30 Design Books You Have to Read in 2016

These 30 design books deserve a home on your shelf.

Designers come from all different backgrounds, with some having studied their craft in school, while others are self-taught.

Regardless of your training, it’s crucial that you understand the foundations of the field. These 30 books below will give you that strong base.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below if you’ve read any of them or feel like we missed some.

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01. Graphic Design Theory: Readings from the Field

AUTHOR: Helen Armstrong

PUBLISHER: Princeton Architectural Press

This book is perfect for graphic designers of all ages and experience levels. Obviously, it’s important for any graphic designer to understand the technical aspect of design. But the whys of graphic design are equally important. This book “presents groundbreaking, primary texts from the most important historical and contemporary design thinkers.”

From the early 1900s, through today, Graphic Design Theory recounts the history of graphic design. This book gives a comprehensive guide to the scope and history of the field of graphic design, with the use of color imagery, commentary, and historical and cultural background throughout.

02. Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design

AUTHORS: David Dabner, Sandra Stewart, Eric Zempol  


You need to pick up this book if you’re just starting on the graphic design path. Reviewers repeatedly mentioned their love of the book’s examples, which ranged from books, to magazines, to websites, and even mobile devices.

The book’s own back cover describes the book as being meant to serve as a “foundation course for graphic designers working in print, moving image, and digital media.”

03. Universal Principles of Design

AUTHORS: William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler

PUBLISHER: Rockport Publishers

Our Design School blogs have discussed some individual principles of Universal Design. These include the Psychology of Design and how it impacts consumers as well as a fantastically thorough explanation of the Golden Ratio. This book captures the full breadth of Universal Design.

According to the authors, this book is a “comprehensive, cross-disciplinary encyclopedia” of Universal Design. It’s “[r]ichly illustrated and easy to navigate, [and] pairs clear explanations of every design concept with visual examples of the concepts applied in practice.”

No matter your level of graphic design expertise, you will find something handy in this book for your work.

04. 100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design

AUTHORS: Christian Brandle, Karin Gimmi, Barbara Junod, Bettina Richter, Museum of Design Zurich

PUBLISHER: Lars Muller Publishers

This geographically formed branch of graphic design has given the design field many of its enduring elements. We highlighted the top 10 in this Design School article, but this book gives the reader a wider threshold of the history of this groundbreaking branch of graphic design.

This book gives an extensive view of how impactful this form of design has been, with discussions of the 100 year path taken by Swiss typography, photography, advertising, editorial design, and typefaces.

05. 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design

AUTHORS: Steven Heller, Veronique Vienne

PUBLISHER: Laurence King Publishing

This book attempts to cover the top 100 moments throughout graphic design’s colorful history.

While set up in chronological order, the book covers everything from the technical to the stylistic aspects of graphic design. It also includes discussions of how objects have been influenced by graphic design ideas, and how methods have changed during the last century or so.

06. Grid Systems in Graphic Design

AUTHOR: Josef Müller-Brockmann


While grids are part of the school of Swiss Design, this book proves why they deserve their own writeup. Purposely written by a professional for other professionals, it states that it is “the definitive word on using grid systems in graphic design.”

This book focuses on both the conceptual and the practical. Not only does it explain the background and history of grid design, but it also gives us step by step instructions on how to use each grid system.

07. Designing Design

AUTHOR: Kenya Hara

PUBLISHER: Lars Muller Publishing

While Western Europe has had a huge impact on graphic design, it isn’t the only home for influential and groundbreaking designers. Japan is another haven for designers who enjoy pushing traditional graphic design boundaries and concepts.

This book pays tribute to these Japanese designers who are often less well-known than many of their Swiss and German contemporaries.

In covering the history of Japanese design, this book explains vital concepts like the “importance of ‘emptiness’ in both the visual and philosophical traditions of Japan.

Filled with hundreds of stunning illustrations and photos, this book will provide you with a view of an underappreciated part of design history.

08. Unflattening

AUTHOR: Nick Sousanis

PUBLISHER: Harvard University Press

We’re not the only ones who love this book. PrintMags also listed it as one of their 25 Best Design Books.

Why such praise? It’s because this book turns traditional educational work on its head by bucking the belief that words supersede imagery when explaining concepts.

To do this, Sousanis used “visual thinking,” with all of his pages styled in a similar variation like the one below.

Best described by its own book cover, this work of graphic art within a book on graphic art weaves “together diverse ways of seeing drawn from science, philosophy, art, literature and mythology, [by using] the collage-like capacity of comics to show that perception is always an active process of incorporating and reevaluating different vantage points.

09. Graphic Design: The New Basics (Second Edition)

AUTHORS: Ellen Lupton, Jennifer Cole Phillips

PUBLISHER: Princeton Architectural Press

This revised and expanded version covers the basics of graphic design and deserves a home on every beginning designer’s bookshelf.

Graphic Design: The New Basics (Second Edition) was listed on FastCo Design’s roundup of the top books every designer should read. It was also selected as one of PrintMag’s 25 Best Design books.

Considered the creme de la creme of graphic design primers, this updated version continues to earn stellar reviews for its latest compilation of design basics.

10. Design Elements, Color Fundamentals: A Graphic Style Manual for Understanding How Color Affects Design

AUTHOR: Aaris Sherin

PUBLISHER: Rockport Publishers

This manual of color is a perfect resource for every designer. It’s chock-full of essential information, from color theory to pairings for real world projects. With this guide on your shelf, you will learn how to truly and effectively communicate with color and how best to use it in your client’s projects.

11. Interaction of Color: 50th Anniversary Edition

AUTHOR: Josef Albers

PUBLISHER: Yale University Press

While the previous guide covered a broad range of how to utilize color effectively in your work, this book is much more focused. The author breaks down complex color theories in this revised and updated edition.

Each color study includes “such principles as color relativity, intensity, and temperature; vibrating and vanishing boundaries; and the illusion of transparency and reversed grounds.

If you’ve ever wanted to understand the full impact of color on your design, then this is the book to add to your must-read list.

12. Patternalia: An Unconventional History of Polka Dots, Stripes, Plaid, Camouflage, & Other Graphic Patterns

AUTHOR: Jude Stewart


A review of color wouldn’t be complete without including a history of the graphic patterns that have shaped our world.

Also named to PrintMag’s Top 25 Books for Designers, Patternalia delves into the background behind patterns we know and love, and others we may not have seen. The author blends wit with history for an engaging read for every designer.


13. The Elements of Typographic Style

AUTHOR: Robert Bringhurst

PUBLISHER: Hartley & Marks Publishers

Considered a “classic in the fieldaccording to Library Journal, The Elements of Typographic Style should be required reading for every designer.

In this book, typography is laid bare by the author’s in depth coverage of its history, theory, and practice. For any designer who has wanted to gain a better understanding of typography, there could be no better manual than this book.

14. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students

AUTHOR: Ellen Lupton

PUBLISHER: Princeton Architectural Press

While The Elements of Typographic Style breaks down the history and theory of typography, this manual goes further and explains typography’s importance in visual communication.

Listed on both FastCo’s 2015 list of Best Design Books, as well as LinkedIn’s list of the 10 Graphic Design Books Every Designer Should Read, Thinking With Type is clearly important enough for all graphic designers to add to their book collection.

15. Typographic Systems of Design

AUTHOR: Kimberly Elam

PUBLISHER: Princeton Architectural Press

Our journey through typography continues with Typographic Systems of Design. How typography is spatially organized — though touched on in the other books mentioned — receives its full due in this writing.

Concerned less with the aspects of color and other parts of the overall design work, this book provides in-depth discussions and explanations for all of the systems that are used in typographic creation.

16. Designing Type

AUTHOR: Karen Cheng

PUBLISHER: Yale University Press

An excellent companion to learning about typographic systems, is to learn how to actually design the type to create the most visual excitement.

Within this guide, readers can find everything from diagrams breaking down certain types, analysis of different typefaces, and how to create your own custom type.

As a graphic designer, knowing how to actually design type will prove to be an invaluable asset to your other many talents.

17. Mastering Type: The Essential Guide to Typography for Print and Web Design

AUTHOR: Denise Bosler


Most of the previous books have been primarily analyzing type as it appears in print works. This book is one of the few that takes that same analysis and applies it to web design as well.

In our increasingly digital world it is crucial to understand how to master type for a digital product. Adding this book to your must-read list will give you that information.

18. New Perspectives in Typography

AUTHORS: Scott Williams, Henrik Kubel

PUBLISHER: Laurence King Publishing

The history of any type of art is important, and graphic design is no different. Knowing where typography came from is crucial to moving forward, but there are also modern perspectives of typography that deserve attention.

New Perspectives in Typography breaks down over 100 contemporary forms of type, so that designers are never at a loss for typographic inspiration.


19. Logo Design Workbook: A Hands-On Guide to Creating Logos

AUTHORS: Noreen Morioka, Terry Stone, Sean Adams

PUBLISHER: Rockport Publishers

All of this talk of typography would be incomplete without looking at how that element impacts logos. This book not only breaks down each element of the logos within it, but it also explains why those elements are essential to that piece.

Further, it provides full case studies on a wide variety of logos. Those case studies look at every part of the logo design puzzle, from the client to the final product, and walks the reader through each step.

If you’ve ever wanted to understand or create logos, than you have to add this book to your list.

20. Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities

AUTHOR: David Airey

PUBLISHER: PeachPit Press

Discovering and understanding your client’s brand identity is critical to creating the perfect logo. David Airey, the author of Logo Design Love, takes the reader through the paces of how he and other designers go from concept to completed product with their logos.

21. Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team

AUTHOR: Alina Wheeler

PUBLISHER: PeachPit Press

This book is a worthwhile read not only for designers, but for marketers as well. Another one of the works on LinkedIn’s list of the 10 Graphic Design Books Every Designer Should Read, this guide gives the entire branding team a toolkit for their identity. With tips and tools to create, build, and sell a brand, this book ensures the brand is on point throughout the entire process.  

22. Logo: The Reference Guide to Symbols and Logotypes

AUTHOR: Michael Evamy

PUBLISHER: Laurence King Publishing

A mini version of the “logo bible” published by the same author, this book gives you over 1,300 logos and symbols to learn from. It is a resource you can use for inspiration or information, and will continue to be a key reference for any of your graphic design work.


23. Designing News: Changing the World of Editorial Design and Information Graphics

AUTHORS: Francesco Franchi

PUBLISHER: Gestalten

[FROM PUBLISHER: All images must be credited in the following format: “”By Francesco Franchi from Designing News, Copyright Gestalten 2013”]

The news that we read is no longer tossed on our front porch by the paperboy. Now, the news is everywhere, and the changes in editorial design and information graphics continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

Francesco Franchi uses this book to break down how these changes have affected the old-school print media. He also explores how to address these rapid changes from a design standpoint.

If you work in any form of media or journalism design field, you will need to make sure this book makes it to your hands ASAP.

24. Editorial Design: Digital and Print

AUTHORS: Cath Caldwell, Yolanda Zappaterra  

PUBLISHER: Laurence King Publishing

This guidebook on editorial design expands upon the first, by including case studies, best practices, and a myriad of tips for design in the digital age.

It works to blend the standards of the print age to the speed and expectations of digital consumers.

25. Editing by Design: For Designers, Art Directors, and Editors–the Classic Guide to Winning Readers

AUTHOR: Jan White

PUBLISHER: Allworth Press

This last work on editorial design is written with both editors and designers in mind. It sets out to show their readers exactly how they can ensure their news and editorial work find their home in their audience.

The author blends design with important issues for editors and art directors as well, including, “columns and grids, margins, spacing, captions, covers and color, type, page symmetry,” etc. If your magazine or newsroom need to get on the same page for your designs, then a copy of this book may be in order for everyone.


26. Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines

AUTHOR: Graphic Artist’s Guild

PUBLISHER: Graphic Artist’s Guild

As much as designers are creatives, we also need to earn an income. This handbook of both pricing and ethical guidelines from the Graphic Artist’s Guild will make sure you know you’re being paid fairly for all of your hard work.

The authors discuss the ever-changing marketplace for graphic designers and the confusion this can bring. By carefully laying out the ethical issues within graphic design, and the standard prices for a plethora of works, designers can make sure they perform ethically and earn what they deserve.

27. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

AUTHOR: Susan Weinschenk

PUBLISHER: New Riders/PeachPit Press

Design is as much, if not more, about your consumer than it is about your own creative process. Understanding that consumer and what it is they’re looking for, can give you a spectacular starting point for your work.

Written by a PhD in Psychology, who has spent the last 30 plus years applying psychology to the design of communication and online interactions, these 100 nuggets of information can set your designs apart from the pack.

28. Know Your Onions – Graphic Design: How to Think Like a Creative, Act like a Businessman and Design Like a God

AUTHOR: Drew de Soto


Despite the somewhat silly title, this book is a seriously epic tutorial on the business aspects of design. As nice as it would be to do away with the business side of the graphic design process, most of us cannot afford to do that quite yet.

If you’re a working graphic designer, or plan to become one, this is your business bible. It will make sure you understand the less creative, but equally important, part of being a graphic designer: getting paid.

29. How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World

AUTHOR: Michael Bierut

PUBLISHER: Harper Design

This book is less of a guide, and more of a memoir and retrospective of the career of Michael Bierut, but this takes away nothing from its value to every graphic designer.

Full of wit and wisdom, the author both explains many of his important and iconic works, as well as discusses how he created them. If you’ve ever wanted to take a peek behind the curtain of how a great graphic designer goes from concept to completion, this book should be your first choice.

30. How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul

AUTHOR: Adrian Shaughnessy

PUBLISHER: Princeton Architectural Press

Last, but certainly not least, this book comes full circle for our required reading for 2015. A “trusted resource for graphic designers around the world,” this book provides designers with everything from practical tools to emotional guidance.

Some may think that latter part silly or not required, but to be able to pour our your creative spirit without losing your soul in the process is a skill that every graphic designer must learn to master.

Ready to Read?

You can learn much from watching great graphic designers, and practicing their methods. You can also learn through your own trial and error as well. But to fully round out your graphic design talent, and make your unmistakably amazing impact on the world, take the time to read these 30 books.  

Amanda is a sassy, opinionated, goofy, and outspoken Millennial woman who enjoys posting an obnoxious number of pictures of her pup on social media. She is obsessed with organizing and color codes everything, hence why her blog is named The Color Coded Life. Though her path took her through law school, she now realizes how much she loves writing and wants to continue to share this passion with the world.