Books on design.

Wojciech recently asked me to suggest some good books on design, which were more practical than theoretical. Here are a few suggestions that immediately came to mind. If you think something is missing, please let me know. I may also add a few more if they come to me. (Ed note: I’m recalling some of the examples from memory, so there may be an error or two in the examples I site.)

Edward Tufte, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

While Tufte has written other good subsequent books on visualizing information, this one was the first. To my knowledge, the book was also the first to organize ideas on how to display quantitative data in a formal way. The book contain now classic examples, such as mapping Cholera in 19th century London and Napoleon’s army during an campaign in 1812 which relates time, temperature, and number of soldiers.

Donald Norman, “The Design of Everyday Things

Another classic book outlines how design often fails the user (not the other way around,) by not taking her into account though the entire design process. Although the book’s examples mostly reference industrial design, the concepts can be applied to other design disciplines like graphic design, interaction design, and architecture. By the book’s end, the readers will forever recognize how often everything things, such as light switches, water faucets, and doors are poorly designed and labeled.

Gary Hustwit, “Helvetica

While not a book, this surprisingly entertaining documentary film on the ubiquitous font tracks the font’s rise in a particular point in history and how designers still revere or reject it. Designers and non-designers come away from the film with an understanding about the subtle and overt power typography can have in skilled hands. Designer Paula Scher gives a hilarious quote connecting Helvetica to the Iraq War.

William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler, “Universal Principles of Design

A book that I discovered by accident runs through and defines a wide collection of principles from many disciples of design (industrial, graphic, and architecture, etc.) Each principle only gets a brief two page overview, as the book thrives for breath. However, the budding designer can quickly get a sense of what practitioners have discovered over time.

Erik Spiekermann and E.M. Ginger, “Stop Stealing Sheep

Although written in 1993, this book is still a fun and relevant read on the basics of typography. With an abundance of visuals, readers get exposed to many different examples of the same word in different contexts and typefaces to help show the nuances of type. Spiekermann of the firm Meta Design is also featured in film Helvetica. I’ve only read the first edition, but a second edition was published in 2002.

Scott McCloud, “Understanding Comics

I love reading this book every couple of years or so, and not just because it justifies countless hours and dollars in my youth reading comics. Scott McCloud, creator of the also amazing comic book Zot!, formalizes sequential art, in a way that legitimizes the art form as a medium within itself. It was a book both comic book lovers and makers where waiting a long to be written.

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6 Responses to Books on design.

  1. Wojciech says:

    Ray, thanks so much for the wonderful list of books! I actually have a copy of Tufte’s book waiting for me back home, and also “Slide:ology” is a very fun read. As I prepare one of the biggest Powerpoint presentations of my life (in terms of importance, not length), Slide:ology is often by my side.

    Also, have you had a chance to look at O’Reilly’s “Visualizing Data”? I have a copy now but haven’t had much time with it yet.

  2. Ray says:

    I have Visualizing Data, but haven’t really looked at it… It’s on the list… Not sure if I should include a “sigh” or 🙂 . I am feeling a bit of both.

  3. Pingback: » Favorite Practical Books on Design

  4. Sidney Blank says:

    I have a few to add. Sort of a business side / craft side list. Take a look at

  5. Marco Raab says:

    Thanks for the reminder, I love this book!
    it’s great inspiration. just trying to find it in my shelf….

  6. Ray says:

    which book do you mean?

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