The Ultimate Graphic Design Books Reading List

Design fanatics, unite! Boost your career or brush up on your knowledge. These are the must-have design books for unlimited access to inspiration and insights.

Graphic Design
Graphic Design

Table of Contents

Design is a creative process in which a surge of inspiration is always welcome. We’ve selected the best design books packed with knowledge, career advice, and insights. Hit the books and level up your design game in 2022!

The demand for graphic designers seems to increase by the minute. But did you know that 40% of all graphic designers call it quits within 2 years, and another 30% leave in the next five years? Stiff competition and a constantly evolving field clearly aren’t for everyone.

If you want a soaring career in graphic design, it’s crucial to keep up. One way of doing this is by constantly immersing yourself in knowledge. There are many essential tools and resources, with books being a great starting point.

No matter where you are in your graphic design career, investing in some design books is always a good idea. Often written by pros, you’ll have a wealth of inspiration and advice within reach. Plus, revamping your shelf is best done with design books, since they are often stunning works of art on their own.

We’ve divided the graphic design books we love into a few different categories so that you can easily find what you’re looking for:

If you’re in a hurry, pick a comprehensive guide to go back to basics. Next, we have design books that delve into the nitty-gritty of typography, color, and structure.

From there, we’ll look at books about a career in graphic design. Last but not least, we list thought-provoking books, giving any designer a much-needed inspiration surge.

Brush up on your design knowledge with these must have graphic design books.

The basic must read design books

Let’s start at the beginning and look at graphic design books suitable for any designer. These are excellent to kick-start your graphic design journey or brush up on the basics.

If you’re looking for comprehensive guides full of knowledge about graphic design, look no further than these four design books.

Graphic Design: A User’s Manual

Written by successful designer Adrien Shaughnessy, “Graphic Design: A User’s Manual” offers a wealth of knowledge to design novices, battle-tested pros, and everyone in between.

It’s jam-packed with advice on surviving the ever-evolving world of graphic design. The book is written in a conversational and insightful tone, going through the A to Z’s of graphic design.

From kerning to humor in design, every aspect comes with a thorough description. The foreword is by Michael Bierut, a design critic, Yale professor, and partner at the prestigious design firm Pentagram.

Image via Amazon

100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design

The “100 Ideas that Changed …” is a book series about influences on various topics, one of them being graphic design. “100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design” is written by art directors Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne.

The book goes through different topics that significantly influenced and defined graphic design. One hundred entries are ordered chronologically and range from technical, to stylistic, to objects, to methods. Think of white space, decorative logotypes, and photomontage.

Image via Amazon

Graphic Design: A Concise History

To understand something fully, you have to look at how it evolved. “Graphic Design: A Concise History” does just that and is an essential read on any designer's book list.

The reviews are raving, making it one of the best design books available. It’s also an affordable book, making this a fantastic option if you’re on a budget.

Writer and experienced graphic designer Richard Hollis has documented an extensive history starting with the poster and finishing with digital technology. More than 800 illustrations accompany the text, making this read a feast for your eyes and an immersive experience.

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The Graphic Design Idea Book

Sure, graphic design is subjective. However, some key elements can make or break your design. If you’re looking for an easy-to-digest guide to the aspects of good design, look no further than “The Graphic Design Idea Book.”

The comprehensive guide is written by Steven Heller (who also wrote the earlier-mentioned “100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design”) and world-famous graphic designer Gail Anderson.

The reader is encouraged to try new things and get inspired by the work of 50 great masters in graphic design.

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Design books about typography, color, and structure

Once you have the basics covered, it’s time to dive deeper. If the books about the history of design and the key elements have piqued your inspiration, you might want to pick a specific element in visual design to learn more about.

These visual design books are great for learning everything about typography, color, and structure in graphic design.

The Secret Lives of Color

There is so much more to color than you may think. Don’t believe us? Then “The Secret Lives of Color” by Kassia St. Clair is one of the must read design books for your list.

Chrome yellow causing Van Gogh’s sunflowers to wilt, not only in real life but on canvas. The fearsome darkness of pitch black. Kassia’s vivid descriptions tell the tales of 75 unusual shades, each playing a fascinating part in human civilization.

As a designer, you often have to pick a color palette. Colors have different meanings, both culturally and psychologically. Reading “The Secret Lives of Color” may help you think twice before randomly selecting colors that match, knowing that there lies a story behind each of them.

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Grid Systems in Graphic Design

Organizing different elements into a cohesive whole is not an easy task. Graphic designers widely use the grid system to create balanced, well-structured designs. “Grid Systems in Graphic Design” by Josef Müller-Brockmann, who first presented the core of these ideas, shows the functions and use of grid systems.

From 8 to 32 grid fields, this guide shows extensive usage of grids for the most varied of projects. The book also contains examples, showing its readers how to work correctly on a conceptual level.

This is one of those books that’s a fantastic tool to have on hand when starting any type of graphic design project. Although the content looks technical at first glance, the book contains detailed instructions to use the grid systems in your designs.

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Thinking with Type

Thinking with Type” is a comprehensive guide on how to use typography in visual communication. The design book is written by graphic designer Ellen Lupton, known for her love of typography.

We often think about the power of the written word but rarely about how the looks of text convey a certain feeling. If you’re a graphic designer, you know that typography is a field on its own with many things to consider.

Ellen’s “Thinking with Type” covers every aspect of typography, from numerals to ornaments and licenses to formats. Helpful exercises and demonstrations will set you up for success, whether you’re a beginning graphic designer or an experienced editor.

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Design books for professional development

A career in the ever-evolving world of graphic design isn’t for the faint-hearted. On the one hand, commercial businesses realize the value of striking graphics. But on the other hand, visual design remains a creative process.

Most graphic designers work as freelancers. These books are helpful and insightful guides on navigating the commercial world of graphic design and building a career you feel comfortable with.

How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul

Adrian Shaughnessy has written several good design books, like his user’s guide we mentioned when covering the basics. “How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul” has a well-deserved spot on our career-shaping list.

This trusted guide combines practical and philosophical guidance to help young professionals embark on a career in the creative world. The no-nonsense strategies tell you how to set up and run your career through concise advice and inspiring interviews.

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Show Your Work!

So, you want to become a known graphic designer. You can create all the designs in the world, but to succeed, people have to know about you. How? By showing your work.

Show Your Work!” by New York Times bestselling author Austin Kleon showcases 10 different ways to embrace the communal nature of creativity. The book contains broad life lessons on finding your voice and discusses topics such as sharing and oversharing.

Austin Kleon’s book will guide you towards success in the digital age, whether you’re a graphic designer or a creative entrepreneur. It’s one of the fun graphic design books; a light read that’s pleasing to the eye and simultaneously jam-packed with valuable knowledge.

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Work for Money, Design for Love

Starting any business endeavor is daunting. You most likely have a million questions floating through your head. Most business books are dull reads, which is repelling for creatives. That’s where “Work for Money, Design for Love” is different.

This refreshing business book by international designer David Airey is as straightforward as it gets. It’s written in a Q&A format, filled with questions many starting designers ponder.

How do I find clients? When should I say no to a client? What should I include in my contracts? - This is just a glimpse of the many questions David Airey answers.

If you’re just starting, this is one of those must have graphic design books that will set you up for a successful career.

Image via David Airey

Design books that are thought-provoking

Design is all about solving problems. This process, also called design thinking, has a human-centered core and allows us to look at things from a completely different perspective.

The books about design we’ve covered so far are mainly about tangible ideas or elements. However, designers should have at least one of these thought-provoking design books on their shelve.

Do you need a surge of inspiration to think outside of the box? The following books are your best friends!

The Shape of Design

The Shape of Design” by Frank Chimero doesn’t revolve around typography, grids, or logos. Rather, it focuses on storytelling, co-dependence, and craft.

Instead of searching for the how-to and jam-packing theories and technical talk into its content, Frank Chimero looks at why great work is done. It zooms out and looks at how it feels to make design for others and how a designer can do this in a meaningful way.

Feeling stuck happens to the best of designers. “The Shape of Design” will help you put the remarkable creative process back into perspective and give inspiration for years to come.

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Now Try Something Weirder

Working in the creative industry means eagerly awaiting your next best idea. Sometimes you’re riding big waves of inspiration, but other times, you just can’t seem to think of anything.

Now Try Something Weirder” by Michael Johnson is your ally in times when your imagination has been exhausted. It contains 233 hints, tips, and snippets of advice to get your creative juices flowing again.

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How Design Makes us Think: And Feel and Do

Design is often described by its aesthetic features, which derogates design. There is so much more to design than purely its looks!

How Design Makes us Think: And Feel and Do” is one of the graphic design books that dig deeper. It shows that design makes us think a certain way and evokes feelings. The collection of hundreds of examples illustrates how design can provoke, amuse, inspire, or reassure us.

If you feel a little lost about who you’re designing for and why, this great manifesto will show you the countless possibilities visual design holds.

Image via Amazon

Design fanatics, unite! Boost your career or brush up on your knowledge. These are the must-have design books for unlimited access to inspiration and insights.

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