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What is the single most influential book every designer should read?

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influential is a sort of specific condition, but at the same time a bit vague.. influencing what? If I made a question on what was the most 'useful' graphic design book instead, it would be called a duplicate, right? But nonetheless something like Graphic Design Referenced is very useful, but it's pretty young so it can't exactly be called influential... – Damon Jan 7 '11 at 21:28
Please clarify what you mean. As it stands this question does not meet the standards of answerable as it is open to debate and discussion. – Ryan Aug 27 '13 at 2:51

17 Answers 17

From the standpoint of a designer that must display technical information, there is no better bible than the series of books by Edward Tufte:

  • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
  • Envisioning Information
  • Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative
  • Beautiful Evidence

I re-read these books (or page through them) every time I'm stuck with a tricky design problem.

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what do you suggest should I start between those books? (in which order?) – Littlemad Jan 9 '11 at 0:51
I started with 'The Visual Display of Quantitative Information'. Out of the first 3 titles, it has always been the most useful for me when I need to display technical data. – Stewbob Jan 9 '11 at 2:23
They're good, but in my experience a bit narrow in focus. I find that all the actual, practical design principles from these are, in my experience, better articulated, better scoped, better organised and better linked to evidence in the excellent Universal Principles Of Design (below). Of the four, def start with "Visual Display...". As showcase books, however, they are very good. – user568458 Apr 13 '12 at 11:04

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst is generally considered the definitive guide to typography.

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Every designer's bible – Robert Koritnik Jan 12 '11 at 12:52
This is the bible. – MikeNGarrett Jan 19 '11 at 6:55
Written by a poet, this is a well-written book about typography. – Stan Sep 7 '13 at 6:25

Don't Make Me Think, by Steven Krug.

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That's rather specific to web usability. – e100 Jan 4 '11 at 23:30
@e100 - True, but the premise of the book, 'Don't make me think', could be applied to many areas of graphic design. – Virtuosi Media Jan 4 '11 at 23:36
Fair enough, but it makes me think you are a programmer ;-) – e100 Jan 5 '11 at 13:50
@e100 Which he is. I bet a large percentage of us here are. – Mateen Ulhaq Jan 7 '11 at 5:07
Second that notion - while Steve Krug's book is primarily for web designers, the whole premise holds true for a graphic designer of any sort. Graphic Designers have the job of communicating a message through art/design, so thinking about how the user will interact with ANY piece of communication is a critical task for any designer. – Joel Glovier Jan 11 '11 at 20:51

I know that we are talking about graphic, but as an Architect I feel the obligation of recommend to everybody Notes on the Synthesis of Form by Christopher Alexander, a book about the process of general design.

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Universal Principles of Design

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This book really is brilliant and underrated: evidence-based, brilliantly presented, just the right level of detail to be usable as a reference when facing a difficult problem. Also it's not too specific: ultimately good design practice is rooted in human behaviour and cognition, and this shows very well how the same principles work and can be applied across many fields. – user568458 Apr 13 '12 at 11:09
absolutely! I loved it at first sight, and learned a lot of useful things. – Littlemad Apr 19 '12 at 14:52
YES, The first time I saw this book, I bought a case of them (12 or so) and gave them away to friends and colleagues. It started a bunch of spin-offs. – Stan Sep 7 '13 at 6:23

I'd certainly recommend Problem Solved: A Primer in Design and Communication by Michael Johnson. It's a good introduction, with real case studies of client briefs. The problem - solution format is likely to be quite appealing to users of this and other SE sites, too.

The johnson banks website and especially blog might give you a bit of a taster.

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Megg's History of Graphic Design: This is a textbook, but it's a great resource if you can get your hands on it. It's a fairly comprehensive rundown of the major events of Graphic Design history, which is something any aspiring designer should be familiar with.

Also, I would check out the recommended reading section on Jason Santa Maria's blog--any of those titles would be well worth checking out (I'm still working through them myself.)

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On the psychological side, i'd like too add :

Colin Ware : Visual Thinking for design

Stephen Kosslyn : Graph design for the eye and the mind.

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The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts, 20th Anniversary Edition by, Rudolf Arnheim and Interaction of Color by, Josef Albers.

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"Visual Thinking" is also a good reference. – Laurent Jégou Feb 3 '11 at 8:17

'Visual Grammar' by Christian Leborg


Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual by Timothy Samara


[How Designers Think, Fourth Edition: The Design Process Demystified][3] by Bryan Lawson

The above are must-reads...I will post longer, category-wise list later.

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I'll promote it till i am blue in the face. Logo Design Love is a great book. Everyone should own it. Given it is pretty limited to logo design but ideas from it can be useful for any graphic design job.

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I have to go with a classic in this case:

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Müller-Brockmann, Josef: Grid Systems in Graphic Design.

It predates the web -- but everything is still pretty applicable.

Many contemporary remixes and revisitations are available to adapt Mr. Müller-Brockmann's practical opus of pragmatic design to the internet era, should the reader want or need such a thing.

Srsly kids, get one today. You won't regret it.

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Any of the books that Jason Santa Maria has on his recommended reading list for designers, such as:

  • Making and Breaking the Grid by Timothy Samara

  • Graphics Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines by Graphic Artists Guild

  • And of course as mentioned above, The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
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How Buildings Learn is literally about architecture, but conceptually fits into a lot of concepts--especially in the context of web design and software design in general. It's one I've recommended for a long time.

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E. F. Schumacher, A Guide For The Perplexed.

It has nothing to do with your work, and yet, it will affect everything that you do.

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