How do you make the right choice when deciding which graphic design books to read? Seemingly an easy question, but even for an experienced professional, it can be a vexing one. Why?

The first reason might lie in the fact that if you check the list of graphic design books available at big retailers like Amazon, you will get no less than 70,000 hits. Even specialized graphic design book retailers carry hundreds, even thousands of titles.

The second reason might lie in the fact that there is quite a number of fields of graphic design, as well as almost, s many guiding concepts that you can follow.

Thirdly, while there are some constants that guide the field of graphic design, it is one that is constantly developing, new ideas crop up almost daily, some old ones are renewed and refreshed. As a serious professional, or even as somebody just interested in the field you need to check the basics, but also constantly follow new developments.

Also, every business at some point has to rely on design, be it graphic design or any other aspect of it. Whether it is creating a brand or just coming up with a new logo.

So how can graphic design books help you? Whether you are a professional designer, a business interested in graphic design services, or just an enthusiast or a student?

Inspiration Feed gives the following list of reasons:

  • Graphic design books can give you a clean starting point;
  • They can make graphic designers’ work more organized;
  • It can guide designers, showing them what rules they can bend by telling them what rules exist;
  • Books open opportunities for further learning;
  • They make their work more credible.

Let us look a bit further into these points.

Reasons for checking out graphic design books

  1. Starting point – As the above source points out, most of the time, the hardest part of making a design is getting started. Through these resources, a designer can create a more seamless process that could help them address any roadblocks. These roadblocks may occur every single time they work on a project. They can discover new concepts to use. Or, have in mind that “there will always be some room for improvement, especially in an ever-evolving industry such as design.”
  2. Organization of design work – “For a lot of designers, chaos is their comfort zone.” But this chaos can also be causing a lot of their design problems. These resources can help them put a little order into their routine. Through the tips presented in any of the books they pick up, they can slowly turn things around and work in a more organized manner.
  3. Bending the design rules – Yes, designers are allowed to break the rules every so often. This much is necessary if you want to take advantage of your inborn creativity and ingenuity. You can’t say that you’re innovative if you keep doing things the same way, right? But how can you bend the rules if you have no idea what the rules are? (above)
  4. Further learning of design – The telling sign of a great designer is that they never stop learning. “As new trends emerge, great designers adjusted to their environment as well. In fact, they are often the ones who trigger the change, if only to keep their creativity and innovation alive.”
  5. Credibility – When discussing things with other designers, and possibly, with clients who know a bit about design, how can you make yourself come across as a credible designer who can deliver what is asked from him?

Graphic design books to read – making choices

The number of suggestions by seasoned professionals on which graphic design books to read is no smaller than the number of books themselves.

Still, there is a number of book titles on which specialized graphic design sites like Design Wizard, Noupe, or Maze Design.

In picking our suggestions, we have primarily focused on titles most of these sites agree on, adding also a few of their specific choices. We have also added a few titles that are available as free e-books and pdf’s, as suggested by Inspiration Feed (above).

Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand

As Design Wizard points out, Rand’s book is for many designers “the granddaddy of design books.’ It started out as an essay from 1947 to turn into a book in 1970. Rand was the mind behind many of the logos of companies that shone in the 1960s, like Morningstar, Westinghouse, ABC, and NeXT, and, for many, he is the designer that best represents the glories of the ‘Mad Men’ design era.

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

Many sources consider this book as a must-read for design enthusiasts. While many graphic design books concentrate on artistic or technical aspects, they leave the would-be graphic designer somewhat bereft when it comes to the more basic concerns, like finding clients and knowing how much to charge them. (Design Wizard) The result is a practical, unromantic guide to the less glamorous side of being a designer.

Graphic Design Fundamentals: How To by Michael Beirut

One of the most successful graphic designers around reveals his philosophy of what graphic design is. It is a guide on “how to use it to sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry.” (Vectornator)

Reading in specific fields

Interaction of Color by Josef Albers

Color theory and its basics are an essential element for any graphic designer and graphic design in general. This book by “German-American teacher Josef Albers was designed to act as a practical handbook and teaching aid for design and art students who wanted to dive deeper into complex color theory principles.”

Since it was designed with education in mind, it’s easy to read and clearly explained, with solid examples and challenging exercises. It’s a standard-issue on many university reading lists and, for that reason, should also be on yours.

Grid Systems by Josef Müller-Brockmann

By a general definition, a grid is an arrangement of horizontal and vertical lines that are utilized to subdivide a page vertically and evenly into margins, segment (columns), inter-column spaces, type lines, and spaces between blocks of type & images. (Graphic Design Institute)

The great thing about Grid Systems is that it not only explains what grid systems are and how to use them, it also shows you why one grid choice would work so much better than another in a given situation. (Design Wizard). The book is easily available as a free download.

Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton

This is a classic typography book designed to help anyone who works with type. It could be designers, but also writers and editors. It can help them to get a better handle on how to use it on a variety of mediums, from print to the screen.

Logo Modernism An unprecedented catalog of modern trademarks by Jens Müller

A physically large book of over 6,000 trademarks, this catalog runs through the most important and stylish corporate logos created in the period of 1940-1980 when modernist attitudes had a major effect on corporate identity. (above)

graphic design books to read

Other reading suggestions

Why Fonts Matter by Sarah Hyndman

Why Fonts Matter is a study of how fonts affect emotion, communication, and human behavior and how we can best manipulate them for our own ends. The book is accessible and enlightening, but still a deep dive into font theory and use.

Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler

If you want to learn more about identity design and the process of branding, you definitely need to read this. (Noupe, above) The book covers expanded coverage of social media cross channel synergy, crowdsourcing, SEO, experience branding, mobile devices, wayfinding, and placemaking. The book consists of three sections on brand fundamentals, process basics, and case studies. These case studies include top brands from various industries around the world.

100 Ideas That Changed Design by Peter Fiell & Charlotte Fiell

A great book to dip into for any designer or design fan, 100 Ideas That Changed Design is exactly what the title implies. Comprising ideas and trends emerging from the 19th century up until the present day, it’s a great all-around resource for bite-sized nuggets of inspiration. (Maze Design, above)

Designing News by Francesco Franchi

Creative director Francesco Franchi draws on his publishing experience to set out a comprehensive vision for editorial design. The book examines how the transformation of news and journalism in the digital age affects the way we should approach design in the media.

As mentioned previously, on its site Inspiration Feed (above) presents a list of a number of graphic design books that are available to download for free as e-books or pdfs. The list includes titles like The Shape of Design by Frank Chimeroand The Future of Product Design by Jonathan Follett.

Reading graphic design books – practical advice

Along with its list of reading suggestions Design Wizard (above) also gives some practical advice on how to actually read graphic design books. Here are their suggestions:

  • Read in topics – It is much more useful reading around a topic, rather than jumping to and from subjects. After a few books on closely-related subjects, you’ll have exponentially expanded your knowledge.
  • A prospective reader should alternate fun and serious reading – Don’t feel like the only books worth reading are really serious, technical ones. You’ll burn out if you don’t mix up the books you like and ones you feel you ‘should’ read.
  • Set aside time for reading – If you want to read, you need to plan for it, so sketch out time in your schedule and treat it as seriously as any other appointment you have in there.
  • Keep a list which you can adjust to your needs – As you find books you’re interested in, add them to a ‘to read’ list so you’re never short of ideas. This should be in a manner that you can add or subtract titles from a list.
  • Make notes if there’s information you really want to remember – There’s strong scientific evidence that information you write down has a much better chance of sticking in your head.