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The 6 best branding books in 2019

best branding books
(Image credit: Mark Wynne)

Branding books continue to dominate design publishing, with more and more designers (and clients) acknowledging that the presentation of a company can be just as important as its service.

Much of the fascination with the science of branding for the public and designers alike, is that it provides tangible proof of the power of design. As David Airey explains in the excellent Identity Designed (more on that below): “When the difference between two functionally similar products is minimal, there’s a need to create an emotional distinction.” At last: design has a real purpose, even if it’s just persuading you McDonald's is nicer than Burger King.

The power of branding has also entered the wider consciousness of consumers as well as designers. The aesthetics of a high-profile rebrand are as commonly discussed at the water cooler as the latest Netflix show. Controversial rebrands can trigger furious debate, like when Slack rebranded, or weary cynicism, as with Facebook's latest corporate look, but everyone has an opinion. And with heightened sensitivity to environmental ethics, corporate transparency and political affiliation, effective communication of brand values has become more important than ever.

Beyond their immediate educational value, many of these branding books also delight as physical objects. Skimming through a beautifully designed book (see our favourite graphic design books for more recommendations) is more fun than scrolling through internet pages, and some of these titles are beautiful objects of desire in their own right. 

Most designers will admit that trawling through the glossy pages of a good branding book is one of the most effective methods of triggering the muse, and a beautifully laid out case study of a sumptuous rebrand can often communicate the designer’s art just as effectively as the text. So, read on for the best branding books available right now.

branding books: Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding

(Image credit: The Quarto Group)

01. Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding

A step-by step walkthrough of 16 inspiring projects

Publisher: The Quarto Group | Author: David Airey | Pages: 288 | ISBN-10: 1631595946 | ISBN-13: 978-1631595943

Excellent projects
Great insights
Beautiful design
Few entry points

Despite being an accomplished branding designer himself, David Airey steps back to allow world-class creatives to talk about their own projects in this new 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, and with years of industry experience behind him, Airey proves an excellent judge of killer campaigns and stellar talent. Sixteen inspiring projects by such famed agencies as Freytag Anderson and Together Design reveal a wide range of creative problem solving, with every step of the designer/client process explored. Elegantly presented as a coffee-table tome of brand porn, this is an essential addition to the serious brand designer's bookshelf.

branding books: Branding: In Five and a Half Steps

(Image credit: Thames & Hudson)

02. Branding: In Five and a Half Steps

Jargon-busting guide to the world's best branding

Publisher: Thames & Hudson | Author: Michael Johnson | Pages: 320 | ISBN-10: 0500518963 | ISBN-13: 978-0500518960

Expert insights
Exhaustive range
Brilliantly written
Book title needlessly obtuse

This mammoth book by design legend Michael Johnson is a stone cold classic, and is packed with illuminating analysis of the very best branding across 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 the idea, execution and impact with clinical accuracy. Priceless anecdotes from his own seminal campaigns – including Shelter UK and the Science Museum – reveal both the theory and alchemical art of of creative thinking.

Johnson is a phenomenal writer, whose passion is infectious, and the book has a compelling narrative. Every page is generously scattered with carefully chosen examples, and In a specialist genre prone to pseudo-science and hyperbole, Johnson reassuringly emphasises the art of storytelling and empathy that underpin great brand building. Zero bullshit jargon-busting and expert insights make this a must-buy for newcomers and professionals alike.

branding books: Book of Branding – a guide to creating brand identity for startups and beyond

(Image credit: Brand Nu)

03. Book of Branding – a guide to creating brand identity for startups and beyond

A detailed guide to running your own branding studio

Publisher: Brand Nu Ltd | Author: Radim Malinic | Pages: 256 | ISBN-10: 0993540031 | ISBN-13: 978-0993540035

Detailed, hands-on advice
Great illustrations
Reversed out text hard to read
Narrow range of case studies

As well as running the small London-based agency Brand Nu, author Radim Malinic has forged a successful second career as a writer, his Book of Ideas Vol 2 and (and Vol 1 before it) seamlessly combining both his distinctive graphic style and earnest insights into the creative industry. The dynamic entrepreneurial spirit that has enabled him to carve a unique niche in the industry makes him a perfect guide to brand design. His informal, frank writing style is easy to digest, and despite only featuring his own work in the case studies, his enthusiasm and passion ensure that this a massively detailed and approachable book, and essential reading for anyone wishing to follow in his footsteps and launch their own agency. From copyright laws and client presentation strategies to refining contracts and dealing with disappointments, Malinic excels at the nitty gritty detail and hard graft behind boutique studio branding.

branding books

(Image credit: Laurence King Publishing)

04. Creating a Brand Identity: A Guide for Designers

A perfect introduction to branding for students

Publisher: Laurence King Publishing | Author: Catharine Slade-Brooking | Pages: 160 | ISBN-10: 1780675623 | ISBN-13: 978-1780675626

Packed with facts
Ideal for students
Useful exercises
Slightly crammed with small type

Creating a Brand Identity: A Guide for Designers is a fabulously rich and informative introduction to everything a new student of design needs to know about creating brand identity, from the psychology of consumers to the execution and delivery of finished campaigns. Author Slade-Brooking is a senior lecturer on BA Graphic Communication at the University for the Creative Arts, so the attention to detail is phenomenal, with exercises and tip boxes scattered throughout. From the most basic of beginnings (“Why do we brand?”) to sophisticated advice on analysing competitor markets, this book will be invaluable to beginner and pro alike. As befits a book about design, the art direction of Brand Identity is sophisticated and intelligent, with an abundance of visual references and perfectly chosen examples.

branding books

(Image credit: John Wiley & Sons)

05. Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team

The essential bible of branding

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons | Author: Alina Wheeler | Pages: 336 | ISBN-10: 1118980824 | ISBN-13: 978-1118980828

Large format is excellent
Great case studies
In-depth insights
Initially overwhelming

Endorsed by Paula Scher no less, and now in it’s 5th edition, this enormous book, Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team, is probably the most comprehensive branding book available. A staggeringly in-depth explanation of the principles, theories and practicalities of branding – from brand architecture to managing assets – are detailed and illustrated in exhaustive step-by-step detail. Any reader who still doubts the power of branding as a marketing tool will find the 40+ case studies – from Coca Cola to Mozilla – provide irrefutable evidence of the power of intelligent design. Every page of this book has a fascinating insight or thought provoking quote, and the art and craft of branding is clearly revealed as a seamless hybrid of science and creativity. 

branding books

(Image credit: Thames and Hudson)

06. Brand New: The Shape of Brands to Come

A classic book on the philosophy of selling

Publisher: Thames and Hudson | Author: Wally Olins | Pages: 200 | ISBN-10: 050029139X | ISBN-13: 978-0500291399

Unique insights from expert
Challengers designers
Fascinating predictions
For hardcore branding theorists

The final book by industry legend Wally Olins, Brand New: The Shape of Brands to Come, is a thrilling analysis of how branding and globalisation have shaped one another, and how the rapid evolution of technology (and consumers) has made selling and branding an increasingly complex occupation. With the wisdom accumulated from dealing with some of the biggest companies and brands in the world, Olins is unwavering in his championing of high moral standards and ethical solutions. From the opening chapter – a thrilling call out on the ‘new authenticity’ that has dominated marketing for the last decade – to understanding the zeitgeist and the questioning the responsibilities of ‘Big Brand’, Olins is an exceptional guide, fearless in shaming those who fail to live up to his high ideals. But beneath the tough call-to-arms for a more compassionate industry lies the enthusiastic idealism of an advertiser in love with the beauty of meaningful design. This is essential reading for understanding the deeper undercurrents of branding strategy.

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