My cousin-nephew is 12 years old. He doesn't quite understand what the term Graphic design means at the yet, but he's been having a play in Photoshop and Illustrator and copied some design concepts from other places he has seen on the web. He learns very fast. He expressed interest in buying a book so he can become a good graphic designer. His teachers have been a bit of a letdown so far.

Should i buy him a book that teaches him about graphic design, or one that teaches him how to use Photoshop/Illustrator better? (to be fair, he's not too bad at using the software tools)

If so, which book should i buy for him?

  • 3
    Best gift you could buy him is a Wacom tablet, particularly if he is more into illustration.
    – John
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 14:21

7 Answers 7


Edit: Here's something that came out recently (2013): Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd. It gets very positive reviews which tend to say that, while it's aimed at kids, the content is strong enough that it's good for adults too (I've not read it but thought it worth mentioning).

Maybe a design magazine at the lighter end of the market would be a better place to start? I don't know what's available in your region but I find Digital Arts, Computer Arts and Digital Artist all to be good, broad-ranging in focus and very accessible.

(make sure it's a magazine like those I link to that are for people who do design, illustration and digital arts, not a magazine for design connoisseurs who talk about design fashions. If it contains tutorials and hardware reviews, the adverts are for things like stock photo sites, design software, hardware and web hosting, and it has a CD stuck to the cover or a downloads section for things like fonts, stock photos and tutorials, it's for designers. If the ads are for expensive fashionable stuff and you're not even sure what the articles are about, it's for the connoisseurs).

I suggest these for these reasons:

  • They have a mix of everything - examples of impressive, interesting and inspiring work, up and coming trends, practical tutorials to expand knowledge of software, interviews with designers, trade secrets. So it should give him ideas, boost his skills and also give him a clearer idea of whether this is a world he relates to and wants to be part of.
  • They usually cover a range of styles and trades, whereas books usually focus on a particular niche or style in more detail than would be interesting to a newcomer to the field. This way he can get a flavour of what's out there and figure out things like what styles he likes, what designers to follow and what books to buy himself at his own pace
  • It's more casual and less pushy. It sounds like he enjoys the experimentation and freedom, playing around and learning at his own pace. This is probably better for that.
  • Their focus is on actually making things. They have a studio-desk audience: people who work or dabble in the field, people who love to create things. They have an interest in being accessible, inclusive, fun, open-minded. Design books, and the more up-market design magazines, however, often also have another eye on a coffee-table audience: this includes design buyers, academics, connoisseurs... They often have an interest in making design seem exclusive, inaccessible, precious, aloof.
  • They usually come with a CD or downloads of handy resources like royalty-free stock photos and free fonts. For a kid who can make whatever he wants, about whatever he wants, in whatever style he wants, these can be useful fuel for experimentation and ideas.

You might want to check first that it's suitable for a 12 year old though... they sometimes feature work about moderately adult themes (probably nothing worse than he'll see on TV).

Definitely don't get him a beginner's book focussed on a particular piece of software if he's a fast learner who has no problem learning for himself. Those are usually paced for adult learners (i.e. slow). I imagine it would take all the fun out of it. It certainly would have done for me.

(oh, and if, 4-6 years from now, he definitely wants to be a designer and is serious about it as a career plan, or for anyone else reading this question with an older and more career-set wannabe designer in mind, get them a copy of the latest edition of How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul. It's a really good guide on how to get started in the industry without getting burned out or stuck in a dead-end, how to find what inspires you, and how to get there. But it's only suitable for someone who is actually starting to make serious, immediate moves towards a career. Your cousin-nephew has the blissful freedom and great advantage of being able to experiment and find their own passions and preferences at their own pace. It's a beautiful thing and should be allowed to develop naturally)

  • He decided he wanted the Computer Arts magazine in the end. Great answer and really helped seal the choice for all the reasons you mention. I'll make sure to rip-out any sensitive content before letting him read it, but it has just the right balance of everything so it will do him good. Thanks again. Commented May 21, 2012 at 10:38

I think taking art classes and studying the basic principles of drawing would be most helpful. If anything I'd suggest books on drawing.

80%+ of design is not in the software used, it's in the aesthetics.

If the interest is purely in the software... that's not really design. But you can certainly get him books on the applications.

  • 2
    It's definitely more than software, but it's also more than aesthetics. It's about communication. "Commercial Art" is a much better term and one I wish the industry would have kept through the years. ;)
    – DA01
    Commented May 20, 2012 at 19:34

Hmmmm, you say "He doesn't quite understand what the term Graphic design means..." but also "He expressed interest in buying a book so he can become a good graphic designer". I wonder if he wants to be a graphic designer, or you want him to be?

Seems a little early for a book on graphic design -- at that age, I think a practical approach is far more likely to be successful: producing a poster for his school event, designing a bookjacket for his favourite book or packaging for his favourite game, a website for his team/club etc, making holiday cards, etc. Get him to look at professional versions of these, and think how they work.

Books on using applications? I don't think I've ever read one, but if need be I'd pick up the one which best covers the practical aspects of the project at hand.


Have you considered video tutorials instead of a book? It may not be suitable as a formal present but I think that a selection of video tutorials could turn out to be better than a book. You may have to invest a little bit of your time to compile a list of links to suitable photoshop tutorials. I find that the learning experience tends to me more intuitive with videos compared to a book. One website that I like is 'Photoshop for Kids'.


I'd get a book or two on the history of graphic design.

This would be a good start:

Graphic Design, Referenced: A Visual Guide to the Language, Applications, and History of Graphic Design


And almost any book by Steven Heller would be of interest:


For a magazine subscription, I'd consider Print, How or Communication Arts.

Edward Tufte's work is also a common sight on a graphic designer's bookshelf. Not sure if it'd appeal to a 12 year old or not.



user's comment below got me thinking. The key is really to get the kid used to the idea that art can be pursued as a career. I'm not sure where this kid is located, but in the US, for example, that's not often even seen as a career choice in a lot of schools. It wasn't until college that I even discovered 'art' could be an actual major.

I'd encourage learning about design in general. The Bauhaus, The Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright, almost any book that covers aspects of design and art from the 1800s on would be a good thing to expose them too.

  • These are good choices for someone who is making serious, mature steps towards starting out as a designer, like a keenly interested 14-16 year old. But for a 12 year old who is dipping his toes in the water having fun experimenting and creating things, I'd worry they'd make something fun and creative feel dry, sombre and homework-like. Especially Tufte with his schoolmaster-y "that is wrong" manner. Unless the kid is unusally analytic and serious-minded, I'd focus on creating: saving theory for when (or, if) he starts to develop a serious interest in actually becoming a professional designer. Commented May 20, 2012 at 11:54
  • My 10 year old reads physics books. I think it depends on the kid, I guess. Tufte's writing is dry, but the books are beautiful and, honestly, no graphic designer READS books anyways. We only look at the cool pictures. ;) Also, let's not forget that things like Art History and Art Theory are classes that kids love when given the opportunity. It's just that--at least in the US--we've taken that opportunity away from a lot of our youth.
    – DA01
    Commented May 20, 2012 at 19:31

You may be better taking this young man to a large bookstore and letting him loose in the art and design section to pick something that appeals to him to start with - I suspect that he may surprise you on his choice and he will read it more avidly if it is his choice.

I would also suggest getting him a good set of pens and pad - get the basics down before getting online - if he finds the 'art' difficult then maybe a digital camera. I started in photography and progressed that way - coming to design from a different direction gave me a different eye so to speak.

The main thing you can give him is your time and interest - he is lucky to have a supporter at this age!


you should also know Photoshop is not graphic designing.... He should use Sketch Up make. I seen a book called Graphic designing for dummies. You can get it in your local bookstore

  • 1
    Hello Cherianne, welcome to GDSE and thank you for your contribution! As we are basically a Q&A site, we like our good answers to have some background and be of lasting value. As Kurt asks, could you provide some info on why these choices would be good? Thanks again and enjoy your stay here!
    – Vincent
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 11:54

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