The 36 best graphic design books for insights and inspiration
The best graphic design books are packed full of design knowledge, inspiration, insightful anecdotes and useful career advice. They can be a great window on the industry for those just starting out, but they also provide inspiration for even the most seasoned of graphic design pros, going deeper into areas such as creative thinking or critiquing aspects of the industry.
No matter where you are in your graphic design career, you’re likely to want a good library of the best graphic design books on the shelves of your home office or studio (or on your e-reader). There’s no shortage of titles to choose from, but our writers and industry contacts have drawn up their own list of the best graphic design books that they have enjoyed reading. The list is broad and wide-ranging, including everything from guides to graphic design theory to essays on the industry, case studies, monographs, books of ideas, and even tributes to individual typefaces.
We’ve selected both long-standing classics and contemporary publications, many of them written by graphic designers. To make it easier to find the type of book you’re looking for, we’ve split the into sections. You can use the links to jump straight to the topic that interests you, be it the best logo design books, typography books, books on becoming a designer or titles that focus on ideas and inspiration. For each title, you’ll find our review and a link to the retailer that’s currently offering the best price in your region.
For more essential publications to build up your library, check out our guides to the best branding books and best art books. And if you find yourself in need of updating your toolkit, take a look at our guide to the best graphic design tools.
The best graphic design books
Logo and branding books
Alina Wheeler’s best-selling guide to branding is both a design classic, and relevant to a modern audience (it’s been updated five times). We think it’s quite brilliantly put together. As design guru Paula Scher says: “Alina Wheeler explains better than anyone else what identity design is and how it functions.”
The book is split into three sections: brand fundamentals, process basics and case studies. It provides in-depth guidance for both designers and entire branding teams, walking you through a universal five-stage process for brand development and implementation. This latest version includes expanded coverage of social media cross channel synergy, crowdsourcing, SEO, experience branding, mobile devices, wayfinding and placemaking. There’s also a foreword from Design Matters podcast host Debbie Millman.
Anyone thinking of working in branding, or already doing it, should read this book. Famed British designer Michael Johnson divides the branding process into five key steps: investigation, strategy and narrative, design, implementation and engagement. But he doesn’t oversimplify: indeed, he acknowledges the non-linear nature of branding with a crucial half step, which marks the fluid relationship between strategy and design.
A no-nonsense, six-question model structures the first half; the second part analyses the design process, using over 1,000 brand identities around the world as examples. We think this thoughtful read will give everyone from novices to veterans a lot to reflect on about how they approach their practice.
This book is less of a fireside read and more of a reference book, but we found it no less compelling for it. Bringing together around 6,000 trademarks, Jens Müller examines the distillation of modernism in graphic design and how these attitudes and imperatives gave birth to corporate identity. These inspirational designs are organised into three chapters – geometric, effect and typographic – and provide a comprehensive index to inform your own work. Anyone working in logo design will get a lot out of this book.
To create great work, you need to know the great work that came before. In this inspiring book, leading branding and identity design experts come together to offer a definitive list of the 50 best logos ever. It’s a groundbreaking book that also explains how each example was created, bringing together a lot of useful and inspiring back stories in bite-size pieces. Find out if your favourite logo makes the cut, and how it came about in the first place.
First published in 1992, this history and guide to typography from typographer Robert Bringhurst is a design industry classic. Leading typographers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones call it “the finest book ever written about typography”, and we can see why from the moment we open the pages.
It’s a beautifully written manual combining practical, theoretical and historical information. But it also goes deeper, and shares a thoughtful philosophy and understanding of typography. That’s not to say that it’s heavy going. Indeed, the appendix of the Latin alphabet and its characters is a great piece of eye-candy all designers will adore. Plus if you reference this book smartly in the company of other creatives, you’ll probably be taken that little bit more seriously.
Creating your own type designs is a great way to understand typography in general. And whether you’re doing it as a fun side project or ultimately want to earn some serious money as a type designer, this book by Alex Fowkes can help get you started.
Part inspiration and part workbook, it features a host of real-world projects and sketchbooks of well-known type designers, including interviews about their processes. Note, though, this isn’t a straight ‘how to’ guide: more of a mixture of insight and inspiration.
Type choice isn’t random, but there are so many fonts to choose from, where do start? If you’re finding it a challenge, this book by graphic designer and typographer Sarah Hyndman may be of help. It explores the science behind font design, and uncovers why different styles provoke different reactions in people. Apparently, fonts have the power to even alter the taste of your food. An interesting read with insights you won’t find elsewhere.
The right font choice can make or break a design. But to understand why certain typefaces resonate with people, you need to understand their history. And that’s exactly the subject Simon Garfield’s book Just My Type explores. Even if you think you already know it all, this fantastic book might teach you some new things about why the greatest fonts work so well, and give you a fresh new perspective on type design.
Futura: The Typeface was published to mark the 90th anniversary of the world’s permanently modern-looking second most famous sans serif. It’s a detailed, very beautiful tribute with a surprising amount of interesting trivia – did you know Futura was the first typeface on the moon?
Our reviewer loved the sense of place and context created by the historical photographs of 1920s Frankfurt. And the book itself is truly a thing of beauty. Luxuriously embossed silvery type shimmers on the cover and sections in the book are divided using simple black shapes in reference to Futura’s geometry, creating a playful feel in the process. See our full Future: The Typeface review for more details.
How to be a graphic designer
You’ve seen his world-famous prints, now read his book. We found Anthony Burrill’s Work Hard & Be Nice to People to be sharp and beautifully concise, cutting all the fat from the message, while Burrill’s lack of pretension and full heart make this an enthralling read.
The book is basically an inspiring account of what Burrill values in creatives in a re-worked version of his previous book Make it Now, with added material. It might just help you get the best out of your design practice without selling your soul or being horrible to people along the way.
Even the most talented designers won’t get anywhere if no one sees their work. From the author of the bestselling Steal Like an Artist (opens in new tab), this book offers some pointers on how to solve that by reaching an audience and building a name.
Motion designer and 3D illustrator Hashmukh Kerai (opens in new tab) is amongst the book’s fans. “I feel most creative people are too precious with their work, leaving you feeling vulnerable when it’s finally ready to be shared,” he says. “Show Your Work! helped me start posting work on social media, allowing for feedback, and moving on to the next project.”
At university, you learn a lot of design theory, but not so much about how things work in the real world. This book offers pointers on how to navigate agency life in a highly amusing and irreverent manner, but it’s also practical. We found its infographics and flow diagrams bring to life creative processes like pitching and giving feedback, and its short, sharp chapters make everything clear and easy to follow.
Here’s a great business book that doesn’t read like a typical business book. Full of honesty and plain speaking, and low on waffle and jargon, How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul is full of sound advice on getting a design job, setting yourself up as a freelancer, founding your own company, dealing with clients, pitching and loads more. The author, a well-known designer and industry commentator, calls on such luminaries as Neville Brody, Natalie Hunter, John Warwicker and Andy Cruz to help pull together his ideas.
Veteran designer and Pentagram New York partner Michael Bierut (opens in new tab) released this monograph, which also serves as a manual and manifesto, in 2015. Detailing 35 projects, Bierut – who’s a protégé of design legend Massimo Vignelli (opens in new tab) – illustrates the varied role that graphic design plays in the modern world.
Rough sketches and rejected ideas sit alongside finished work in this beautiful crafted book. Fully updated for 2021, it’s packed with insights into the creative process, making it a valuable resource to new and established designers alike.
Design theory is all very well, but how do you put it into practice? That’s the question that this book sets out to answer. It features several concrete examples in the form of branding campaigns by major design studios, including Studio Makgill (for G. F. Smith), Freytag Anderson (for Fraher Architects) and Ico Design (for David Rowland).
This is combined with illuminating interviews with many of the creatives involved. And as a designer himself, the author knows all the right questions to ask. With the emphasis on creative collaboration and developing designs to work on multiple touchpoints, this is an inspiring and informative guide to modern design. See our full Graphic Design for… review for more details.
David Airey, author of Logo Design Love (opens in new tab), gets a lot of questions about running a design business, and he answers them in this refreshingly, straightforward guide. Touching on everything from the mindset needed to be a designer to taking your first steps in business, this is a must-read for anyone thinking of setting out on their own.
This enlightening book is one of the best graphic design books for those just out of college or university. Designer Craig Oldham takes a frank, and often irreverently witty, approach to tackling big questions like how to get a job and how to make money from graphic design. He’s generous in sharing his own experiences and ideas and provides plenty of practical advice in a down-to-earth way. There are sections on education, portfolios, jobs, working processes and personal development. The only downer is the poor quality binding, which we found fell apart very easily. Be careful turning the pages!
Known as the godfather of modern branding and one of the most influential American graphic designers of the 20th century, Paul Rand has several books to his name. Here’s the best one to start with. A Designer’s Art probes deeply into the process of graphic design in general: why it’s important; the impact it can have on society; what works, what doesn’t, and most importantly, why. A book to be read thoroughly, rather than flipped through.
Another excellent book from Adrian Shaughnessy, this guide covers everything you need to know to survive and prosper in the ever-shifting world of graphic design. Topics include annual reports, budgeting, kerning, presenting, dealing with rejection and more. An entertaining and invaluable resource, packed with tips on the things you won’t have been taught at design school.
This isn’t a book for learning the practical ins and outs of graphic design, but it can be very inspiring when it comes to considering deeper questions. Dal Bello explores her own life journey as well as her design journey and how she connects spiritually to her work, and how she ceaselessly questions what she is doing. She delves into topics like embracing failure taking risks and generating empathy as a designer.
Design theory and history
Graphic Design: A History is an informative and engaging history of graphic design that’s been updated for the latest edition. Organised chronologically, the book traces the impact of politics, economics, war, nationalism, colonialism, gender and art on graphic designers working in print and film and with the latest web, multimedia and emerging digital technologies.
Its third edition includes 500 new images, a new chapter on current trends in digital design, and an expanded introduction. This chunky textbook is the sort of thing that should be on every graphic design student’s bookshelf, and on any agency coffee table too.
Our reviewer found this beautiful hardback book to be a fascinating read on a key period in graphic design history. It’s beautifully illustrated, with more than 300 illustrations and it covers a huge breadth of the work. This allows it to successfully reveal the sense of innovation and experimentation of the time, even in work for rather conservative clients.
The book takes the form of a series of profiles of about 60 key designers whose work across magazines, books, record covers, advertisements, posters, packaging and more shaped the contemporary graphic design landscape as we know it, making it a comprehensive resource for students. See our full review of The Moderns for more details.
A grid system is an established tool used by print and web designers to create well-structured, balanced designs, and this book remains the definitive word on using grid systems in graphic design. Written by legendary Swiss graphic designer Josef Mülller-Brockmann, this visual communication manual is packed with examples on how to work correctly at a conceptual level. We reckon this is a must-read for any student or practising designer.
To create successful work that’s designed to be seen, you need to understand how people see things. That’s where Ways of Seeing comes in. Written by art critic and painter John Berger and based on a BBC TV series, this bestseller explores the way we view art.
Designer Greg Bunbury (opens in new tab) says the book was responsible for a “pivotal shift” in his design studies. “I began to understand composition and context in every ad I saw,” he says. “I recognised the inherent tension that advertising creates, and how to replicate it. But most importantly, it made me want to create meaningful communications: images worth seeing.”
Another longstanding essential on graphic design theory is this classic from Josef Albers, a hugely influential artist-educator who was member of the Bauhaus group in Germany in the 1920s. Albers moved to the US in the 1930s and taught at Black Mountain College before chairing the design department at Yale. Be warned, this is not exactly a user-friendly book for contemporary designers since it advises how to teach colour experimentation rather than try to teach the practice itself. It’s also rather lacking in visual engagement for a book on colour, but many designers describe it a lifechanging insight into how colours react interact when seen by the human eye.
This collection of over 50 short essays by graphic designer, critic and Pentagram New York partner Michael Bierut covers all kinds of design issues, from how to draw to tributes to designers and listicle-type articles such as “13 ways of looking at a typeface”. We also get insights from Bierut’s own reminiscences of his development as a designer.
Bierut’s writing has an engaging and witty sincerity to it. Most of the essays were previously published in Design Observer, and they cover a period of around 25 years. When we reviewed the collection, we found them to be smart, meaningful and witty, and. refreshingly they stay away from jargon and design speak. Just note that despite the title, there are few images here. “Seeing” very much means reading in this case. See our more in-depth Now You See It review for more details.
Visual communication rests on the power of semiotics, a concept that David Crow examines in expert detail in this seminal book. Dealing with the principles of written communication and its relationship to imagery, and rounded off with an examination of audience understanding, this is a valuable assessment of academic yet essential design theory.
Capitalism couldn’t exist without graphic design, Ruben Pater argues in this intriguing history of the trade. The graphic designer and journalist looks at how labour, branding, marketing, and social media have transformed the design industry, focusing on how invisible systems influence design. In a world in which even rebellion and anti-consumerist strategies are appropriated to serve economic growth, it’s an illuminating read. Pater uses clear language and examples to show the links between graphic design and capitalism. We were pleased to find he has some suggestions about what can be done about it too.
Monographs can often be disappointing. While you hope for a recontextualisation of the author’s work, often what you get is more of a elevated portfolio. However, Pentagram partner Michael Gericke’s Graphic Life is a refreshing exception. Pentagram’s second longest-service partner’s 519-page monograph is filled with huge photography, offering an almost architectural experience, but he also reveals the threads that connect the places, stories, and symbols in his work.
Paul Sahre is one of the most influential graphic designers of his generation, and he lectures about graphic design all over the world. His book, Two-Dimensional Man, is part monograph, part autobiography, part art book and part reflection on creativity. Combining personal essays that discuss the realities of his 30-year career, he proves that throughout highs and lows, humour can be a saving grace. Two-Dimensional Man portrays the designer’s life as one of constant questioning, inventing, failing, dreaming, and ultimately making.
Austria-born, New York-based designer Stefan Sagmeister is one of the creative world’s best-known and influential figures. His monograph, first published in 2008, revolves around 21 thought-provoking phrases, transformed into typographic works for various clients around the world and has been since updated. Noted designer Steven Heller, art critic and curator Nancy Spector and psychologist and Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile author Daniel Nettle contribute essays to the book. His second text, Made You Look (opens in new tab), spans 20 years of his graphic design in depth. The two complement each other perfectly.
French illustrator Malika Favre is very much a graphic designer’s illustrator. In her own words, her work is underpinned by “grids and geometric structures as a backbone for each composition”. So this is a great book for illustrators, but also one of the best graphic design books.
Re-released in 2022 as an expanded edition, this large-format book is divided into some of Favre’s most frequent themes, with a big focus on women. Showcasing work from across her career, it features some of her stunning New Yorker covers and erotica, including her Kama Sutra-based alphabet.
Ideas and inspiration
Sometimes find yourself at a loss for creative ideas? Michael Johnson’s Now Try Something Weirder is chock-full of prompts and ideas (233 to be precise) based on his own experiences from over three decades in graphic design. It’s written in a very readable snappy, economical and jargon-free way that makes it accessible to anyone, not only designers. This isn’t a linear, structured book to follow in any particular order – we find it more a book to dip in and out of to benefit from Johnson’s observations and advice.
The second volume of graphic designer Radim Malinic’s inspirational journal Book of Ideas is packed with advice on how to make it in the fast-paced creative industries. The designer, who works under the name Brand Nu, shares his musings on creativity and working in design, along with his key career learnings. You can read our full Book of Ideas Volume 2 review for more details.
Want a book you can dip in and out of, every time you need a jolt of inspiration? This short and sweet book is a great pick-me-up if you’re stuck in a creative rut. It contains practical advice for feeding your creativity, and offers a way to look at your situation or creative problem in a different light. With fun diagrams and drawings too, this is a lighthearted yet considerate look at how to be creative.
Featuring work by acclaimed designers such as Paul Brand, Neville Brody and Stefan Sagmeister, this book covers all the key elements of great design. Authors Steven Hiller and Gail Anderson hone in on professional techniques and provide a refresher on colour, narrative, illusion, humour, simplicity, ornaments and more, in a way that’s instantly accessible and easy to understand.