The Ultimate Graphic Design Books Reading List

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!

Graphic Design
Graphic Design

Table of Contents

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Did you know that 70% of graphic designers quit the industry within five years?

Yes, the competition is stiff, the trends are always changing, and the introduction of AI tools like Dall-E, Midjourney, etc., has disrupted the industry like never before.

Constantly polishing your design acumen is the only way to have a soaring  design career, and reading graphic design books is a great starting point.

These design books are often written by industry experts who share their wealth of inspiration and advice within a few hundred pages. That’s why reading design books and learning essential tools and resources are necessary if you are just starting out in the industry. 

Let's level up your design knowledge with these must-have graphic design books.


The must-read design books for beginners

These four graphic design books can help beginner graphic designers learn the basics of the graphic design process. Even if you are an amateur in the design industry, you can still read these design books to brush up on the basics

Graphic Design: A User’s Manual

Published in 2009, Graphic Design: A User’s Manual by Adrian Shaughnessy summarises his years of experience in various design industries and offers practical advice on surviving the ever-evolving graphic design world. 

The book is aimed at design novices and covers anything and everything about graphic design. However, experienced design professionals can also read it to brush up on their basics. The foreword is by Michael Bierut, a design critic, Yale professor, and partner at the prestigious design firm Pentagram since the 1990s.

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100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design

The “100 Ideas that Changed …” is a book series about influences on various topics, including graphic design. It’s written by art directors Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne. 

Steven Heller has been an art director at the New York Times for 33 years, whereas Veronique Vienne is an experienced art director and writer. 

The book discusses different topics that significantly influenced and defined graphic design. Listed chronologically, the book covers various ideas, from technical and stylistic to objective and methodical. Think of white space, decorative logotypes, and photomontage.

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Graphic Design: A Concise History

Novice graphic designers must understand how graphic design evolved into what it is today, and Graphic Design: A Concise History is one of the best design books to understand that evolution

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

Even though graphic design is subjective, some key elements have always existed and will remain so. To understand the key aspects of a good design, read Steven Heller and Gail Anderson’s The Graphic Design Idea Book.

The book will encourage you to try new things and get inspired by the work of 50 great masters of graphic design.

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Design books about typography, color, and structure

Now that you know the history and key elements of graphic design, you might be interested in knowing more about a specific element in visual design. 

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

The Secret Lives of Color

The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair is one of the must-read design books if you want to know more about colors.  

Kassia shares vivid descriptions of 75 unusual shades that played a fascinating part in human civilization. For example, the fearsome darkness of pitch black, or why Van Gogh used chrome yellow to show wilted sunflowers.

As a designer, you often have to pick a color palette. Colors have different meanings, both culturally and psychologically. This book will help you understand how colors are important in design storytelling and when to pick which color.

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Grid Systems in Graphic Design

Grid Systems in Graphic Design is a book that teaches graphic designers how to use grids to organize design elements. It shows how grids help create balanced and structured layouts, ranging from 8 to 32 grid fields.

The book provides examples and detailed instructions, making it a valuable tool for graphic design projects. It's especially useful for beginners who want to understand how to create professional-looking designs.

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Thinking with Type

Thinking with Type is a design book by Ellen Lupton that teaches graphic designers how to use typography effectively. It covers everything from numerals to licenses, with exercises and demonstrations to help beginners and experienced designers alike. 

This book is for you if you want to understand how the appearance of text conveys feelings and messages.

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The Elements of Typographic Style

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst is like the bible of typography. It's all about mastering the art of arranging letters beautifully. You'll learn about fonts, spacing, and how to make your text look stunning. 

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Design books for professional development

Although visual design is a creative process, it also has an element of commercialism. Since most graphic designers are freelancers, these design 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, including How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul. This book includes essays on design and 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 and case studies.

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Show Your Work!

Just creating good graphic designs won’t do any good; people need to know about your designs. In his popular book Show Your Work! Austin Kleon teaches you 10 powerful 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. Whether you’re a graphic designer or a creative entrepreneur, it’s one of the most fun graphic design books.

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Work for Money, Design for Love

Most business books are dull reads, which is repelling for creatives. That’s where Work for Money, Design for Love is different. This business book is written in a Q&A format to address questions that bother many novice designers.

How do I find clients? When should I say no to a client? What should I include in my contracts? These are just a few of the many questions David Airey answers in this must-have graphic design book, which will set you up for a successful career in graphic design, or building your own design studio.

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Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is like a creativity cheat code. The book teaches you to get inspired and make cool stuff without feeling guilty about borrowing ideas. You'll learn how to mix and match different influences to create your own unique style. 

If you want to break free from your creative blocks and unleash your creativity, this book is your ticket to artistic freedom. It's like having a mentor who encourages you to embrace your influences and make them your own!

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Design books that are thought-provoking

Design thinking is about solving problems from a human-centered perspective and creating a wholesome user experience. 

While many books about design include actionable tips, these thought-provoking design books inspire designers to think outside the box. They are essential for anyone seeking new perspectives and ideas

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

Now Try Something Weirder is your secret weapon when your creativity hits a roadblock. Written by Michael Johnson, it's packed with 233 quirky tips and advice to kickstart your imagination.

It's perfect for graphic designers who need a boost of inspiration when they're stuck in a creative rut.

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How Design Makes us Think: And Feel and Do

How Design Makes Us Think: And Feel and Do is a graphic design book that goes beyond just looks and dives into how design influences our thoughts and emotions. Hundreds of examples show how design can provoke, inspire, or reassure us. 

If you're unsure about your audience or the impact of your visual designs, this manifesto will open your eyes to the endless possibilities of visual design.

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Design as Art 

Design as Art by Bruno Munari is like a journey into the creative mind. It's about seeing design as more than just function and turning everyday objects into works of art. You'll explore how design can inspire emotions and change the way we see the world. 

If you're a designer who wants to understand the deeper meaning behind design and how it shapes our lives, this book is for you. It's like stepping into a world where everything around you is a canvas waiting to be transformed!

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Final thoughts

Whether a business sells products or services, great graphic design equals a great brand identity, and businesses know that. That’s why, when hiring a graphic designer, they always look for one with a creative and refreshing portfolio.

These books will help you get started as a graphic designer and grow as a professional.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab the design book that suits your needs the most and start sharpening the creative side of your brain. 

Simone is a writer, dividing her time between native Netherlands and 'home away from home' Malawi. Whenever not stringing words together, she's either on her yoga mat or exploring any off the beaten track she can find.

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