Essential Graphic Design Books You Should Read

Posted on
March 15, 2021

In the universe of graphic design, it seems that everything is already done. Our challenge as creators is to propose different, special, exclusive, own projects... differentiating your design from the rest. For getting inspiration and keep learning, fortunately, graphic designers have a wealth of literature at their fingertips. 

Whether you are a creative expert or a beginner, we recommend this list of essential graphic design books. For this reason, we compiled some of the most important sources of inspiration. Take a look at them and get fresh ideas to continue your career!

Graphic design books are available for everyone

1. How to Be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul

How to Be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul is a career manual to take you through the profession of a graphic designer. Adrian Shaughnessy offers his wisdom to become a graphic designer, without losing your soul. 

He offers tips on how to establish your brand, information on the creative process, and tips on running your business, this book covers all you need to become a graphic designer. Just with the title, you can imagine what it's about. It's one of those books that there aren't many in the bookstores: self-help. Yes, because it explains with a pleasant language the difficulties and virtues of being a graphic designer, as well as advice to face the challenges of this profession. 

Shaughnessy explains little by little how to set up a studio, the difficulties when it comes to finding a job (and employees), advice on going to a job interview, and also draws a good picture of the average graphic designer. This book is suitable for those of us who have just left school as well as for those of us who are "pro" designers, with anecdotes from Adrian himself, and includes interviews between chapters with people like Neville Brody or Rudy VanderLans, for example. 

2. Psychology of Color How Colors Act on Feelings and Reason

Psychology of color by Eva Heller is a great graphic design book for learning how to use colors in your brand and designs. The German sociologist Eva Heller wrote a theory of color psychology based on her experiments, in which she explains how color can affect individual moods. She presents her theory after consulting a sample of up to 2,000 people from all over Germany and one of the conclusions she drew was that each color acts on each person differently, for some people the color green, for example, can be healthy; for others, it can be calming or even poisonous. That is why this book is ideal to know how we can use color: from the design of a bar menu to a logo of a big company.

3. A Type Primer

A Type Primer by John Kane. John Kane is a professor of typography and design at a major university in Boston, is the author of several well-known books and A Type Primer is an introduction for any student and graphic designer on the basic principles of typography, from history to theory and practice. 

It reviews several important details such as text composition, letter choice and the use of color. It is an ideal book to know how to differentiate and choose different letters based on the use you want to give them. And no matter how much time goes by, some typographies never go out of fashion.

4. History of Graphic Design

History of Graphic Design by Philip Meggs is an essential book for all those who want to know about graphic design in history. He was one of the first educators to create a history of graphic design that didn’t depend exclusively on structure. 

In this book, you'll not only find the design of modern typography, but also chapters dealing with the origins of printing and typography, as well as the invention of alphabets and writing.

5. The Laws of Simplicity

The Laws of Simplicity is a book written by John Maeda, a graphic designer, visual artist and computer scientist; explains why the industry must create more user-friendly gadgets since simplicity is what we are looking for today. 

There are more and more of us who want, with a simple element, to do even more; for example, with smartphones, we want a device that communicates with others, but that also has the internet to search for information or even to watch a movie. All in one. Maeda tells us here what the 10 laws of simplicity are, and the most important one for him is the 10, "Simplicity consists of subtracting what is obvious and adding what is specific".

He advocates simplicity as a guideline to follow in these times when technology, increasingly complex, and the excess of information dominate us. To do this, Maeda explains how to develop products and services that stand out from the rest and to reflect on how we face our daily lives in a few hundred pages and organizes them according to their degree of complexity. For instance, Maeda takes personal experiences or easily recognizable elements as examples (Apple gadgets appear repeatedly and not by chance) and describes the features of human nature that make users choose one alternative over another.

The author not only illustrates cases whose decisions respond to tangible benefits but also alludes to possible marketing strategies and designs that alter perception in an illusory way. Likewise, the author shows the disadvantages of taking the laws to the extreme and the conflicts to apply some of them simultaneously.

6. The Art of Looking Sideways 

The art of looking sideways by Alan Fletcher. Fletcher is an influential graphic designer and founding partner of the legendary independent design consultancy Pentagram. As expected, this book borders on perfection when talking about typography, spaces and other elements. What is most striking about this work is that to do so, he doesn't repeat a single page typographically.

Fletcher describes this book as a "collection of fragments"; there are more than 1,000 quotes from other designers, writers and artists that have inspired him, as well as many anecdotes. The book has no beginning or end, that is, the reader can start at any page, no matter where you open it, and give a different view to everyone who reads it, not only to design professionals but on a more personal level.

7. Oh Sh*t… Now What?: Honest Advice for New Graphic Designers 

This is one of the best books about graphic design. It was written by Craig Oldham is a comprehensive and intuitive guide for those seeking to penetrate the creative industries, sharing experiences, ideas and advice. This straightforward, fun, and often irreverent conversation guide is a must-read for all creative arts students, with sections covering education, portfolios, jobs, self-employment, work process, and personal development.

After a long stay in the field of graphic design, Oldham explains different ways to infiltrate the graphic designer market whether you set up an agency, go it alone or join a 9-5 job, showing the pros and cons of every option. It also focuses on finding a job in graphic design and how difficult it can be for beginners but clearly shows that there is no really bad way to get a job or make a living in design. It deals with how you can start your own business, be a freelancer, find a permanent job, whether in an agency or company. Oldham uses a lot of stories and structured information that makes this book easy to read and digest. 

Finally, Oldham doesn't want to give you a roadmap. He wants to give you a list of opportunities and tips. When you graduate from college it can sometimes be overwhelming when you enter the job market and Oldham does his best to keep calm during the process. This book doesn't scare you into thinking you aren't good enough, nor does it make you doubt your skills as a designer, but it gives you the tools to learn how you can use your talents as a designer at work, no matter where the final game takes you.

8. What Is a Designer: Things, Places, Messages

What is a designer: things, places, messages by Norman Potter. Norman Potter is one of the most influential designers ever. He is widely known by professionals around the world and with a work that made a difference for many artists.

Potter in his book establishes the conditions to become a designer and how we make decisions to create products. He explains the best tool available for designers and their wide range of work. According to Potter, any person can design, with or without studies related to design. It is more a matter of practice and passion. This is the catalyst behind every designer. In fact, self-taught designers who developed visual sense can generate good design proposals, but undoubtedly the academic training will provide certain tools that the design student will take advantage of beyond the school. 

On the other hand, Potter highlights that the designer has different functions during a career. The highest are the entrepreneurs and the cultural creators, which are the ones that create trends and change the world with their work.  It also tells us that usually the designer or a design agency works in one or a few design specialties since it’s very difficult to design everything. In the end, he states that the work of the designer is 10% inspiration and 90% hard work. 

9. Logo Modernism (Design) 

Logo modernism is a book written by Jens Müller, brings together approximately 6,000 appealing logos, focusing on the period 1940–1980, to examine how artists created corporate identity. For this reason, checking a huge collection of classic logos will give you a variety of ideas for designing and as the book has many subdivisions, you’ll learn about logos in all their shapes. So, you’ll have a perfect index for any type of logo design. That is, if you wake up one Sunday thinking: Hey, what kind of brands can be made with squares? And you will find hundreds of designs in a much easier way than searching on Pinterest.

10. Designing brand identity. An essential guide for the whole branding team

Designing Brand Identity is a book by Alina Wheeler, a brand designer who describes both how to create a brand from scratch, and how to boost those that already exist. Wheeler, in this book, also gives us effective methods to achieve inspiration, as well as a series of tools to achieve success in brand design. It is a highly recommended book for any designer's shelf.

11. Grid Systems in Graphic Design

Josef Müller Brockmann was a graphic designer and university professor. The book deals with the composition of typography either in magazines, books, catalogs, etc. This book seeks harmony between the graphic design of typography and the images and illustrations found in any of its forms. So, Grid systems in graphics design is a good book to deepen your knowledge and become a better typographer. 

Ignorance isn’t bliss... Keep learning!

With these books for graphic designers, you'll have at your fingertips the basic knowledge needed to get started in graphic design. Obviously, you'll be able to keep adding your own favorites to the list, but without a doubt, the reading of these graphic design books will help you become a graphic design professional.

If you feel that you’re not ready to take the next step, our team of graphic designers will make your brand shine. Just contact us and we’ll give life to your designs!

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