and the best thoughts on graphic design are collected in books, and I think designers would be foolish not to absorb as much of it as they can.

My desert island design book list:

The Design Concept
The Grid
Publication Design
all by Allen Hurlburt – and unfortunately, all out of print. I've had these since college and I still love them.

Typewise by Kit Hinrichs
also out of print

The Graphic Designer and his Design Problems by Joseph Muller Brockman

The Elements of Typographic Style

Paul Rand by Steven Heller

Dorfsman and CBS

Pentagram The Compendium

Designing by Chermayeff and Geismar

...and probably a few others that I cant think of at the moment.

On Feb.08.2008 at 01:46 PM
Kris’s comment is:

Any designer worth their salt has to read this:

What is a designer: things, places, messages by Norman Potter.

It rarely shows up on these lists, which is a shame. It has more useful information than most of the above recommendations combined.

On Feb.08.2008 at 03:03 PM
Prescott Perez-Fox’s comment is:

United We Brand, by Mike Moser

On Feb.08.2008 at 03:19 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

I completely, totally agree with Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. He had another one equally worth while: Reinventing Comics.

On Feb.08.2008 at 06:56 PM
mitch’s comment is:

"I Am Almost Always Hungry" - Cahan + Associates

"Morphosis: Buildings and Projects, Vol 1" - Morphosis architects

On Feb.09.2008 at 12:36 PM
mitch’s comment is:

oops... and i almost forgot

"it is beautiful then gone" - Martin Venezky

On Feb.09.2008 at 12:38 PM
Jenn’s comment is:

Universal Principles of Design - William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler

Focused on the basic ways humans process (visual) information.

On Feb.09.2008 at 07:59 PM
Terry’s comment is:

I agree with many titles already suggested, so not being one to repeat. This isn't a book, but nonetheless I'll suggest:

Greer Allen. "The Design and Printing of Library Exhibition Catalogues." Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship, Volume 5, Number 2, 1990, pages 77-84.

Why this article isn't out there on the web for me to offer a link to is beyond me.

On Feb.09.2008 at 09:32 PM
David S.’s comment is:

In the realm of design as aesthetics:

Paul Rand, Timothy Samata, Michael Bierut, Martin Venezsky, and Robin Bringhurst all seem to do no wrong.

In the realm of design business:

James Twitchell's Branded Nation and 20 Ads that Shook the World I found to be eye-opening and formative. Also The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz and anything by Marty Neumeier... though I wish they'd reprint in a digest the best work from Critique magazine.

On Feb.10.2008 at 12:10 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Yet to be mentioned:

Fonts & Logos or Logotypes & Letterforms by Doyald Young

Book Typography: A Designer's Manual by Michael Mitchell & Susan Wightman

Notes on Book Design by Derek Birdsall

Very Respectfully,

On Feb.10.2008 at 04:44 PM
Sarah B’s comment is:

"Design without boundaries : visual communication in transition" by Rick Poynor.

On Feb.10.2008 at 11:23 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:

David E. and others,

If the essence of good graphic design is (for lack of a better word) good "storytelling;" then it behooves us to look beyond our small pond. As I mentioned before, If you want to learn how to design; first learn to see. Learn the differences between things, learn the processes of the world, and learn to interpret what you observe.

It's nice that you all can repeat lists of random graphic design titles. For that, my congratulations. But please know that to your clients -- and ultimately yourselves -- this is inconsequential.

On Feb.11.2008 at 01:42 AM
Henrik Tandberg’s comment is:

"The stroke" By Gerrit Noordzij. An essential book for anyone interested in type design.

On Feb.11.2008 at 03:55 AM
robin’s comment is:

I cant believe m kingleys comments.

Books (design or otherwise) are a great source of information and inspiration. I do agree that a designer must learn to see, learn to understand the world etc but books can only help in this learning process.

We are not talking about book titles in this thread but the vast knowledge and experience held within their pages. By learning how other designers/authors see and interpret the world we can form conclusions that are objective and based on more than one vision.

As for clients, i think they would prefer working with a well read, open minded designer who embraces knowledge and the opinions of others. I know i have never had a client of mine say that they are unhappy with the service i give because they feel i read too much.

Does M kingsley really feel that books have no worth for a designer or his he just trying to appear superior and intellectual?

On Feb.11.2008 at 04:27 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Industriekultur/Peter Behrens and the AEG

by Tilmann Buddensieg, with Henning Rogge
Translated by Iain Boyd Whyte

This is not strictly about graphic design, so it may not fit your list, Armin. It’s an exhaustive, scholarly tome on Behren’s work for AEG from 1907 to 1914 (which includes graphic design, but also architecture and product design). It’s certainly not a book that one breezes through. But it does offer a nuanced counter to those texts which occasionally place the start of Modern design with the Bauhaus. (Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Adolf Meyer, and Le Corbusier were all assistants to Behrens during his time at AEG...which also parallels the existence of the Deutscher Werkbund.) Particulary interesting to me is the influence that Friedrich Nietzshe had on Behrens.

It’s been years since I last cracked this book, but it’s time for me to revisit it.

On Feb.11.2008 at 08:26 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

It's nice that you all can repeat lists of random graphic design titles. For that, my congratulations. But please know that to your clients -- and ultimately yourselves -- this is inconsequential.

This reminds me of a dialogue in the “Lizzie McGuire” movie:

Teacher: What about your reading list.
Student: I finished it.
Teacher: You read 11 books?
Student: No, I read the list.

Of course, the ability to repeat a list is inconsequential to your clients -- and to ourselves. But knowledge -- whether it’s an understanding of bezier curves or of human nature -- is never inconsequential.

On Feb.11.2008 at 08:48 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

Seconding the noms for

Anything by Donald Norman
Brand Gap and Zap, Marty Neumier
Blink and The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

On Feb.11.2008 at 11:59 AM
Lorenzo’s comment is:

A great book:
by Hermann Hesse

- - - -
Great reference books:
Designing Books: Practice and Theory
by Jost Hochuli, Robin Kinross
- - - -
The Designer's Lexicon: The Illustrated Dictionary of Design, Printing, and Computer Terms
by Alastair Campbell
- - - -
Materials, Process, Print: Creative Ideas for Graphic Design
by Daniel Mason
- - - -
Making It: Manufacturing Techniques for Product Design
by Chris Lefteri

On Feb.11.2008 at 02:18 PM
Jim Bryant’s comment is:

So many books, so little time. One of my favorites for inspiration is MTIV: Process, Inspiration, and Practice for the New Media Designer by Hillman Curtis

The book that has surprised me at the number of times I have returned to it this year is Talent Is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers by Shel Perkins

On Feb.11.2008 at 03:39 PM
Matt Steel’s comment is:

Correct me if I'm mistaken, but I haven't seen anyone add Screen by Jessica Helfand. I found her essays very informative and thought-provoking.

...And I would second choices like all of Tufte's books, The Elements of Typographic Style and Sagmeister's first book (in spite of the fact that I am not usually a fan of monographs—I'd rather visit the website than pay upwards of $50 for a copy of someone's portfolio, thank you very much).

On Feb.11.2008 at 05:11 PM
m. kingsley’s comment is:


If you look a couple posts before your first appearance in this thread, you'll see that I have absolutely no problem with books in general; only with graphic design books in specific. And to get a bit meta for a minute, the idea of a graphic design book recommending other graphic design books strikes me as a tad solipsistic.

In effect, you and I are of the same opinion when it comes to being well-read. Unfortunately you only read half my comments.

On Feb.11.2008 at 05:48 PM
Danny Tanner’s comment is:

All books designed by Irma Boom

On Feb.11.2008 at 11:36 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and the related. Laughter is vital.

On Feb.12.2008 at 09:17 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

A few more useful titles on landmark designers that I haven’t seen listed yet:

Herb Lubalin/Art Director, Graphic Designer and Typographer.
by Gertrude Snyder & Alan Peckolick

Nine Pioneers in American Graphic Design
by R. Roger Remington & Barbara J. Hodick

The Art of Graphic Design
by Bradbury Thompson

The recent trend in monographs has been thick books with clever binding. Back in the 80’s, however, the trend in monographs and bios was TALL and BROAD, with an embossed cover under the dust jacket. Thompson’s book maxed this trend at 13.625 inches high, and 9.75 inches wide.

Also worthwhile:

Corporate Identity/Making Business Strategy Visible through Design
by Wally Olins

and the Looking Closer series.

On Feb.13.2008 at 08:38 AM
JBIII’s comment is:


I have a nice design library that grows every month. My main concern is that I am running out of room in my wire cubed shelves that house my library. I am looking for a book shelving system that I can easily break down and be used to carry/tranport them when I move or want to rearrange the room(almost like mahogany stackable crates?). Can anyone suggest a system for me? I would really like something nice, preferably wood but have had no luck finding anything online.

On Feb.13.2008 at 12:47 PM
Ahrum Hong’s comment is:

These had big influences on me:

Typography (Weingart)
Some People Can't Surf (Lasky)
Selected Posters: 116 (Yokoo)
The Bald Soprano (Massin) [Sorry; this belongs in the other books category, but I forgot to mention it then]

Also, I'm kind of hellbent on finding a copy of that Swiss chemical industry graphics book that Armin recently quipped...

On Feb.13.2008 at 07:11 PM
james puckett’s comment is:

As an almost-graduated student and working designer, the ones that really resonate in my mind are:

The Logo, Font, and Lettering Bible by Leslie Cabarga
Because if you’re doing your own production, you should know how to do it right.

Designing Design by Kenya Hara
Hara makes concepts and ideas seem more important than anyone else has, and shows how design can be strikingly powerful with minimal elements.

No More Rules: Graphic Design and Post Modernism by Rick Poynor
There’s little point in learning design history and leaving a giant gap between 1975 and the present. This one should be mandatory in all design history classes.

On Feb.15.2008 at 01:47 PM
vera.k’s comment is:

Pioneers of Modern Typography . Herbert Spencer
Graphic Design Manual . Armin Hofmann
Printed Matter . Karel Martens
Alphabets . Wim Crouwel
Type Now: A Manifesto . Fred Smeijers
Typography Today . Helmut Schmidt
Tanaka Ikko: Graphic Master
Typographie . Emil Ruder
Milton Glaser: Graphic Design
Asymmetric Typography . Jan Tschichold

On Feb.16.2008 at 11:42 AM
Brian’s comment is:

Pretty much everything I would consider to be essential has already been mentioned, but I'm surprised by this omission:

The Typographic Grid / Der Typografische Raster by Hans Rudolf Bosshard (Niggli)

On Feb.17.2008 at 12:50 PM
cchs’s comment is:

This is my class reading list. It's not complete by any means, and there are a lot of titles that deserve to be on here that I just haven't had time to add. The core of the list is based on an old Critique magazine list (the Literacy issue), but has been expanded over the years.

On Feb.21.2008 at 01:25 AM
David Handlong’s comment is:

I found an old copy of Rhyme and Reason: a Typographic Novel by Erik Spiekermann the other day, and am thoroughly enjoying it. I have to say that it's opened my eyes to a lot of typographic issues that I hadn't given much thought to before. His explanations are thoughtful, informative and highly entertaining.

On Feb.23.2008 at 08:56 PM
Lauren’s comment is:

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitc

On Sep.02.2008 at 03:50 PM