5 Books Every Graphic Designer Should Have


It seems like design blogs are all about lists these days, and here’s my stab at it. I feel like I often find myself in a conversation with people who think graphic design is so rad, and how they’re taking a Photoshop class in the fall. Well, as we all know, graphic design entails a lot more than Adobe Creative Suite, so I thought I’d put together a short list of books that help shine a light into the craft beyond simply knowing the software tools. As a primarily self-taught designer, these are all books that I’ve found extremely beneficial to my own growth as a designer, and I feel like they are staples that should be within close reach of everyone who is (or wants to be) a graphic designer.

1. Grid Systems in Graphic Design, by Josef Muller-Brockman
This is the granddaddy of design books, by one of the greatest graphic designers of all time. To me, this is the blueprint of modernism, covers some of the most powerful and fundamental tools that every designer needs to know. This one is mandatory.

2. The Brand Gap, by Marty Neumeier
This is a quick, easy read that discusses branding as a business strategy, and how everything from the logo to the way a person answers the phone are all components of a brand. As designers, it’s easy to design a logotype and call it good, but this book calls for us to go beyond that and think strategically about the decisions we make. One of the most oft-quoted gems: “A brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.”

3. The Little Know-It-All, Common Sense For Graphic Designers, Die Gestalten Verlag
This handy desktop reference touches on everything from color theory to contracts. While it never goes too in-depth, it touches on a wide variety of topics and makes for a very useful manual. There’s even a few pages to add your own notes at the end of every chapter.

4. The Vignelli Canon, by Massimo Vignelli
I wrote about this one a while back, and it’s conveniently available to download as a PDF here. While many people disagree with Vignelli’s views towards post-modernism and his infamous limited use of typefaces, there is a lot of value in his philosophy and approach to design. Learn from it, and apply the things that you feel have merit into your own practice.

Composition Book, Sketchbook, Moleskine, Fieldnotes, or whatever you prefer.
We live in the age of the computer. No doubt. It’s not a bad thing, but remember that the computer is a tool, and there are many tools with many uses. Sometimes, I have a vision in my head, and I can sit at the computer straight away and hammer it out, just the way I want. However, I find that if I take the time beforehand to sketch out some thumbnails and write some notes in my composition book, things go much more smoothly. It’s also a great place to make some nonsense doodles, notes to yourself, and the opening paragraph to the great American novel you’re going to write someday.


1 Response to “5 Books Every Graphic Designer Should Have”

  1. 1 Kara July 6, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Thank you for mentioning Marty Neumeier in your post. I work for Peachpit Press and thought you and your readers would like to know that he just released his very first video, INNOVATION WORKSHOP: Brand Strategy + Design Thinking = Transformation.

    The 45-minute video presents concepts from his bestselling “whiteboard” books – THE BRAND GAP, ZAG, and THE DESIGNFUL COMPANY – plus downloadable exercises that will help you and your team work through brand innovation questions. Overall, this video expands to fill a one-day workshop (an $800 value!) for an extremely affordable price. Check it out below:


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