I'm looking to read a textbook or a work about graphic design or typography that is considered to be essential or the best for its field, and in particular, I would like one that is somewhat old and has stood the test of time. It could be either technicalities of design or philosophy of design or something else, but it needs to teach concepts that can be applied timelessly; If the book covers the ins and outs of Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator and how to use the software, that isn't helpful to me. I would like a book that teaches a way of thinking that can be applied no matter what the software or hardware used, as a good designer needs only their mind to produce a piece of art.

An example of what I'm looking for is a book from the field of programming: SICP. This is an ideal example as it has withstood decades of use and is still relevant today because it teaches concepts rather than the nitty-gritty details of the language used.

This is not a subjective question, I am asking for a specific type of book and not your favourite book. Any recommendations would preferably be written by a reputable graphic designer, professor, or have been used in a college course.



1 Answer 1


Graphic Design, unlike programming SICP, is inherently a subjective field. There is no "right" and "wrong" when it comes to design. Therefore there can be no "best" source for direction, aesthetics, or education.

What one designer feels is a must another designer may ignore completely. This can be seen in decades upon decades of work by various notable designers.

  • If you are drawn to the Bauhaus style of design, you get a book on Bauhaus.
  • If you are drawn to minimalism, you get a book on minimalism.
  • If you like using grids.. you get a book on grid systems.
  • If you want to focus on typography, you get a book on typography
  • etc.

What you are asking for does not exist for graphic design. The field is itself too subjective to have a definitive be-all-end-all source. Designers spend years learning and honing their skills related to myriad design techniques, either through formal education or on-the-job training. That really can't be boiled down to a single text book, or even a small series of text books. You'd need at least a dozen or more.

It is only the technical implementations of design which can be black and white, right or wrong. And in that case, source material would need to be directed at the reproduction method. Print production is vastly different than web production, which is vastly different than sign production, etc.

  • THeres no best even in programming
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 5:56
  • 1
    But programming is definitive.. you do it right or it won't run. There's no such thing as "right" design, only "right" production set ups.
    – Scott
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 6:14
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    No, programming is not as definitive as you think. There is no such thing as the right code, just different choices.
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 7:41
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    I understand what you are alluding to. However, I still think there is a "right" when programming. There's an end goal.. a processes to perform. The code must perform that process or it is incorrect. Now, you may be able to get that result in a number of ways, which is more a matter of choice, but one can't decide to simply ignore the language specifications -- design has none of those constraints. Paul Rand was a vastly different designer than Saul Bass or Massimo Vignelli -- they were all great, but didn't follow any common "rules". Every programmer must follow language rules.
    – Scott
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 8:49
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    I do write PHP/ASP/MySQL as well as HTML/CSS/jQuery.. So, I'm not completely clueless as to programming. I may not know some of the more advanced languages, but I do understand the structure and how it is mailable in the hands of someone who understands it. I still think it is vastly different than design.
    – Scott
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 18:12

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