The best branding books continue to dominate design publishing even after years, and for good reason. They provide insights into the power of design, showing that how a company is presented is often just as important as its product or services.
Many of the best branding books are also treasures as physical objects in themselves. Skimming through a beautifully designed book (see our favourite graphic design books for more options) in itself can inspire designers' creativity.
Branding has now entered the wider public consciousness, as demonstrated by the often furious debate triggered by controversial rebrands. Everyone has an opinion, so many of the best branding books below will also be of interest to those who are not directly involved in branding.
For more inspiration, see our article on outstanding uses of colour in branding, and read on for our guide to seven of the best branding books available.
The 7 best branding books
This mammoth book by modern design legend Michael Johnson is an absolute classic on the science of branding. It's packed with illuminating analysis of some of the best branding from throughout the world. In Branding: In Five and a Half Steps, Johnson cuts through to the heart of iconic logos, adverts, campaigns and rebrands to explain their concept, execution and impact with clinical accuracy. He includes priceless anecdotes from his own seminal campaigns, including Shelter UK and the Science Museum, revealing the theory and the alchemical art of of creative thinking behind them.
Johnson is an outstanding writer. His passion is infectious, and the book has a compelling narrative. Every page is generously scattered with carefully chosen examples, and, in a specialist genre that's prone to pseudo-science and hyperbole, Johnson reassuringly emphasises the art of storytelling and empathy that underpin the building of great branding. His direct, jargon-busting approach and expert insights make this one of the best branding books around and a must-buy for newcomers and professionals alike.
Despite being an accomplished branding designer himself, David Airey steps back to allow other creatives to talk about their own projects in this book, Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding. Branding books live or die the quality of the showcased projects and frankness of the talent involved, but with years of industry experience behind him, Airey proves an excellent judge of killer campaigns and stellar talent. He presents sixteen inspiring projects by famed world-class agencies such as Freytag Anderson and Together Design in order to reveal a wide range of creative problem-solving. Elegantly presented as a coffee-table tome of brand porn, but this doesn't skimp on meaty content because every step of the designer/client process is explored, making this an essential addition to the serious brand designer's bookshelf.
Author Radim Malinic has forged a successful second career as a writer while running the small London-based agency Brand Nu. Book of Branding is a detailed guide to everything you need to know to operate a branding studio, from copyright laws and strategies for client presentations to refining contracts and dealing with disappointments. It's essential reading for anyone who hopes to follow in Malinic's footsteps and launch their own agency.
Malinic's frank, informal writing style is easy to digest, and although he only features his own work in the case studies, his enthusiasm and passion make this a thorough but approachable read. The dynamic entrepreneurial spirit that enabled him to carve a unique niche in the industry makes Malinic a perfect guide to brand design, and he excels at conveying the nitty-gritty detail and hard graft behind boutique studio branding. Malinic's Book of Ideas Vol 2 (and, similarly, Vol 1 before it) is also a beautiful book on branding, seamlessly combining his distinctive graphic style with insights into the creative industry.
Creating a Brand Identity: A Guide for Designers is a rich and informative introduction to everything a new design student needs to know about creating brand identity, from consumer psychology to the execution and delivery of finished campaigns. The book's author, Slade-Brooking, is a senior lecturer on BA Graphic Communication at the University for the Creative Arts, so the attention to detail here is outstanding. The book is organised in an appealing, didactic way, with exercises and tip boxes scattered throughout its pages. It goes all the way from the most basic of beginnings (“Why do we brand?”) to sophisticated advice on analysing competitor markets. As befits a book about design, Brand Identity benefits from sophisticated and intelligent art direction, with an abundance of visual references and spot-on examples.
Endorsed by none other than the great Paula Scher, Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team, is probably the most complete branding book available. Now in its fifth edition, this enormous book offers a staggeringly in-depth explanation of the principles, theories and practicalities of branding, from brand architecture to managing assets. The concepts and explanations are illustrated with exhaustive step-by-step detail. The more than 40 case studies, from Coca-Cola to Mozilla, provide irrefutable evidence of the power of intelligent branding design as a marketing tool. Every page of the book contains a fascinating insight or thought-provoking quote, clearly revealing the art and craft of branding as a seamless blend of science and creativity.
Industry legend Wally Olins's last book, Brand New: The Shape of Brands to Come, is a fascinating analysis of how branding and globalisation have shaped each other, and how the rapid evolution of technology (and consumers) has made selling and branding increasingly complex. Olins draws on the wisdom he accumulated dealing with some of the world's biggest companies and brands to champion high moral standards and ethical solutions. The opening chapter is an unflinching critique of the ‘new authenticity’ that has dominated marketing for the last decade. From there, Olins moves on look at understanding the zeitgeist and questioning ‘Big Brand’ responsibilities. He's an exceptional, unwavering guide, who doesn't hold back from shaming those who fail to live up to his high ideals. Beneath the tough call-to-arms for a more compassionate industry, there lies the enthusiastic idealism of an advertiser who's in love with the beauty of meaningful design. This is essential reading for those looking to understand the deeper undercurrents of branding strategy.
Author Daniel Miller has a strong background in the topic of brand success through narrative, or story-telling. As CEO of StoryBrand and the man behind the podcast and online conferences with the same name, Miller believes brands must be understood through the prism of story. This best-selling book certainly supports his approach, focusing on the importance of talking clearly and effectively about a brand.
The book's aim is to help you change the way you talk about your brand, and to think more precisely about what your brand does and why, honing in on what makes it unique. Miller offers a seven-point approach, which covers the main 'story points' that people most respond to and delves into the psychology of why people buy things. There are loads of interesting ideas, and though Miller treats the book as a stepping stone to his online courses, there's plenty to learn here about how to effectively convey band messages even if you don't follow that route.