The Best Graphic Design Books to Buy
I recently updated one of the more popular posts on the blog entitled the best books for Logo Designers and thought a corresponding page of the best Graphic Design books could be helpful.
Logo Design is a niche, a specialist sub-section of design, and I think there are a lot of great books that didn’t make the cut – but are still must-haves for any graphic designer’s library.
In no particular order, the following are what I would regard as the best Graphic Design books I would recommend to both creative students and professional designers alike.
100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design
Written by prolific design writer Steven Heller and design critic Veronique Vienne, “100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design” provides readers with an inventory of abstract concepts that defined and shaped the world of graphic design.
Each idea, arranged broadly in chronological order, is illustrated with exemplary images and context, ranging from technical (overprinting, rub-on designs) to stylistic (loud typography and white space); to objects (dust jackets, design handbooks) and methods (paper cut-outs, pixelation).
“These ideas have become, through synthesis and continual application, the ambient language(s) of graphic design. They constitute the technological, philosophical, formal, and aesthetic constructs of graphic design,” Heller and Vienne state in the introduction.
“100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design” is an excellent source of inspiration and a record of the best graphic design examples from the past 100 years. This book focuses on what design is and does and what it should be and do.
Know Your Onions: Graphic Design Book
“After a 25-year career in graphic design, I have picked up a few things and turned them into ‘custom settings’. Read this book and save yourself 25 years,” states Drew de Soto in the introduction of his book “Know Your Onions: Graphic Design”.
What more do you need?
In this quick and practical book, de Soto reveals the secrets of graphic design.
A great read to have on hand while you design, it is designed cleverly like a notebook so you can add your notes as you work through it.
De Soto covers the entire creative process and everything from excellent typography tweaking tips to understanding colour and printing techniques.
In his own words, this fantastic graphic design book is about “saving you time and giving the right principles as a starting point to create excellent work.”
The whole belief is to take precautions, be conscientious, and make back-ups, and you know that de Soto must have learnt each of these lessons the hard way.
“Know Your Onions: Graphic Design” is a fascinating insight into the specifics of graphic design and the perfect guide to success in the creative industry.
100 Habits of Successful Graphic Designers
Do you often wonder how to deal with clients, create an efficient workflow and stay on top of your designing all at the same time?
Look no further than “100 Habits of Successful Graphic Designers”.
This book aims to give you advice about how to integrate the design process into the business world while staying sane.
Practical and straightforward, you are encouraged to learn from the masters of the design world, from Stefan Sagmeister to Margo Chase and Rudy VanderLans.
Their thoughts are boiled down into short quotes and one-liners that illustrate their character and exhibit their philosophy of the world around them.
From graphic design, fashion, and typography to deadlines, inspiration and handling criticism, “100 Habits of Successful Graphic Designers” covers everything.
The A-Z of Visual Ideas: How to Solve any Creative Brief
- Hardcover Book
- English (Publication Language)
- 240 Pages – 11/12/2019 (Publication Date) – VIZ Media LLC (Publisher)
“The A-Z of Visual Ideas aims to open doors that lead to adventures in the land of imagination and inspiration,” states author John Ingledew in the introduction of his book.
The book is structured in an easy-to-use, dynamic A-Z format.
Each of the 26 entries collected is aimed at unlocking the readers’ creativity and providing countless ways to solve creative briefs and design problems.
If you have been stumped for ideas to push your work further than you imagined, this book is a must-read.
Ingledew’s visual novel makes you want to create and put the ideas you read about into use straight away.
He urges us to “Feed and develop your imagination with all the many different ideas discussed in the A-Z, be inspired by them – then transform this inspiration into ideas of your own.”
Including hundreds of inspirational quotes and designs, this book is an essential guide to creativity that will stimulate readers to create great work.
A Smile in the Mind: Witty Thinking in Graphic Design
- McAlhone, Beryl (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 272 Pages – 03/07/2016 (Publication Date) – Phaidon Press (Publisher)
Gathering together some of the best examples of graphic wit since the 1960s, “A Smile in the Mind” explores humour, irony and playfulness in graphic design.
“A Smile in the Mind” looks at the thought processes behind the images, highlights a case for witty solutions and suggests how to gain ideas.
McAlhone and Stuart argue that ideas which happen in the mind stay in the mind, opening by explaining what wit is and how it works.
With work from over 300 designers, this book offers insight into their creative methods and answers the big question of where a particular idea came from.
Written with insight and a lightness of touch, it is a helpful sourcebook and a great trigger to keep the ideas flowing.
To put it simply, witty thinking in graphic design is innovative thinking, not funny drawing.
How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul
Design consultant and writer Adrian Shaughnessy have created a manual to guide graphic designers through their profession, thanks to his wealth of experience.
“How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul” combines philosophical guidance with practical advice to aid you in “becoming an effective and self-reliant graphic designer.”
This book offers clear, concise guidance along with focused, no-nonsense strategies for setting up, running, and promoting a studio, finding work and collaborating with clients.
Aimed at the independent-minded, the revised edition includes sections covering professional skills, the creative process and global trends.
At any stage in a career, finding new employment can often be difficult and stressful.
Allow Shaughnessy’s book to act as your career coach as you are guided through finding a job.
“How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul” won’t teach you how to be a graphic designer, but it will show you how to survive as one.
Show Your Work!: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Getting Discovered
Following his ‘New York Times’ bestseller, “Steal Like an Artist”, Austin Kleon returns with a must-read for anyone in the creative process in the form of “Show Your Work! 10 Things Nobody Told You About Getting Discovered”.
By including 10 transformative rules for being open, generous, brave and productive, Kleon dances around the answer to the quintessential question of the creative life – how do you get discovered?
These ten chapters focus on ways to think about your work as a never-ending process and dealing with the ups and downs of putting your work on show for the world to see.
“Show Your Work!” tells us how to influence others by letting them steal from you, embracing the communal nature of creativity.
Described as a book for people who hate self-promotion, it is filled with illustrations, quotes and stories, making it an incredibly useful and readable short novel.
Kleon encourages us to do what we love, stating, “The only way to find your voice is to use it.
It is hardwired, built into you.
Talk about the things you love.
Your voice will follow.”
Graphic Design: The New Basics
For those seeking an inspiring and concise introduction to graphic design, look no further than “The New Basics”.
Best-selling author Ellen Lupton, and design educator Jennifer Cole Phillips, provide a guide to contemporary graphic design theory and practice for new designers.
The main ideas of visual language that inform any design work (from a logo design or letterhead to a complex website) are explained with visual demonstrations and concise commentary.
Luton and Phillips said that this book was created because “we could not find anything like it available for today’s students and young designers.”
Illustrated with refreshing simplicity and creative examples, each chapter is broken into clearly defined subject areas, making it easy to find exactly what you are searching for.
The historical notion of “language of vision” is discussed alongside reconsidering principles from the Bauhaus legacy but in tune with today’s tools.
Students and professionals will find that “The New Basics” is an excellent, concise resource for the fundamentals of good design.
Graphic: Inside the Sketchbooks of the World's Great Graphic Designers
Whether it is print, design and branding, typography or interactive media, ideas and concepts are recorded in the journals of creators before the finished products are released to the world.
Within the pages of “Graphic: Inside the Sketchbooks of the World’s Greatest Graphic Designers”, we are privileged to see slivers of artists’ works not often seen in the final design.
The works of 110 different artists and designers make the book very random and the subjects varied, containing a range of photographic collages to scrappy sketches.
Heller and Talarico’s concise commentary lets us in on the artists’ creative development, design philosophies, sketch-booking techniques and visual influences.
Each example is unique and provides an exclusive journey into the minds of some of the most significant visual creators.
Contributors include such world-renowned names as Stefan Sagmeister, Milton Glaser, Michael Beirut and Sara Fanelli.
“Inside the Sketchbooks” acts as a goldmine of inspiration for students, professionals and anyone else fascinated by the world of visual industries.
Popular Lies About Graphic Design
An “attempt to debunk the various misconceptions, half-truths and, in some cases, outright lies which permeate the industry of design”, Craig Ward’s book “Popular Lies About Graphic Design” is one which few designers will want to be without.
In the opening sentence, the British designer and typographer state, “This is not a book full of facts.
Nor is it a book full of advice.
It is a book full of opinions, and confusion between those three is how a lot of these problems begin….”
Pulling from his wealth of experience, Ward explores the prescriptions and truisms of the creative industry.
With contributions from the likes of Stefan Sagmeister, Milton Glaser and Christoph Niemann, there are many opinions of the graphic design world to pull apart.
The book discusses topics such as the neutrality of Helvetica, the validity of design education, the supposed death of print, client relationships and pitch planning.
From myths about work ethic to the cult of ideas, 35 such “lies” are tackled within the pages of “Popular Lies About Graphic Design”.
Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students
Ellen Lupton’s welcoming introduction to the world of type is presented to us in “Thinking with Type”, a design book that opened up typography to a broader audience in many respects.
Lupton’s handbook provides not only the how but also the why of basic typesetting practices for both print and screen.
Written for “anyone who regularly and enthusiastically commits acts of visual communication”, the author has managed to bring the instruction of typography into the twenty-first century.
The book covers a vast amount of information. It is divided into three main sections – Letter, Text and Grid – each beginning with a thought-provoking essay followed by illustrations and how-to exercises.
Lupton casts even the oldest of typographic ideas in a new light with her humorous and smart examples that are finely and carefully illustrated.
The range of reference images in the book is impressive, with contributions from Gutenberg to Paula Scher.
A book that should be on every creative’s shelf, “Thinking with Type”, doesn’t just tell you the do’s and don’t’s of typography; it shows you.
The fantastic analysis of thinking with typography is perfect for everyone, from first-year design students to seasoned professionals.
Work for Money, Design for Love
Drawing on his experience building a successful freelance design business, David Airey reflects on what business should be about.
“Work for Money, Design for Love” delves into what it takes to start and run a successful design industry business straight from seasoned professionals who have done so.
Inspired by the thousands of questions received daily by Airey on his blogs, he answers these questions through anecdotes and case studies, backed up by his ventures, as well as those of world-renowned designers such as Ivan Chermayeff, Jerry Kuyper and Eric Karajaluoto.
This book is an excellent resource for designers who wish to gain answers to some of the self-employment’s most oft-asked questions.
“Work for Money, Design for Love” is perfect for those who are starting independently and wish to gain a new direction or perspective regarding the design world.
From types of contracts to believing in yourself, David Airey provides us with concise answers to questions that you have more than likely asked or no doubt will ask at some point in your creative life.
Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005
Founder of Penguin Books, Sir Allen Lane, famously said that “good design is no more expensive than bad.”
Since 1935, Penguin paperbacks have become a constantly evolving part of Britain’s culture and design history.
Through studying the past seventy years of these jackets, Phil Baines traces the development of British publishing, book-cover design and the role of artists and designers in creating and defining the infamous Penguin look.
We are provided with incredible images from cover to cover, showing how “Penguin by Design” challenges us with the household phrase, “never judge a book by its cover”.
Alongside Lucy Sisman, Baines has created a portfolio detailing how Penguin has consistently established its identity through its covers, influenced by the more extensive development of graphic design and its changing fashions.
Graphic designer, Phil Baines, organises Penguin’s story around five significant periods, the first three of which bear the stamp of Allen Lane’s steady hand and impeccable taste.
The author believes the company “perfected the balance” of “price, the convenience of format, and excellence of scholarship… combining design and sound writing to such good effect that after only ten years, the name Penguin and the word paperback… were synonymous.”
This book combines the history of publishing and design into one satisfying, memorable package.
What They Didn't Teach You in Design School
A must-read for new designers, Phil Cleaver’s “What They Didn’t Teach You in Design School” helps design students transition from school to the big bad world of work.
This witty and useful publication fills you in on the subtler points of design education often skipped by professors and tutors.
The book is littered with humorous anecdotes from Cleaver’s students, seamlessly connecting their advice with his own experiences from over the years.
From learning to get the all-important first job to create the best portfolio, Phil Cleaver passes on the lessons of a lifetime in graphic design practice and education.
Hoards of valuable and practical information, essential to know in the design studio and when working for clients, is available to readers in Cleaver’s publication.
“What They Didn’t Teach You in Design School” is full of advice and quotes from the industry’s best, giving readers the ammunition they need to make a successful start in design.
Stop Stealing Sheep and Find Out How Type Works
First published in 1993, Erik Spiekermann provides us with an elegant guide, for readers of all levels, from every aspect of typography, from the history and mechanics of type to training the eye to recognise and choose typefaces.
The internationally renowned graphic designer helps you understand how to look at type, work with typefaces, choose the best font for your message and express yourself more efficiently through design.
After two decades as one of the world’s best-selling books on designing with type, the third edition of “Stop Stealing Sheep and Find Out How Type Works” brings Spiekermann’s type classic fully up to date on mobile and web typography.
This book contains anecdotes and illustrations, inviting exploration and ensuring you learn something new with every read.
Discover type’s roots and place within society while Spiekermann teaches how to use space and layout to improve overall communication.
Creative Anarchy: How to Break the Rules of Graphic Design for Creative Success
Want to push the boundaries of creative graphic design?
Illustrator and graphic designer Denise Bolser has created a book explaining and exploring both the rule-following and rule-breaking of design.
Put simply, “Creative Anarchy” is a book about great designs and ideas, letting the reader in on the fact that rules must first be understood to be broken.
With sections devoted to designing logos, posters, websites, publications, advertising, and more, this book mingles graphic design with advertising.
Not only are you given an insight into the industry, but also into why some advertising works and others do not.
In the introduction, Bolser explains why design matters, why design rules matter and why in some instances, resorting to creative anarchy is essential.
Divided into two sections, Part One details learning the rules, while Part Two then encourages you to break them.
Overall, this convenient book tells people how to break the rules correctly and efficiently, containing a goldmine of ideas for designers and entrepreneurs alike.
That, I guess, about wraps up my list, but I will try and keep this updated in conjunction with my creaking IKEA shelves.
What have I missed off the list?
What Graphic Design books do you recommend reading next, be it for information or inspiration?
What are the best Graphic Design books to buy this year?
Last update on 2023-11-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API