Over the years I’ve learned more from reading books than I have from any other source. The vast amount of knowledge available through books from some of the greatest minds in our history is absolutely amazing. The only problem with books is that there are so many that it can be hard to figure out which ones to read in your limited free time, so to help you decide we put together a list of 12 must read books for graphic designers.
This list covers a wide range of topics including inspirational design books, books for entrepreneurs, and books about how to lead a happier life (in no particular order). The common theme is that each book is very well written and is full of great information that will help you become a better graphic designer and a more well-rounded person.
Check out the list below and let us know what you think! If you feel like we left an essential book out, let us know on Twitter.
1. "Thinking with Type" by Ellen Lupton
For our money, this is the best typography guide on the market. Ellen Lupton does a great job of presenting proven typographic techniques, terminology, and historical context that every graphic designer needs to know in an easy-to-understand way. Grasping the concepts in this book allows you to stop guessing when it comes to laying out your typography and start basing your decisions on tried and true principles that the masters have been using for decades. This is absolutely a must read book for graphic designers that deal with type in any form.
2. "Creative Strategy and the Business of Design" by Douglas Davis
“Creative Strategy and the Business of Design” focuses on bridging the gap between the design skills you learned in school and the business tools you need to get results in the real world. Douglas Davis does a nice job of covering all of the bases of design thinking, from brand positioning, to strategic frameworks, to data analysis.
This is the perfect book for designers looking to become more than just pixel pushers by incorporating strategy, business insights, and decisions based on concrete objectives to get a seat at the table.
3. "Start with Why" by Simon Sinek
This critically-acclaimed book from Simon Sinek encourages you to dive deeper into your creative process. Rather than sending a client a generic design questionnaire to get the details of a project, this book teaches the importance of discovering the “why” behind a company or individuals motives. This shift in mindset is essential when it comes to creating timeless designs that will provide value to a client beyond simply looking pretty. After reading this book it becomes apparent that discovering a company’s ‘why’ is easily one of the most important parts of branding, as it gives designers a frame of reference for all design decisions.
4. "The Art of Happiness" by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler
Whether we’re talking about our design work, our businesses, or our personal lives, at the end of the day we all just want to be happy. “The Art of Happiness” is an amazing book that combines the Dalai Lama’s wisdom with western psychology to teach us how to deal with adversity, find balance, and lead happier lives. A must read book for graphic designers and non-designers alike!
5. "Pretty Much Everything" by Aaron Draplin
“Pretty Much Everything” is an authentic auto-biographical book from utilitarian design icon, Aaron Draplin. In the book, Draplin walks us through his life as a designer from his upbringing, to junkin’ across America, to launching the Draplin Design Co. and Field Notes brands. He also shares “pretty much everything” he’s designed over the years in beautifully printed images. This is a great one for the coffee table.
6. "How To Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie
This is without a doubt one of the most important books I’ve ever read. First published during the height of The Great Depression in 1937, the principles and concepts that Carnegie presents in the book are still every bit as relevant today. “How To Win Friends and Influence People” discusses simple ways to use human psychology in your favor to “make a good first impression, criticize people-and not be hated for it, and make people glad to do what you want.”
As a testament to the effectiveness of the principles discussed in this book, I’ll share a personal story. During the time when I was finishing up my first read-through of this book, I was involved in a fender bender. The other party was clearly at fault, admitted their error, and promised to take care of the damages through insurance. After several months of the guilty party avoiding the insurance companies, it had become apparent that they were not planning on following through on their word.
Using the lessons I had learned in the book, I was able to craft and send a carefully worded message that appealed to the other party’s nobler senses. They reached out to their insurance and took care of the damages the next day. Needless to say the book immediately paid for itself many times over!
7. "Designing Brand Identity" by Alina Wheeler
“Designing Brand Identity” is one of the most comprehensive resources I’ve come across for developing and implementing a brand system. From branding fundamentals, to step-by-step instructions, to in-depth case studies, Alina Wheeler leaves no stone unturned in the branding process. This is definitely a must-read book for graphic designers that are interested in expanding their understanding of successful branding and logo design practices.
8. "Logo: The Reference Guide to Symbols and Logotypes" by Michael Evamy
To be fair, this book is more of a “must reference” rather than a “must read”. Regardless, “Logo: The Reference Guide to Symbols and Logotypes” is an indispensable resource, featuring an extensive collection of thousands of brand marks and logotypes from companies of all shapes and sizes. The collection is organized by design style, subject matter, and even the letters used in each symbol. This book is a must read for graphic designers that need some inspiration or just want to check whether or not their idea has been done when designing a new logo.
9. "The Win Without Pitching Manifesto" by Blair Enns
This quick read by Blair Enns is packed with invaluable information for designers of any discipline. In “The Win Without Pitching Manifesto”, Enns presents 12 proclamations that are aimed at empowering designers to charge what they’re worth and to stop doing spec work for clients in an attempt to impress them. Whether you’re a solo freelancer or run a logo design agency, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll change some of your business practices after reading this book and will start earning more money, wasting less time, and will feel more confident when speaking with potential clients.
10. "Steal Like an Artist" by Austin Kleon
Another quick must read for designers, “Steal Like an Artist” is a fun book aimed at motivating and encouraging you to live a more creative lifestyle. Much of what holds us back as designers is the looming fear of imperfection, which is one of the main topics that Kleon tackles in this book. I definitely recommend picking this one up as a source for creative inspiration and for “permission” to just create, even if it’s not perfect.
11. "No Time Like the Present" by Jack Kornfield
This is another book in our list of must reads for graphic designers that actually has nothing to do with design, but rather focuses on improving ourselves as individuals, with the knowledge that improving ourselves will improve our work, our relationships with clients, and our businesses. “No Time Like the Present” sets out to teach us to be mindful in our everyday tasks, compassionate in our interactions with others, and courageous in the face of adversity. This book is a great reminder that obstacles can be opportunities and that some things are simply not in our control.
12. "The Brand Gap" by Marty Neumeier
And last, but certainly not least, is in my opinion one of the best books ever written on the topic of branding, “The Brand Gap” by Marty Neumeier. Marty does an amazing job of defining what a brand is, why it matters, and what you can do to change the perception of a brand. Presented in an easily-digestible style that leans heavily on visuals and quotes, “The Brand Gap” is able to compress the complex concepts of branding and surrounding strategies into impressively simple messages that will stick with you for a lifetime. If you’re a designer that deals with branding or strategic thinking in any form, I urge you to read this book.
More Must Read Books for Graphic Designers
If you’ve already read the majority of the books in our list, or you’re just looking for more must read books for graphic designers, here are some more great options that we recommend checking out:
- “101 Things I Learned in Business School” by Michael W. Preis
- “Logo Modernism” by Jens Müller
- “House Industries: The Process is the Inspiration” by House Industries
- “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” by Michael Bierut
- “Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines“ by Graphic Artists Guild
- “Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities“ by David Airey
- “Layout Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Using Grids” by Beth Tondreau
- “Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands” by Marty Neumeier
- “Show Your Work!” by Austin Kleon