10 Best Graphic Design Books of all time
January 07, 2020
A good graphic design book is one of the best things to buy or get as a present. In all honesty, I’d love to live in a library that would have all the design books. Each day I’d make coffee and pick a new book to look at or read.
For each creative person it’s important we get some kind of input of information, knowledge or something that has some impact on us. Either we learn, are inspired or feel happy after. Generating new ideas is a process, and our brands are fantastic at creating new things or coming up with solutions, but they need information, the more, the better.
Learning or experiencing something new each day, can have a great impact tomorrow or at a later time, but each bit will help, and it’s impossible to know what information is needed to get great results. So take it all in and enjoy.
Best graphic design books of all time - better than tutorials
Here are some of the books I’d recommend. You’ll look through them many times as they will help you find new ideas, be better at design or get excited by great graphic design.
Book rating and curation of this list of top books on graphic-design
These books have a high rating on Amazon and are great for your design studio library.
Here's a short overview of the top 10 list with direct links to Amazon:
- How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy
- Studio Culture: The Secret Life of a Graphic Design Studio by Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook
- Make Enemies & Gain Fans by Snask
- Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton
- Making and Breaking the Grid: A Layout Design Workshop by Timothy Samara
- Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Mülller-Brockmann
- A Smile in the Mind: Witty Thinking in Graphic Design by Beryl McElhone, David Stuart
- House Industries: The Process Is the Inspiration by Andy Cruz, Rich Roat, Ken Barber
- Sagmeister: Made You Look by Stefan Sagmeister
- How to… by Michael Bierut
How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy
This is an excellent resource for students, but design veterans as well. It will motivate you and make you remember, why you’ve been pulled towards design in the first place. It has a lot of insight into what to expect from this industry and has a lot of helpful and practical information.
Best thing is, as your skills grow and you get experience, you will want to reread the book as you’ll know and understand more of it. It has many tips for the working designer like getting clients and what to do about personal projects.
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (known and really good publisher)
Studio Culture: The Secret Life of a Graphic Design Studio by Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook
Imagine reading interviews with some of the best designers and talking about how they founder some of the best and most famous design studios of our time. They share their stories and experience. Get the first look on how it is a one-man band freelancer, five-man design studio or being a 200 person advertising agency (or something in between).
Each person is different, and each designer is different, and each of the skills we excel from logo designs to paper art can be used in different ways, clients of businesses. Some people prefer small 1to1 action; others prefer the Mad Men way of doing things under pressure. Reading this book will show you what you can expect in each of these paths. In my case, I’ve done it all (freelance graphic designer, in-house, studio, ad agency,…) and being freelance works best for me and my growth.
Make Enemies & Gain Fans / by Snask
Snask is one of the most known and one of the most fun places to work. Fredrik Öst, Magnus Berg created a culture, and you can say they’ve become rock stars of the design world. This a relaxed, funny and motivational experience.
It’s a story on how they met, started their studio, found design work and achieved global domination. If you want to jump in the world of creative entrepreneurship, it will inspire you to start your studio today. It will also make you laugh hard when you read how some of their projects ended badly. This is one of the best graphic design books you can read to the motivation needed to start your career.
In my opinion of one the best graphic design book (high rating as well) that doesn't talk about the specifics of it, but more about the adventure, emotions and how to live it.
Thinking With Type / by Ellen Lupton
Type is one of the basic skills any good designer needs to master. Period. Knowing which font to use for the message or brand can make or break things. You need to know your serifs from your sans-serifs, sizes, font pairings, harmony,… It’s an art.
One of the best books that has a lot of great examples of graphics with laid out type and text documenting the principles of typography. Great for design beginners.
Making and Breaking the Grid: A Layout Design Workshop / by Timothy Samara
Designers work in many different mediums from print to digital web design, each having their sizes and rules. Layouts are one of the core principles of a design process which would help you create better work on any format.
This good book is a complete layout design class teaching the grid (and even gridless) layout concepts. You will learn the history of the grid and end with the modern design practice. It’s excellent for other creative people like architects, not just designers alike.
Rockport, as a publisher, is well known for a variety of design books on a lot of topics so make sure to check them out.
Grid Systems in Graphic Design / by Josef Mülller-Brockmann
Another book on grids, but this one is more about systems. The best thing is, it’s written by a German, so it’s nicely structured as expected. Some of the examples can be a bit dated but are still used today by different creative industries.
The start of the book is quite simple, but as you’re turning the pages it will get more difficult, but the theory behind it is very informative. It’s a timeless classic.
A Smile in the Mind: Witty Thinking in Graphic Design / by Beryl McAlhone, David Stuart
What’s even better if a graphic design work looks perfect? It’s if it makes you smile. Wit is one of the best ways to make your work memorable and enjoyable. The examples of this playful book show the thinking behind creative processes and case studies used to create some of the best work out there. Phaidon is also an amazing publisher.
The book has many categories, so It’s great to come back to it if you have a specific problem. There’s a chapter devoted to holiday cards that were made by advertising agencies showing what amazing work can be created if a graphic designer and a copywriter work together as one.
Definitely one of the best graphic design books ever.
House Industries: The Process Is the Inspiration by Andy Cruz, Rich Roat, Ken Barber, J.J. Abrams (Foreword)
This is one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen, print and craft of it are top notch, and the book is amazing. It tries to answer the question about how to find inspiration and tries to answer it with helpful lessons and stories. Its case studies from different topics and fields(fonts, craft, fashion and even space technology) and very informative as well. Ideas are waiting everywhere; we just need some mindfulness to receive them.
Sagmeister: Made You Look by Stefan Sagmeister, Peter Hall
A brilliant book by a brilliant designer. It’s one of those top books that contain some tricks. You will read some hilarious stories, see beautiful work and read some of his best graphic design quotes he’s known for.
Stefan is anything else but boring, and his work shows that really well, that’s why he’s one of the most famous graphic designers out there. It may make you want to quit your job and start to work on “real design” projects.
How to… by Michael Bierut
This is the first monograph of Michael Bierut, one of the worlds celebrated graphic designers and one of Pentagrams partners. The book shows 35 of his most outstanding projects made throughout his career. It offers insight and inspiration for anyone interested in how words images and ideas create unforgettable experiences. It will show you his design process, so you will see how he thinks and how he produces. That will help you understand his and other great work so you will be able to appreciate design even more.
Books on design are going to always be a great investment for designers
I know owning design books can be pricey, but a great graphic design book is an investment worth making. You don’t need to get 50 books right away, add them as you go and create your library of inspiration and knowledge.
Why collect the best books on the graphic design
it's simple, the more input you get, the better the output you will create. Even our brains work that way, you think about a problem and research to gather the information, our brain processes that data and creates possible ideas as solutions to that problem.
With time you will collect a database of visuals and be able to use that to make better graphics or artwork. Top graphic design books really make your career better and will increase the quality of your work. You can improve your skills in visual identities, portfolios, branding, logo design, websites,...
Learn, connect and network with designers in a book club
There may be some interesting groups in your area and if you're in a big city, there's a good chance that you'll be able to find book club designers and professionals. Connect, learn and grow together. Information retention of reading books is also increased by a lot if you teach others about what you learned.
You can learn not only about design books but software, business, print or digital design,... Anything is possible.
Conclusion about top books about good design for your studio library
Good design is not easy to do.
What are some of your favourite graphic design books that inspire you and make you a better designer or teach you top designing techniques?