March 9, 2017

Written by

Chris Gonzales


Samuel Zeller

Design isn’t just battling ugliness. It’s also an unending fight for beauty, balance, consistency, and parity, because the world devolves into an ugly, imbalanced, inconsistent, and unequal place unless we are vigilant.

Frank Chimero

Back in October 2015 I published a guide called Books to Make You a Better Writer. For whatever reason, the thought never occurred to me until now that I might compile a series of similar guides about other fields of study.

What if you wanted to be a better designer? A better cook? Or simply a smarter/more productive/more mindful person?

Today I’m starting with the first one of those ideas: Books to Make You a Better Designer. Enjoy.

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Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro »

You could pick just about any book from A Book Apart and gain some useful insights and inspiration, but for my money, Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job is the best of the bunch.

Designers rarely work in a vacuum; whether you’re a freelancer, in client services, or working at a company, learning the business of design is just as important as the practice of it. Mike takes a no-nonsense (and often foul-mouthed) approach in teaching it to you:

Whether you are helping to launch a new business from scratch, or making incremental changes to an existing product, or something in between, any design task you undertake must serve a goal. It’s your job to find out what those goals are.

That’s the first step to designing anything: ask “Why are we doing this?” If the answer isn’t clear, or isn’t clear to you, or just doesn’t exist, you can’t design anything. Stop working. Can you help set those goals? If so, do it. (Yes, it is part of your job. Anything that helps you do your job is part of your job.)

If nothing else, the chapter on contracts should be required reading for all designers.

The book comes in these formats:

  • Paperback ($21 + shipping)
  • Ebook ($11)
  • Paperback + ebook ($28.50 + shipping)


How They Got There by Khoi Vinh »

The title of How They Got There: Interviews With Digital Designers About Their Careers — written by Khoi Vinh, who you may know from the great blog — pretty much says it all. I don’t want to understate anything here, though; Khoi assembled a truly awesome group of designers to interview about their lives and career choices:

  • Dan Cederholm
  • Alex Cornell
  • Nicholas Felton
  • Agnieszka Gasparska
  • Cemre Güngör
  • Erika Hall
  • Naz Hamid
  • Karen McGrane
  • Wilson Miner
  • Jill Nussbaum
  • Evan Sharp
  • Geoff Teehan
  • Justin Van Slembrouck
  • Marcos Weskamp
  • …with a foreword by Liz Danzico

I recommend this book to those just getting started with a career in design work in particular, but also to anyone who wants to know what makes great designers tick. Khoi himself put it best:

Basically, this is the book that I wish that I could have had handy when I was just starting out, when I was trying to figure out how to get from A to B career-wise. […] the conversations were so interesting that I felt newly inspired myself.

There are two options when ordering this book:

  • Electronic ($30) — You receive a 250-page PDF of the book, plus unabridged copies for iBooks (ePub) and Kindle (MOBI).
  • Electronic + Hardcover ($45 + shipping) — All of the above, plus the hardcover version.


Pretty Much Everything by Aaron Draplin »

Aaron Draplin is a passionate designer who makes awesome products, has an envy-inducing workspace, and is always a treasure trove of hilarious quips and useful knowledge. He even got to guest on Marc Maron’s WTF? podcast once.

Which is all to say that buying his book, Pretty Much Everything, was a no-brainer. It offers a behind-the-scenes look into Aaron’s creative process and how he got to where he is today, plus a boatload of sketches, photos, and case studies to inspire your own design work.

It comes in these versions:

  • Hardcover ($27) ← I highly recommend getting this version over either of the (admittedly disappointing) digital ones below.
  • Kindle ($17)
  • iBook ($20)


In Progress by Jessica Hische »

If you’re into hand lettering and/or type design, you’ll love this one: In her book, In Progress, celebrated designer and lettering artist Jessica Hische (← love that URL) offers step-by-step instruction on the creative and technical process behind making award-winning hand lettering. She shows you how to sketch distinctive letterforms and then turn those sketches into finalized vector artwork that would please even the judgiest of type nerds.

Get the book in these editions:


Digital Design Theory by Helen Armstrong »

Digital Design Theory: Readings From the Field, written by designer and design educator Helen Armstrong — previously known for her 2009 book, Graphic Design Theory — examines the computer’s lasting impact on the field of design:

As graphic design moves from the creation of closed, static objects to the development of open, interactive frameworks, designers seek to understand their own rapidly shifting profession. Helen Armstrong’s carefully curated introduction to groundbreaking primary texts, from the 1960s to the present, provides the background necessary for an understanding of digital design vocabulary and thought.

Included in the book are essays (accompanied by Armstrong’s own commentary) from designers, programmers, and influential figures such as Ladislav Sutnar, Bruno Munari, Wim Crouwel, Sol LeWitt, Muriel Cooper, Zuzana Licko, Rudy VanderLans, John Maeda, Paola Antonelli, Luna Maurer, and Keetra Dean Dixon.

There are two versions you can buy:


Helvetica / Objectified / Urbanized: The Complete Interviews by Gary Hustwit »

Fans of Gary Hustwit’s popular design documentaries Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized will appreciate his ebook, Helvetica / Objectified / Urbanized: The Complete Interviews.

Featuring more than 100 hours of unpublished interview conversations from the so-called “Design Trilogy”, The Complete Interviews is a collection of transcripts from all three films, with a foreword and notes on each interview by Mr. Hustwit himself. It includes in-depth discussions with over 75 designers and creative thinkers, including Dieter Rams, Paola Antonelli, Tobias Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler, Ellen Dunham Jones, and Jonathan Ive.

This book only comes in two digital formats: