The 50 Best Books on Design
The great designer – no matter what type – is always learning. Styles change, technologies change, tastes change, and the designer must adapt accordingly, or be left to obsolescence. No shortage of material has be written about design, some timeless, some less so. Ideally, you’re learning equal parts practice and theory. Yes, for instance, the web designer needs to know front-end development, but they also needs to understand what typeface to use, and why. They should have some feel for cognitive psychology, aesthetics, and the history of graphic design. Anything else, and you’re operating within a vacuum – which, again, is a shortcut to obsolescence. Below, find our top 50 books on design, including practical guides and more abstract theories. Both are essential to any designer, aspiring and experienced.
1) HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites by Jon Duckett
2) The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
“A classic in the field,” says Library Journal – and rightly so. Now in its fourth edition and translated into Greek, Italian, and Dutch, The Elements of Typographic Style was originally published in 1993 and yet has to be surpassed in its warm and beautiful guide to the aesthetics of type. Though it may sound like a dense instruction manual, it’s just the opposite: poet Robert Bringhurst brings to the table wit, grace, and startling intellect. In addition to a practical how-to approach, Bringhurst delves into the history and theory of typography, all of which should prove interesting to graphic artists, editors, web designers, and enthusiasts. The newest editions are updated with notable advances and changes in the field. For designers of any kind, it remains indispensable.
3) Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug
The third edition of this standard guide on web UX and UI includes updated examples and a new chapter on mobile usability. Since its publication in 2000, Don’t Make Me Think has been the go to for well over 350,000 web designers and developers for its no-nonsense, practical approach to intuitive navigation and information design. It’s also generously short and features illustrations wherever possible. As for the author, Krug is a professional usability consultant with over two decades of experience or companies like Apple, Netscape, AOL, Lexus, and more. Those interested – or who’ve already read Don’t Make Me Think – may be interested in Krug’s other book on the topic, Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems.
4) Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design by William Lidwell, Jill Butler, Kritina Holden
Universal Principles of Design, which has been translated into sixteen languages, is the field’s first cross-disciplinary reference. Among the topics discussed: Occam’s Razor, the 80/20 rule, the Rule of Thirds, chunking, baby-face bias, similarity, storytelling, signal-to-noise ratio, cognitive dissonance, prototyping, and more. Designed as an all-around reference book, professionals and amateurs from all range of design interests will make good use of this book – and learn applicable new concepts that they might have otherwise considered ancillary to their work. William Lidwell is a partner and chief research and development officer at the Applied Management Sciences Institute, with more than twenty years of experience. Jill Butler is a designer whose clients include Bel Inizio, DiscoverLink, Duncan Industrial, University of Houston, and more.
6) The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Rolf Tufte
Edward Rolf Tufte, whom the New York Times called “the Leonardo da Vinci of Data,” is an American statistician and professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University, whose Visual Display of Quantitative Information has become a classic for the presentation of statistical graphics, charts, and tables. Tufte goes into accessible depth on the theory and practice of data graphic design, with 250 illustrations of the best (and worst) statistical graphics in order to demonstrate concepts. Among the concepts covered are: editing and improving graphics, high-resolution displays, data-to-ink ratios, design variation vs. data variation, time-series, relational graphics, data maps, multivariate designs, and more. Above all, readers will learn how to display data in the most precise, effective, and aesthetically appropriate manner possible. Tufte has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences.
7) The Non-Designer’s Design Book
With an updated third edition, The Non-Designer’s Design Book continues to be an excellent resource for entry-level digital. The book’s premise is simple: thanks to streamlined, easy-to-use platforms like WordPress, more and more people are attempting to build web pages without formal training. In the long run, this is a good thing. But as anyone will tell you, starting web design in the blind can be a frustrating, highly unproductive venture. Here, the author covers digital design and typographic principles in a way that anyone can understand – and get to work on their own pages ASAP. Featuring design exercises, quizzes, and illustrations, readers are spared the usual jargon for practical, how-to tutorials and on-the-go training. Robin Williams has written dozens of award-winning books on design, including The Non-Designer’s Type Book, The Little Mac Book, Robin Williams Mac OS X Book, Robin Williams Design Workshop, and Web Design Workshop.
8) Design Is a Job by Mike Monteiro
Part of the comprehensive “A Book Apart” Series (which includes individual guides on CSS, HTML, typography, etc.), Design Is a Job is a brief, to-the-point primer for industry professionals by one of the field’s most prominent, provocative, and successful practitioners. Material is presented in an engaging, plainspoken, and witty manner, and readers are free to peruse through chapters a la carte for relevant content (though are encouraged to progress start-to-finish for the sake of picking up unexpected nuggets of insight). Perhaps the book’s main takeaway? “Confidence doesn’t come from knowing you’re right—it comes from being okay with failing.” The founder of Mule Design, Monteiro’s clients include ProPublica, Open Society Foundations, Brain Traffic, Advance Digital, the Financial Times, Opus Capital, Wikipedia, and many more. He also speaks and provides workshops around San Fransisco and the country on design.
9) Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills by David Sherwin
“Have you ever struggled to complete a design project on time? Or felt that having a tight deadline stifled your capacity for maximum creativity?” So goes the premise of David Sherwin’s excellent workshop on design — and to answer, what professional designer hasn’t? Creative Workshop is a training ground / bootcamp in developing practical, effective, and efficient design skills for the on-demand digital world. As the title suggests, Sherwin presents 80 different exercises for readers to work through and hone their skills sets, from creating a typeface in an hour, to designing a paper robot in an afternoon, to more traditional web page and interactive jobs. Most important, readers are given examples of how other accomplished designers solve the problem, plus brainstorming techniques and general design advice. Sherwin is a Interaction Design Director at frog, a global innovation firm, and senior lecturer in the BFA in Interaction Design program at California College of the Arts. He has spoken at South by Southwest, Interaction 11, HOW Design Live, and design schools around the world.
10) Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte
Another installment in the “A Book Apart” Series (#4), this book tackles the challenge of designing attractive, cutting-edge sites that can sustain the onrush of traffic from an increasing number of devices – tablets, mobile, netbook, etc. How do you build something that is both beautiful and responsive in such an environment? All too often, you come across something that simply takes too long, which amounts to a death-wish on the modern web. Responsive Web Design covers CSS techniques and design principles, including flexible images, fluid grids, and media queries, in a short and concise text that can be returned to again and again. Marcotte’s clients include the Sundance Film Festival, Stanford University, Red 5 Studios, New York Magazine, People, The Boston Globe, and more. He’s spoken at South by Southwest, An Event Apart, and Carsonified Workshop.
11) White Space is Not Your Enemy: A Beginner’s Guide to Communicating Visually through Graphic, Web & Multimedia Design by Rebecca Hagen and Kim Golombisky
The title is clear enough. Rebecca Hagen and Kim Golombisky want to kill once and for all the urge to clog pages with purposeless junk. Designed for beginners and amateur enthusiasts, White Space, now in its second edition, is a practical graphic design and layout guide that introduces readers to the fundamentals of the field in order to create effective visual communication displays on both print and digital. Among the subjects covered are “what is design?”, research and creative brainstorming, the “works-everytime-layout,” typographical concepts, choosing and using color, and the “13 layout sins.” Readers will also gain valuable insights for infographics, storyboarding, and multimedia projects. Both authors are experienced professionals. Hagen has taught at the University of South Florida School of Mass Communications and serves as the president and principal designer of Sky Lake Design Studio in Tampa. Golombisky is an award-winning teacher and scholar at the University of South Florida.
12) The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher
Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways is provocative, unconventional, brilliant book that prompted Design Week – in 2001 – to declare “he design book of the century may have already been written.” Described as a “guide to visual awareness,” Fletcher leads readers on rollercoaster ride of anecdotes, puzzles, curious facts, serious science, pseudoscience, and more, all with the aim of exploring the inner workings of the relationship between the mind, body, and imagination. The 72 chapters themselves often present material in a manner that’s a meta-commentary and demonstration on its subject. Among the numerous theoretical concepts explored are perception, color, pattern, proportion, paradox, illusion, language, alphabets, words, letters, ideas, creativity, culture, style, aesthetics, and value. Above all, Fletcher – whom the Daily Telegraph described as “the most highly regarded graphic designer of his generation, and probably one of the most prolific” – forces the reader to practice the invaluable gifts of critical and creative thinking.
13) CSS Secrets: Better Solutions to Everyday Web Design Problems by Lea Verou
Lea Verou is an Invited Expert in the W3C CSS Working Group, the committee that designs CSS, and previously worked as a Developer Advocate at the W3C, the internet’s main standards organization. So, suffice it to say, she’s worth listening to when it comes to the CSS language. In CSS Secrets Verou gives intermediate and advanced readers 47 undocumented techniques and tips to develop skills to solve day-to-day design issues. For the purposes of this list, it’s worth noting that this book is prioritizes code over design (as much a philosophical position as anything else), but nevertheless remains an excellent resource, covering a wide range of practical areas of interest: backgrounds and borders, shapes, visual effects, typography, user experience, structure and layout, and transitions and animations. In addition to her work at W3C, Verou conducts research in Human-Computer Interaction at MIT and speaks across the world.
14) Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton
In Thinking with TypeEllen Lupton writes: “Designers provide ways into—and out of—the flood of words by breaking up text into pieces and offering shortcuts and alternate routes through masses of information….Although many books define the purpose of typography as enhancing the readability of the written word, one of design’s most humane functions is, in actuality, to help readers avoid reading.” Do we agree with her? By the time the reader is finished with this groundbreaking primer on typography, he or she will at least have thought long and hard about the thesis. At times reminiscent of Marshall Macluhan, Thinking with Type is a brief but bold addition to the field, focusing on letter, text, and grid. Lupton – who is both a leading design educator and historian – begins each chapter placing material in its historical, technological, and theoretical context, before launching into a set of practical exercises. A fine book for beginners and experts alike.
15) Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff they don’t teach you in design school, but should by Michael Janda
Here’s another book whose title speaks for itself. Michael Janda wants you to toss kindly everything you thought that you thought you learned at design school and forget about your “killer” portfolio — or, better yet, burn it. The real world of design is a whole new ball game. Here, Janda goes in-depth into real-world practices, professional do’s and don’ts, and the unwritten rules of business that most designers, photographers, web designers, copywriters, and programmers are woefully unaware of for the simple reason that they’ve never been taught. Through witty, approachable, and actionable writing, Burn Your Portfolio covers all the essentials for transitioning from a practiced enthusiast to a professional designer: teamwork and collaboration, relationship building, managing clients, bidding work, production processes, and more. Owner of the Utah-based design firm Riser, Janda has nearly twenty years of experience, with clients like NBC, ABC, Fox, Google, National Geographic, Warner Bros., and Disney.
16) Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley and David Kelley
The Kelley brothers know what they’re talking about. David founded IDEO and created the Stanford d.school, while Tom is an IDEO partner author of the bestselling The Art of Innovation. In Creative Confidence the two demonstrate everyone – “creative” and “non-creative” types – have the creative gene/impulse/potential/drive, etc., within us. Or as they pose, “Everything in modern society is the result of a collection of decisions made by someone. Why shouldn’t that someone be you?” The book is packed with similar nuggets: “I used to think that to make something happen in a corporation or in the army, you had to be at the higher ranks, to be a general. But you just need to start a movement”; “Failure sucks, but instructs”; “Design thinking relies on the natural—and coachable—human ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, and to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional.” While Creative Confidence isn’t necessarily a how-to or theoretical guide, it’s nonetheless essential reading for any designer, would-be designer, or anyone wanting to learn how to tap into their creative gene/impulse/potential/drive, etc.
17) Head First Web Design by Ethan Watrall and Jeff Siarto
Drawing on the author’s extensive academic and professional expertise, Head First Web Design is a standout manual for the DIY novice designer looking to build anything from an attractive, unique personal blog to a highly functional corporate site. CSS and HTML feature, as well as an array of other tricks to create effective, user-friendly pages, including a breakdown of how you can leverage cognitive science and learning theory for optimal design. Watrall is a professor at Michigan State University, teaching user centered design, interactive design, interactive storytelling, game design, and game studies, who’s written several other books on the subject. Siarto is a web and UX designer in Chicago. He is the founder of Siarto Labs and co-founder of Loudpixel, a consultancy that specializes in web development and online learning.
18) Grid Systems in Graphic Design: A Visual Communication Manual for Graphic Designers, Typographers and Three Dimensional Designers by Josef Müller-Brockmann
Grid Systems in Graphic Design, or in its original German, Raster Systeme Fur Die Visuele Gestaltung, is one of the landmark studies in graphic design. Originally published in 1961, Josef Müller-Brockmann’s book is, as advertised, “from a professional for professionals.” The Müller-Brockmann opened his Zurich studio in 1936, where he pioneered work in graphic design, exhibition design, and photography. In 1958, alongside R.P. Lohse, C. Vivarelli, and H. Neuburg, he became a founding editor of New Graphic Design and began design consulting for IBM in 1968. He’s particularly noted for his use of the influential Akzidenz-Grotesk typeface. His classic Grid Systems may now have been replaced on the shelf by more up-to-date manuals, but any serious designer can’t have missed it.
19) Web Design All-in-One For Dummies by Sue Jenkins
From the go-to how-to series, Web Design for Dummies is a predictably demotic, comprehensive primer in everything a dummy needs to know about designing web pages. With more than 650 pages of covering fundamentals, the book includes info on CSS, HTML, page-building strategies, and more. Five sections are divided as follows: pre-design considerations (think before you act!), site aesthetics (that’s how pretty or un-pretty your site looks!), site-building (building the site!), site-testing (the best sites are the ones that work!), and taking your site public (sites have their own IPOs!). Included in the second edition are updated technologies, new examples, and all the latest in digital design. Sue Jenkins (no dummy!) is the prinicpal of her design firm, Luckychair, as well as author, speaker, and design trainer.
20) 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People by Susan M. Weinschenk
It’s entirely plausible this book deserves to be ranked higher. After all, isn’t understanding people – how they perceive, contemplate, and react to the world, consciously and unconsciously – exactly what the designed is tasked with? Or, as the jacket cover declares, “Designing without understanding what makes people act the way they do is like exploring a new city without a map: results will be haphazard, confusing, and inefficient.” Every designer wants increased usability, conversion rates, and all the other surface-level merits – but first, Susan M. Weinschenk argues, they’ll need to ask the right questions about their audience: what draws and keeps attention? what sticks? is central or peripheral more important? how do you motivate sustained, deep activity? Making good use of her PhD in Psychology here, Susan M. Weinschenk has over 30 years in behavioral science and neuroscience. In addition to authoring numerous other books, she speaks, mentors, and consults with Fortune 1000 companies, start-ups, non-profit agencies, and educational institutions.
21) Web Designer’s Idea Book: Inspiration from the Best Web Design Trends, Themes and Styles by Patrick McNeil
The fourth volume of Web Designer’s Idea Book, published in 2014, again collects all the latest trends in the world of professional design. The simple but effective model has proven to be a huge success for Patrick McNeil, a web designer and programmer whose Design Meltdown blog has become a standard reference tool. Here, he’s curated more than 650 design examples of the past few years that are leading the way. Contents are organized in careful and deliberate categories so readers can refer back at need or read selections as necessary, whether the topic is design styles, elements, themes or responsive design. Further, the new volume provides advice to novice to intermediate designers concerning portfolio practices and how to keep your work fresh, relevant, and distinct.
22) Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems by Steve Krug
In the companion book to the previously listed Don’t Make Me Think (ranked third here), Steve Krug provides the DIY-minded professional a primer on usability to sidestep the high price-tag of hiring an independent usability consultant. The familiar deadpan but acute humor is on display in Rocket Surgery Made Easy; for instance, “when fixing problems, always do the least you can.” Fair enough. Among the skills and insights covered include: design-testing, big and small; prioritizing problems and bugs; and, as always, how to keep things as simple as possible. In addition to witty instruction, readers will also find demonstration videos, before-and-after examples, illustrations, and more. The author is (ironically?) a professional usability consultant with over two decades of experience or companies like Apple, Netscape, AOL, and Lexus.
23) Web Development and Design Foundations with HTML5 by Terry Felke-Morris
24) About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, Christopher Noessel, and David Cronin
“Define what the product will do before you design how the product will do it.” It sounds simple enough, but it’s all too often undone. When About Face first appeared more than a decade ago, it quickly signaled a paradigm shift in the field. Now in the fourth edition – the most significant revision yet – the authors again provide an up-to-date comprehensive guide to interactive web design, with new insights and advice for mobile and tablet devices. Particular areas of interest to design professionals include: contemporary interface, interaction, and product design methods; design for mobile platforms and consumer electronics; state-of-the-art interface recommendations and new examples; and updated Goal-Directed Design methodology. All the authors are industry-recognized leaders. Cooper, the lead author, is an American software designer and programmer, known as the “Father of Visual Basic.”
25) Web Design for Beginners by Steven Weikler
26) Meggs’ History of Graphic Design by Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis
The unmatched, award-winning, and comprehensive “bible” of graphic design history is now in its fifth edition, recognized for publishing excellence by the Association of American Publishers. The subject here is nothing short of a world history: the Middle East, Spain, Portugal, South America, China, the United States, Italy, Russia, the Netherlands…. Nothing is overlooked in chapters divided into prehistory through The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Industrial Revolution, The Modernist Era, and The Information Age. For professionals, amateurs, and history goofs in general, readers discover the invention of writing and alphabets, the origins of printing and typography, and postmodern design with the help of 1,400 high-quality images across 600+ pages. Meggs was a professor, author of a dozen books and 150 articles and papers on design and typography, memeber of the Art Directors Hall of Fame. Purvis, the editor of the History, is s Professor of Graphic Design at the Boston University College of Fine Arts.
27) The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond by Jesse James Garrett
The Elements of User Experience remains just as informative, useful, and salutary as it was on its first printing nearly 15 years ago. The second edition fulfills its duty to update and expand. Here, Garrett includes new insights on mobile design and applications. What’s most notable, though, is that while much has changed, much abides. Yes, technological advances will continue to require designers to adapt, but clean code and sharp graphics still aren’t enough on their own. Designers must have a clear set of strategic objectives and a clear understanding of user needs. In short, even the best tech in the world can’t automate a perfect UX. From usability, brand identity, information architecture, and interaction design, The Elements of User Experience is a comprehensive reference tool intermediate and advanced designers will return to again and again.
28) Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield
Simon Garfield’s inquisitive and engaging book is, yes, all about the type: Where did they come from? Why do we need them? What is Times New Roman? Who can we hold responsible for Comic Sans? In other words, Just My Type is at once history, investigation, and explanation. Above all, it’s an appreciation. Then enthusiasm with which he writes about something so for-granted is palpable – “Type has rhythm, just like music” – as can his occasional nostalgic flights: “These days, digitization enables us to view the copies [of the Gutenberg Bible] online without the need for a trip to the Euston Road, although to do so would be to deny oneself one of the great pleasures in life. The first book ever printed in Europe – heavy, luxurious, pungent and creaky – does not read particularly well on an iPhone.” Any designer interested in the role and responsibility – and consequences – of typography in the digital age should read and learn.
29) Learning Responsive Web Design: A Beginner’s Guide by Clarissa Peterson
One of the newer books on responsive web design, Peterson’s book proves an excellent guide to design for an array of technologies: tablets, smartphones, feature phones, laptops, and large screens. The author, herself a UX designer and co-founder of a Montreal-based digital consultancy, explains how an optimized responsive web design works and goes step-by-step through a responsive workflow, from project kickoff to site launch. Aimed at anyone interested in created websites – professional developers, designers, middle-of-the-road amateurs – Peterson discusses: content strategy (always prior to creating a visual design); why default design should be for the narrowest screens; HTML elements and CSS properties essential for responsive web design; images, typography, and navigation; and performance optimization techniques. In addition to consulting, Peterson speaks, gives workshops, and teaches in the web developer fast-track program at SAIT Polytechnic.
30) Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks by Luke Wroblewski
Luke Wroblewski’s book has become a go-to for design professionals trying to solve the form problem. As the jacket attests, “Forms make or break the most crucial online interactions: checkout (commerce), registration (community), data input (participation and sharing), and any task requiring information entry.” In Web Form Design, draws on original research, in addition to his extensive experience at Yahoo! and eBay to show how some forms work and others fail. A party of other contributors join him to add their perspectives – Bob Baxley, Aaron Gustafson, Jared Spool, Caroline Jarrett, Peter Wallack, James Reffell, Jack Moffett, and Micah Alpern. If you don’t trust us, maybe Irene Au, Director of User Experience at Google, can convince you: “Luke’s book is by far the most practical, comprehensive, data-driven guide for solving form design challenges that plague every interface designer. It is an essential reference that will become a must-read for many years.”
31) Interdisciplinary Interaction Design: A Visual Guide to Basic Theories, Models and Ideas for Thinking and Designing for Interactive Web Design and Digital Device Experiences by James Pannafino
The skeleton key to James Pannafino’s book on interaction design is its interdiscipline approach, which really any design book should be. In particular, Interdisciplinary Interaction Design studies how people deal with words, read images, perceive time and motion, explore space, and the effect of action and response on human behavior. In other words, this is as much a pop psychology book as anything else, with industrial design, cognitive psychology, and user interface design thrown in, as well. Making use of clear, jargon-free language, visual representations of terminology, and comparative diagrams, Pannafino’s book is appropriate for professional web designers or any creative professional trying to utilize communicative displays. The author is a faculty member at Millersville University, Pennsylvania in the Art and Design Department where he teaches graphic and interactive design courses.
32) How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy
Here’s one for more than a few of us: How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy. First published in 2005, this book is now available in an expanded second edition, combining the same practical and philosophical advice to help young and entry-level designers start in a trying but potentially rewarding business. Among the most essential topics covered include no-nonsense strategies for setting up, running, and promoting a studio; finding work (freelance or otherwise); and collaborating with clients. Further, the new edition touches on new trends in design, the creative process at large, and social responsibility, ethics, and the emergence of digital culture. Readers will especially appreciate the wide range of interviews with some of the most respected designers currently working, including Jonathan Barnbrook, Sara De Bondt, Stephen Doyle, Ben Drury, Paul Sahre, Dmitri Siegel, Sophie Thomas, and Magnus Vol Mathiasse. Shaughnessy himself is Senior Tutor on the Visual Communication program at the Royal College of Art.
33) Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design by David Dabner, Sandra Stewart, and Eric Zempol
Graphic Design School is now in its fifth edition, as relevant, applicable, and wide-ranging as ever. Using case studies from magazines, websites, books, corporate brand identities, newspapers, and mobile devices, the book covers all aspects of the visual communications, with a new focus on the intersection of design specialties; and, while still helpful for anyone in print and moving image design, the book gives heavy attention to the web and interactivity issues, particularly web tools, coding requirements, web design and layout, information architecture, mobile, app design, CMS, social media design, and SEO considerations. Stewart and Zempol each teach at Drexel, and Dabner teaches at the London College of Printing.
34) Design as Art by Bruno Munari
One of the most important designers of the 20th century, Bruno Munari was described by Picasso as “the next Leonardo” and was twice awarded the Compasso d’Oro design prize. His masterpiece, Design as Art, as well as his philosophy, can best be summarized as follows: “When the objects we use every day and the surroundings we live in have become in themselves a work of art, then we shall be able to say that we have achieved a balanced life.” Munari argues that all design must reach a synthesis of beauty, functionality, and accessibility, a kind of aesthetic idealism for the masses. This includes – especially – objects we might consider quotidian: lamps, toasters, road signs, typeface, advertising, tables, etc. In short, in a way Munari wanted to literalize Plato’s chair, bring it down from the abstract idea into the realm of the physical. If all of this sounds a little theory-philic, it is. It’s also makes for fascinating reading, and it’s doubtful if any serious designer can get away with ignorance of 20th century Italian art’s enfant terrible.
35) Design Sprint: A Practical Guidebook for Building Great Digital Products by Richard Banfield, C. Todd Lombardo, and Trace Wax
Design Sprint takes as its premise one of the most common conundrums in tech: “With more than 500 new apps entering the market every day, what does it take to build a successful digital product?” Enter the titular excersise, a process that gets your team prototype and test a digital product idea within a week. Sounds good, right? The authors provide an easy-to-understand breakdown of the design sprint method and practical advice on how you can incorporate it into your team’s workflow. In particular, the design sprint: clarifies the problem; identifies user needs; uses brainstorming and sketching exercises to explore solutions; distill solution into a test-able format; and protype products with target audiences. All three authors are experienced tech founders with work in UX, design, and development.
36) Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter
Another from the “A Book Apart” series, the author here is Aarron Walter, the user experience design lead at MailChimp, who utilizes disciplines ranging from psychology and case studies, to advanced concepts and common sense to demonstrate how humans respond to design – and how designers can anticipate and adapt to that response. The writing is plainspoken and accessible, and the methods are always practical and – most important – memorable. At just over 100 pages, with illustrations and other tools, it can be read in one sitting and returned back to as resource text as necessary. Walter has also authored Building Findable Websites: Web Standards, SEOs and Beyond and co-authored InterACT With Web Standards: A holistic approach to web design.
37) The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird and James George
The third of edition of The Principles of Beautiful Web Design, like its predecessors, is primarily aimed at intermediate web designers – people that can build basic web sites – but need to build their skills in enhancing the site visuals. In particular, this book covers: the standards of good design, from to implementation; using color palettes and schemes effectively; using grids, the rule of thirds, and symmetry to optimize layout; and textures, typography, and position and editing of images. The new edition expands coverage of mobile and responsive web design, UI, icon design, UI patterns and resources, and features a new hands-on project to practice skills. Both Beaird and George are professional web designers.
38) Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation by Tim Brown
Tim Brown is probably somebody worth listening to. The CEO and president of IDEO, he’s spoken across the world, participates in the World Economic Forum in Davos, has been a featured TED Talk speaker, and serves as the advisor to numerous Fortune 100 companies. In Change by Design, he stresses that it’s “design thinking” – that is, a design-type collaboration – that’s most responsible for innovation, not the sudden ah-ha moments of a few geniuses. As he explains, “At IDEO we have dedicated rooms for our brainstorming sessions, and the rules are literally written on the walls: Defer judgment. Encourage wild ideas. Stay focused on the topic. The most important of them, I would argue, is ‘Build on the ideas of others.'” Design thinking is built transform need into demand and, as a human-centered business strategy approach, is appropriate in nearly every industry. Still, it seems like a no-brainer for anyone in design.
39) Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning by Dan M. Brown
Communicating Design is written because, well, sometimes designers don’t make much sense when they’re not speaking between each other. Brown argues, correctly, that in order for any project to be successful there must be seamless communication between designer, developer, and and client. The best way to demonstrate a vision is through wireframes, site maps, flow charts, and other diagrams in order to establish a common language. From there, the team is able to brainstorm ideas, track progress, and keep everyone in the loop on deliverables. The second edition includes an improved structure, which divides the book into Design Diagrams and Design Deliverables; new illustrations and excercises; and contributions from industry leaders such as Tamara Adlin, Stephen Anderson, Dana Chisnell, Nathan Curtis, Chris Fahey, James Melzer, Steve Mulder, Donna Spencer, and Russ Unger. Brown is an information architect and author.
40) Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences by Stephen P. Anderson
“I think it’s more accurate to think of aesthetics as a key ingredient in a recipe, as opposed to the icing on the cake,” says Stephen Anderson. Hard to disagree with that. In Seductive Interaction Design, Anderson explores strategies how to not only get people to visit your site – after all, that’s only part of the game – but stay. Better yet, engage. What better lens to use than the ancient pre-Ovidian art of seduction? Sections break down into: Aesthetics, Beauty, and Behavior – why does a visual attract us, and how do our emotions affect judgement and behavior; Playful Seduction – how should designers create a playful experience to draw in users; The Subtle Art of Seduction – how do designers incite action out of intent; The Game of Seduction – how does a designer continue to motivate, i.e., keep the user coming back for more of the good stuff? Lascivious, for sure. The author is a consultant whose clients have included Nokia, Frito-Lay, Sabre Travel Network, and Chesapeake Energy.
41) The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition by Don Norman
At the risk of unattractive design, I’m listing all seven of Don Norman’s design principles (because they’re that good): “1. Use both knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head. 2. Simplify the structure of tasks. 3. Make things visible: bridge gulfs between Execution and Evaluation. 4. Get the mappings right. 5. Exploit the power of constraints. 6. Design for error. 7. When all else fails, standardize.” It’s tempting to end there, but I won’t. Norman’s persuasive argument is that, more often than not, if something is inexplicably difficult to use – whether it’s a door, lamp, web site, whatever – it’s not because the user is incompetent; it’s because the designer designed a product without taking into account the nuances of cognitive psychology. Usability should be the name of the game for a designer of any stripe, according to the bestselling author and Professor of Design Emeritus at Northwestern University and the University of California, San Diego.
42) The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life by John Maeda
As the title implies, Maeda’s first commandment is “reduce.” It’s not a bad law in today’s world of over-saturation, wherein we’ve learned that having everything at your fingertips is not necessarily a good thing; particularly when you have a limited number of fingers. Maeda applies this across a wide range of disciplines – life itself, as well – but designers should especially take note. Though the minimalist approach is now a well-established and successful aesthetic (see: Apple, Google), Maeda’s book goes in-depth on the issue. For the Apple example, he argues that while, yes, we want our pretty iPhones to look and work simply, we still want them to accomplish complex tasks. We only want them to wear the mask of simplicity – which isn’t actually solving the problem of overabundance. As Maeda writes, “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” He’s on to something, and he certainly has the credentials – President of the Rhode Island School of Design, founder of the SIMPLICITY Consortium at the MIT Media Lab, and winner of the Smithsonian Institution National Design Award in the United States, the Raymond Loewy Foundation Prize in Germany, and the Mainichi Design Prize in Japan.
43) The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity by Alan Cooper
Another one from Alan Cooper, it’s also another cri de cour against modern technology’s more insidious effects – namely, over-complication and poor usability through bad design. Or, bad UX because of bad UI. The reasons for this are numerous and make up the bulk of the book. Some are particularly scathing to the tech world at large (who, after all, all the inmates running the asylum): “All modern manufacturing disciplines have roots in pre-industry except software, whose unique medium appeared well after industrialization was a fait accompli. Only programming comes directly from academia, where there are no time limits on research, student power is dirt cheap, profit is against the rules, and a failing program can be considered a very successful experiment. It’s not a coincidence that Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and other leading software companies reside in “campuses.” Universities never have to make money, hit deadlines, or build desirable, useful products.” Indeed, Cooper is arguing as much against the culture of tech as against its actual products, which reflect that culture. Thoughts any designer should pay attention to.
44) Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules by Jeff Johnson
Jeff Johnson, President and Principal Consultant at UI Wizards, is fond of the days when developers and designers built user-interfaces on the principles of cognitive psychology, which created simple, practical, and fun technology. Recently, however, a flood of new professionals from various disciplines have muddied the waters. And while many at least know the basic rules of design, they don’t know why those rules exist. In the second edition of Designing with the Mind in Mind, Johnson reminds us. Here, readers will find valuable insights on human choice and decision making, hand-eye coordination, and attention spans, as well as new examples, figures, and clear explanations of concepts and theories. Designer don’t need to have PhD’s in Cognitive Psychology, but they at least should have an understanding of what makes the mind tick. He has worked as a user-interface designer and implementer, engineer manager, usability tester, and researcher at Cromemco, Xerox, US West, Hewlett-Packard Labs, and Sun Microsystems.
45) How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman
Here’s a nugget of wisdom: “Design is one of the few disciplines that is a science as well as an art. Effective, meaningful design requires intellectual, rational rigor along with the ability to elicit emotions and beliefs. Thus, designers must balance both the logic and lyricism of humanity every time they design something, a task that requires a singularly mysterious skill.” Ah, the graphic designer as Renaissance Man – that’s something we like to hear. Debbie Williams, herself an accomplished professional with more than 25 years of experience, has assembled an all-star cast of graphic designers to talk about their craft: Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Beirut, David Carson, Milton Glaser, Lucille Tenazas, Paul Sahre, John Maeda, Seymour Chwast, Chip Kidd … the list goes on. Perfect for the novice or experienced professional simply looking for some insights, How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer teaches us to think like great designers by listening to the thoughts of great designers. Simple enough.
46) Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop by Timothy Samara
Making and Breaking the Grid operates under the premise that, when it comes to design, layout is king: essential for communication, user experience, and developing a steady user base. This book serves a comprehensive workshop in layout that always keep in mind, if you want to break the rules (effectively), you’ve got to know them first. Samara uses case examples from established designers to demonstrate process and rationale, and the text is clear, concise, and helpful. A useful notational system links similar projects for further exploration and as a resource tool. Historical overviews are also included, which summarize the development of layout concepts, both grid-based and non-grid based, in modern design practice. Samara teaches at the School of Visual Arts and Fashion Institute of Technology.
47) 79 Short Essays on Design by Michael Bierut
From one of the most well-respected designers working today, 9 Short Essays on Design touch on a wide range of topics, both serious and playful: Twyla Tharp; ITC Garamond; Massimo Vignelli and the cover of The Catcher in the Rye; McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern; Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire; Eero Saarinen; the paper clip; Celebration, Florida; the planet Saturn; the ClearRx pill bottle; color-coded terrorist alerts … nothing escapes Bierut’s eye. Best yet, his writing style is fluid and witty, and all these essays work well as both individual pieces and a larger whole, giving us a portrait of Beirut’s larger aesthetic vision. All in all, fun reading for any curious soul from the Pentagram partner, cofounder of the website Design Observer, and AIGA board member.
48) Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge
In Designing Interactions, Bill Moggridge explains that, where we once designed things as physical objects (either for beauty or mechanical utilitarianism), we now design things with which we interact. To provide insights into this revolution in design, Moggridge has brought in some of the biggest game-changes currently working, from Will Wright, creator of The Sims, to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google. The range of topics is wide, spanning the history of entrepreneurial design development: why do PCs use windows?; what turns a game into a hobby?; what made Google into what it is today? Along with 700 illustrations, other interviewees include; Bill Atkinson,, Durrell Bishop, Brendan Boyle, Dennis Boyle, Paul Bradley, Duane Bray, Sergey Brin, Stu Card, Gillian Crampton Smith, Chris Down, Tony Dunne, John Ellenby, Doug Englebart, Jane Fulton Suri, Bill Gaver, Bing Gordon, Rob Haitani, Jeff Hawkins, Matt Hunter, Hiroshi Ishii, Bert Keely, David Kelley, Rikako Kojima, Brenda Laurel, David Liddle, Lavrans Løvlie, John Maeda, Paul Mercer, and Tim Mott, among others.
49) This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases by Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider
A quick definition of service design thinking: “Service design thinking is the designing and marketing of services that improve the customer experience, and the interactions between the service providers and the customers.” Or, better yet: “If you have two coffee shops right next to each other, and each sell the exact same coffee at the exact same price, service design is what makes you walk into one and not the other.” Service design is what gives you the edge over stiff competition, and it’s almost always comes down to the details. To take the coffee shop example, maybe it’s your music, your barista, your payment options, your decor, etc. It might not even be something your customer consciously notices; but it’s there nonetheless. The je ne c’est quoi. This book takes the wisdom of numerous international authors and online contributors and divides it into three sections: the five principles of service thinking; standard tools and methods; and case studies from five companies that leveraged service design thinking to create inspiring projects.
50) Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips
Elle Lupton, found earlier on this list for her excellent Thinking With Type, has done an equal service to her reader in Graphic Design: The New Basics – enough to warrant a second edition. In this book, Jennifer Cole Phillips joins her, principal of J. Cole Phillips Design and fellow director of the Graphic Design MFA program at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The New Basics covers key concepts and formal elements of visual language – point, line, plane, scale, hierarchy, layers, transparency, etc. The new edition adds updated commentary on visualizing data, typography, modes of representation, and Gestalt principles, plus sixteen new pages of student examples. Appropriate for newcomers and professionals alike, Lupton and Phillips write in a jargon-free, accessible language, and a wealth of illustrations help demonstrate concepts.