9 Books to Help You Become a Better [Graphic] Designer


Whether you're a graphic designer or not, typography, logos, print, and web have become the scent of our lives. Every book, magazine, product, or website we see has had a designer behind it — some better than others.

Here are nine of the most useful books I have read in my development as a graphic designer. If you're a designer (of any discipline) let me know in the comments what books or resources have most shaped you.

1. Vignelli: From A to Z - Massimo Vignelli

This book by Vignelli, is more of a manifesto than it is instructional. It covers a lifetime of work and perfectly illustrates how graphic design crosses over into many other design disciplines such as fashion, architecture, furniture design, product design and branding. Vignelli captures the heart of the modernist movement — a drive to be simple and timeless. His minimalist (and blunt) approach, especially with his font selection is both disciplined and inspiring. 

The life of a designer is a life of fight: fight against the ugliness.
— Massimo Vignelli

2. Designing Brand Identity

This was one of the first books I read that made me excited to be a graphic designer — it gave me a deeper understanding of how graphic design can change the way people perceive pretty much anything. The book deals with how to deal with stakeholders, designing and managing brand identity elements/assets, creating touchpoints, conducting research and clarifying strategy — along with great case studies of how strategy and design should work together.

Seize every opportunity to create new experiences
— Blake Deutsch

3. Thinking with Type - Ellen Lupton

I believe this was one of the first books I bought at University while studying typography. Although I've never read this book cover to cover, I frequently reference it when taking a new major project and has been fundamental to how I've learned to arrange written text. Blame this book if I ever bore you with type trivia. 

4. Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming - Ellen Lupton

Lupton brilliantly summarizes the design process in this book. It's an essential for those struggling to get ideas to paper (or to InDesign).

5. How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul - Adrian Shaughnessy

I read this book as a sophomore while working on some freelance projects. It is a great awakener to the reality of living as a graphic designer — that everything is a fight. The book deals with how to pick what fights to really fight, how to deal with clients, how to bill, how to pitch, freelance, work as an in-house designer and more of the day to day inner workings of a graphic designer. This book was encouraging and gave me hope because 'I wasn't the only one'.

Creativity is about risk taking
— Adrian Shaughnessy

6. Primal Branding - Patrick Hanlon

This book really isn't about graphic design, but understanding how design integrates into brand strategy will greatly assist you in your development as a designer. Understanding the language of branding and marketing will also help your pitching skills as well as work better together with strategists and marketers. This is the most useful book I have read on branding and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to build a strong brand.

Don’t just build a church [brand], build a religion
— Patrick Hanlon

7. Making and Breaking the Grid - Timothy Samara

Graphic design actually has a lot of rules (especially around layout and type), once you know them, then you can start to lawfully (with taste) break some of them. This book is a great start to learning the art of 'the grid' and how (and when) to break it.

8. Graphic Design Referenced - Various Authors

If there was one book I would recommend to someone starting to learn graphic design, it would be this one. This 400-page book gives a beautiful overview of graphic design history, rules, techniques, examples and heroes of the art. It contains some of the greatest design work of the 20th Century. Understanding why these designs were so successful will help create good habits and thought processes as a designer.

9. Envisioning Information by Edward R. Tufte

This book was introduced to me in my first year of University — in Visual Communication 101. It might be my bias, but this might be one of the most beautifully designed books about design. It communicates how the visualisation of data can help us solve problems in our lives. I remember reading a striking story of how a simple coloured map identified where polluted water was coming from in a town. Good graphic design saves lives.

What did you think of my list? What others would you add to it? Let me know in the comments.