12 Design and Business Books I’ve Read & Recommend (Part 1)

12 Design and Business Books I’ve Read & Recommend (Part 1)

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Design Books

In this two part series I outline some great design and business related books that I have read & highly recommend. I give a short insight of each book, along with suggestions on who it may be for and the official product description.

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Find part two here.

How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer

By Debbie Millman


This is a book for any designer that wants to get into the heads of the leading industry professionals. An entertaining & thought provoking look on the world of design via the use of interviews. One topic that comes up quite a bit is that of design consumerism.

Product Description:

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In a series of illuminating and entertaining conversations, twenty-one of today’s most influential and revered designers discuss, celebrate, and analyze their craft. Adeptly interviewed by brand consultant and talk show host Debbie Millman, these designers reveal their early influences, day-to-day rituals, enthusiasms, aspirations, and failures. For pop-culture enthusiasts as well as long time designers, students and those just starting their careers, this book will prove an invaluable guide to the history, controversies, milestones, and everyday foibles of working, living, and thinking as a graphic designer. How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer includes interviews with:

Milton Glaser, Paula Scher, Peter Saville, Chip Kidd, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut, Carin Goldberg, Neville Brody, Emily Oberman & Bonnie Siegler, James Victore, John Maeda, Paul Sahre, Jessica Helfand, Seymour Chwast, Lucille Tenazas, Vaughan Oliver, Steff Geissbuhler, Stephen Doyle Abbott Miller, Massimo Vignelli

How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul

By Adrian Shaughnessy


Anyone entering into the field of graphic design, either coming out of school or embarking on a career solo, should read this book. It doesn’t mess with what the best typefaces are, or any software tricks. Instead, it lets you in on how designers think, and how to be successful in your endeavors. A foreword written by Sagmeister himself, along with interviews with other “rock star” designers, make this book simply amazing. ~Ben Waxler

Product Description:

Designers are quick to tell us about their sources of inspiration, but they are much less willing to reveal such critical matters as how to find work, how much they charge, and what to do when a client rejects three weeks of work and refuses to pay the bill.

How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul addresses the concerns of young designers who want to earn a living by doing expressive and meaningful work, and who want to avoid becoming hired drones working on soulless projects.

Written by a designer for designers, it combines practical advice with philosophical guidance to help young professionals embark on their careers. How should designers manage the creative process? What’s the first step in the successful interpretation of a brief? How do you generate ideas when everything just seems blank? How to be a graphic designer offers clear, concise guidance for these questions, along with focused, no-nonsense strategies for setting up, running, and promoting a studio, finding work, and collaborating with clients.

The book also includes inspiring interviews with ten leading designers, including Rudy VanderLans (Emigre), John Warwicker (Tomato), Neville Brody (Research Studios), and Andy Cruz (House Industries). All told, How to be a graphic designer covers just about every aspect of the profession, and stands as an indispensable guide for any young designer.

How To Be A Rockstar Freelancer*

By Cyan & Collis Ta’eed

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This book is for anyone that is wishing to be a great freelancer (not just a designer), either part or full time. It deals with everything from starting your business, finding your first clients, and even expansion. A must read for any freelancer in my opinion… it’s from the guys over at Envato. Ensure you have a notepad handy when you read it as you get many ideas while reading it! *Affiliate

Product Description:

This is a real nuts and bolts guide to building a career as a freelancer online, with subjects ranging from managing your budget and handling multiple clients to diversifying your interests. Written by Collis and Cyan Ta’eed of the FreelanceSwitch blog site, it won’t tell you how to make your millions but its practical, straightforward advice will give you a good start. ~Net Magazine

Graphic Design as a Second Language

By Bob Gill


This book is aimed mainly at students and teachers of design, and those that wish to improve their design solutions through a better design process. Gill shows us through simple methods, how one can redefine a “problem” to find a superior solution. A very quick and thought provoking read… many illustrations and not many words.

Product Description:

This publication is part of the Handson Graphics series – an exciting and unique collection exploring the work of respected and highly talented international designers. The books in this series are primarily aimed at students and teachers of design. However they also provide an invaluable resource for all those interested in graphic design. The content is international, collectable and accessible to all. Bob Gill’s Graphic Design as a Second Language is a practical and palatable educational resource, aimed at students of graphic design. It provides a comprehensive package of the fundamentals of design, offering an important insight into how to develop original work.

Losing My Virginity: Autobiography

By Sir Richard Branson


This book is for any entrepreneur that wants a look into one of the world’s most successful businessmen. Richard really lets it all go in this book, revealing his philosophy on business, branding and life. A great read for those that seek motivation in life and for those that want to see how he managed to succeed – it reads like a novel so it is a good book for the bedside table.

Product Description:

Losing My Virginity is the ultimate tale of personal and business survival from a man who combines the business prowess of Bill Gates and the promotional instincts of P. T. Barnum.

Logo Design Workbook: A Hands-On Guide

By Noreen Morioka, Terry Stone & Sean Adams


This is a must read for anyone that has to deal with logo designs on a regular or irregular basis. The book has many examples and case studies that help you become a better logo designer which is achieved by answering the question of “what makes a logo design work”. A very procise, easy to read and well laid out book.

Product Description:

Logo Design Workbook focuses on creating powerful logo designs and answers the question, “What makes a logo work?”

In the first half of this book, authors Sean Adams and Noreen Morioka walk readers step-by-step through the entire logo-development process. Topics include developing a concept that communicates the right message and is appropriate for both the client and the market; defining how the client’s long-term goals might affect the look and needs of the mark; choosing colors and typefaces; avoiding common mistakes; and deciphering why some logos are successful whereas others are not.

The second half of the book comprises in-depth case studies on logos designed for various industries. Each case study explores the design brief, the relationship with the client, the time frame, and the results.

Other Design Books:

What design / business books have you read & recommend?

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36 thoughts on “12 Design and Business Books I’ve Read & Recommend (Part 1)”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed How to think like a great graphic designer and how to be a graphic designer without losing your soul and second your recommendation!

    And anything steven heller gets near is also fantastic

  2. Thanks for the recommendations Jacob. Coming from a coding background, i should read a couple of these to broaden my perspective.

  3. I own the ‘How to be a Graphic Designer…’ one. Brilliant read, and some great advice for starting out. I would urge everybody to check out any design orientated books that Adrian Shaughnessy has either produced or been involved with. He’s a man who’s definitely in the know.

    Take caution though, I think you should really limit the amount of ‘how to be..’ kind of books you own.

    With the amount of differing opinions you’ll digest, you may suddenly become more indecisive about which directions to take. More so than you did before you began reading the books themselves.

    I fell into that trap and ended up giving most of them away.

    Now, I simply own a couple of reference books on web design and a great heap of portfolio/showcase books from design agencies across Europe.

    It’s always handy to own a good range of books, you can look online all day but nothing beats a good inspirational design book.

  4. I don’t know if you’ve yet to read (or it just didn’t make this list) The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier, but it’s an amazing look at the “living brand.” Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about that book, and it’s a worthwhile read for anyone involved in business, not just those on the design side, to better understand what constitutes and how we achieve a successful brand.

    Also, No Logo by Naomi Klein is an interesting read that looks at the evolution of branding and its present day social impact on the third world.

  5. Awesome, thanks.
    I’ ll find for “How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer”, “How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul” and not forget to read “Losing My Virginity: Autobiography” Richard Book.

  6. I’m reading “How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer” right now (I’m only to Milton Glaser). So far it’s a great insight to how great graphic design minds view the profession and their work. I’d recomend it as well.

    I also read “How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul;” I liked it but I thought the title was a little misleading/inappropriate. It’s a must-read for anyone that wants to go into this business for themselves.

  7. Thnx for this awesome roundup! I had the Logo Design workbook from my library on loan for almost 4 months. Thoroughly enjoyed it! I soooo need to check out the others on the list 🙂

  8. An interesting list of books. Looking forward to the other parts in this article series. I would also add to this list Business Stripped Bare – Richard Bransons newest book. I found it a better read than Losing My Virginity, but its is a great follow up once you have finished Losing My Virginity.

    Another great book for designers is Designers are Wankers by Lee McCormack (see my review here : http://designdroplets.com/book-reviews/designers-wankers-book-review/ ) – if you are a young designer thinking about a design business then grab a copy.

    Keep Up the great work Jacob.

  9. I’ve bought Logo Design Workbook two years back and I’d highly recommend it do anybody interested in sharpening their identity skills/knowledge.

    Good collection you have here, I plan on getting other books that you’ve listed.

  10. I’ve read a few of these and would also add a book I am reading right now… The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al and Laura Ries. I just started it the other day and can’t put it down!

  11. Raph,
    Ah, I haven’t read that one yet Raph, may get it for my next trip overseas.

    Hadn’t heard of the ‘Designers Are Wankers’ book before, thanks for the review link.

    Yeah I’ve noticed Heller’s name popping up everywhere, a great contributor to the world of design and more!

    You will enjoy them!

    Alas, I should also learn more coding. I actually have a book on HTML and CSS however I’ve never gotten around to reading it… it is more like studying I think.

    I suppose the different opinions could be confusing, however I believe in most cases it is more inspiring and insightful to read how others work, however, in saying that I don’t actually own all of these books, some I loaned from the library, read and took back.

    And yeah there is something about paper… Alex had a good article on that subject: Passion For Paper.

    Had a look in our library for that book but unfortunately they didn’t have it. In the next post I will by outlining ‘Wally Olin’s Branding Handbook’, it could be quite similar?

    No I hadn’t read The Brand Gap, but I always remember seeing that cover, brilliant! My library has that book so I may take a closer look too. Like I said to Preston above, I will by outlining “Wally Olin’s Branding Handbook” in the next post.

    No Logo is also in my library (at Uni) but haven’t had a chance to look at it.


    Yeah you could say the title of ‘How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul’ is a bit misleading but then again isn’t the term ‘graphic designer’ misleading also?

    You’re welcome!

    Ah haven’t had the chance to look at that book however I am sure it is a great read, I love Jeff’s work. Have you seen the interview with Jeff on this blog? Check it out: https://justcreative.com/2008/05/03/logo-design-tips-process-jeff-fisher-interview/

  12. I’d really recommend anatomy of design for some easy to get through history/influence of design, stylepedia for reference and I’m slowly getting through his epic piece of Paul Rand which is a stunning book..oh, and any of his compilation books (he edits/collects a list of essays by other designers) ‘the education of …’

    top stuff!

  13. Johnny,
    They are all very varied books, it really depends on what you need / want to read. The most resourceful was the “How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul” book.

  14. Jacob I am always looking for a good read. I will have to check these out. Out the the top twelve tho i must ask which was you favorite?

  15. I recommend

    Steve Krug – Don’t Make Me Think – Many print
    people cross over to web(including myself) this should be a must read.

    Paul Arden – It’s Not How Good You Are, Its How Good You Want to Be

  16. Paul Arden is a genius. I was crazy happy when I found his other two books at the start of the year, but the one you mentioned Is the best, especially when you’re a student or just starting out in the industry

  17. Thanks for the recommendations JR, I was meaning to look Paul Arden’s book – I read a review somewhere on the net on it but unfortunately I never got around to getting it.

  18. I picked the Shaughnessy book and am loving it it – exactly the sort of reference I’ve been looking for without realizing… Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

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