20 books by iconic designers you must read

Our essential list of the monographs that every designer should collect, from timeless classics through to more recent releases.

Whether you see them as an invaluable source of creative inspiration or little more than a self-indulgent exercise in vanity publishing, there's no doubt that designer monographs have always attracted their fair share of attention from the global design community.

For some creatives, it's all about distilling the essence of their design approach and philosophy onto paper; others are cover-to-cover eye candy; most are somewhere in between.

The books collected here cover the spectrum, and between them get inside the heads of some of the most iconic and respected designers of the last 50 years.

01. The graphic language of Neville Brody

Designer monographs: The graphic language of Neville Brody

Neville Brody's book is on the reading list of every self-respecting design course

You'll find this book on the must-read list on every self-respecting graphic design course, and with good reason. Neville Brody may now be president of D&AD and head up Research Studios' global studio network, but it was arguably his 1980s heyday that had the biggest impact on contemporary graphic design.

First published in 1988, The Graphic Language of Neville Brody explores the thought process behind some of his best-known work, including his genre-defining art direction of The Face magazine.

02. Designed by Peter Saville

Designer monographs: Designed by Peter Saville

Peter Saville's monograph covers The Factory era in detail

Like Brody, Peter Saville famously built his reputation in the 1980s with iconic album artwork for Factory Records-signed bands such as Joy Division and New Order - but this 2003 publication was the first to chronicle his career.

Starting in 1978, it inevitably covers the Factory era in detail but also explores Saville's design and art direction for the fashion and advertising industries, taking in brands such as Dior, Stella McCartney and London's Whitechapel gallery.

03. The End of Print: The Grafik Design of David Carson

Designer monographs: The End of Print: The Grafik Design of David Carson

The End of Print: The Grafik Design of David Carson provides great insight into the iconic designer's process

If Brody and Saville defined the 1980s, Carson conquered the 1990s with his unconventional approach to page design, using distorted type and fragmented imagery that played with notions of legibility - particularly during his tenure as art director of Ray Gun.

He went on to work with a stellar client list that includes Pepsi, Nike, Armani, Levi's, Sony and MTV. While the approach outlined in The End of Print is very much of its time, the insight that the book provides into the iconic surfer/designer's process is unrivalled.

04. Love Song by Non-Format

Designer monographs: Love Song

Modern Studio Non-Format's 2007 monograph is packed with imagery and insight

An iconic studio for the modern age, Non-Format is a fruitful transatlantic collaboration between Oslo-based Kjell Ekhorn and US-based Brit Jon Forss. This 2007 monograph is packed with awe-inspiring imagery and insight into the duo's creative process over five years between 1999 and 2003, from advertising work for Coke and Nike to stunning art direction for The Wire magazine.

05. Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far by Stephan Sagmeister

Designer monographs: Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far by Stephan Sagmeister

Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far revolves around 21 thought-provoking phrases

06. Made You Look by Stephan Sagmeister

Designer monographs: Made You Look by Stephan Sagmeister

Made You Look spans 20 years of Sagmeister's graphic design in depth

Austria-born, New York-based designer Stefan Sagmeister has hit the headlines a couple of times in the last year with his nude promotional shenanigans, but these two monographs, published in 2008 and 2009, are all about his creative approach and output.

The former revolves around 21 thought-provoking phrases, transformed into typographic works for various clients around the world. The latter, fully illustrated with a red PVC slipcase, spans 20 years of his graphic design in depth, and the two complement each other excellently.

07. The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher

Designer monographs: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher

The Art of Looking Sideways questions the way designers think

08. Picturing and Poeting by Alan Fletcher

Designer monographs: Picturing and Poeting by Alan Fletcher

Picturing and Poeting explores the link between imagery and meaning

09. Beware wet paint by Alan Fletcher

Designer monographs: Beware Wet Paint by Alan Fletcher

Beware Wet Paint looking back over 35 years of Alan Fletcher's work

Alan Fletcher, the legendary co-founder of Pentagram, penned various thought-provoking tomes during his illustrious graphic design career, but The Art of Looking Sideways is perhaps the best known – questioning the way designers think about everything from colour to composition.

Picturing and Poeting explores the link between imagery and meaning through a series of visual mind-teasers, games and visual puns, assembled from his personal notebooks and diaries, while Beware Wet Paint is a more conventional monograph, looking back over 35 years of inspiring work and putting it all in the context of Fletcher's remarkable thought process.

10. Design, Form and Chaos by Paul Rand

Designer monographs: Design, Form and Chaos by Paul Rand

Design, Form and Chaos explores the thinking behind some of Rand's best-known identities

11. A Designer's Art by Paul Rand

Designer monographs: A Designer's Art by Paul Rand

A Designer's Art probes the process of graphic design

Heralded by many as one of the fathers of modern branding, Paul Rand has several inspiring books to his name. Design, Form and Chaos is unfortunately out of print, but if you can track down a copy it's worth it to immerse yourself in his talent for simplicity, and to explore the thinking behind some of his best-known identities.

A Designer's Art, meanwhile, probes more 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.

12. Perverse Optimist by Tibor Kalman

Designer monographs: Perverse Optimist by Tibor Kalman

Perverse Optimist is a weighty tome

Written by Tibor Kalman and edited by Peter Hall and Michael Bierut, this is another notoriously hard-to-obtain volume which, like Rand’s Design, Form and Chaos, is sadly out of print. Dedicated to the visionary editor-in-chief of Colors magazine and creative director of Interview, Perverse Optimist is a weighty tome by any standards, and packed with high-impact images and insightful analysis of the art direction process behind them.

13. Pentagram: Marks

Designer monographs: Pentagram: Marks

Pentagram: Marks reproduces 400 identities the agency has created

14. Profile: Pentagram Design

Designer monographs: Profile: Pentagram Design

Profile: Pentagram Design is a collection of critical essays

15. Pentagram Book Five

Designer monographs: Pentagram Book Five

Book Five is packed with case studies

16. Pentagram: The Compendium

Designer monographs: Pentagram: The Compendium

This compendium includes projects including international marketing for Polaroid and work for the Shakepeare's Globe Theatre in London

17. Pentagram: Ideas on Design

Designer monographs: Pentagram: Ideas on Design

This 1987 book reproduces over 200 examples of work by the company

18. Pentagram: Living By Desu

Designer monographs: Pentagram: Living by Design

This groundbreaking book was first published in the 1970s

19. Pentagram: The Work of Five Designers

Designer monographs: Pentagram: The Work of Five Designers

The work showcased in this 1973 volume is still relevant to today's designers

Unsurprisingly, given its status as arguably the world's most famous design agency, Pentagram has attracted its fair share of monographs over the decades: seven so far and still counting.

The first two - The Work of Five Designers and Living By Design - were both published in the 1970s, followed by Ideas on Design in 1987, The Compendium in 1998 and Book Five the following year. They’re all packed with case studies and analysis of the partners' fascinating work across the globe.

The most recent two have a very different approach. Published by Phaidon in 2004, Profile: Pentagram Design is a collection of critical essays exploring the inner workings of the bureau, while Marks simply reproduces four hundred of the hugely diverse identities that the agency has created since 1972. Collect all seven for an incredible cross-section of design history.

20. M to M of M/M (Paris)

Designer monographs: M to M of M/M (Paris)

M to M of M/M (Paris) chronicles two decades of stunning work

It was a long time coming, but this definitive 528-page monograph of the iconic Parisian duo Michaël Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak, aka M/M (Paris), was worth the wait.

Chronicling two decades of stunning work spanning the worlds of music, fashion and fine art, it's presented as a reshuffled alphabetical dictionary, starting and ending with M. The studio's highly distinctive, unique approach to type, print design, drawing and photography shines throughout.

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