You can never have too many design books, and luckily there are fresh ones coming out all the time, providing everything from visual inspiration through to in-depth information across a wealth of design-related subjects. Not only that, a good thick design book is the ideal thing to put your monitor on to give it a bit of extra height.
The only problem with design books is that they don't tend to come cheap, so you need to know which ones are worth your money. That's why we've rounded up some of the best we've seen this year, from graphic design books (opens in new tab) through to typography, branding and packaging; read on for some great design reading.
- 8 must-read books for design students (opens in new tab)
01. Mid-Century Modern Graphic Design
There's a distinctive look to mid-20th century graphic design that still appeals today. Fuelled by a burst of post-war energy, artists and designers began creating work notable for experimental type, vivid colour palettes and energetic compositions, and Theo Inglis' Mid-Century Modern Graphic Design (opens in new tab) turns the spotlight on this lively visual movement. Featuring hundreds of colour illustrations showcasing the work of such luminaries as Ray Eames, Saul Bass, Elaine Lustig Cohen and Corita Kent, it's an essential guide to the the mid-century style, its development and how it still influences design today.
02. Pan Am: History, Design & Identity
It's hard to believe these days just how big Pan Am was in the 20th century. Right up to its collapse in 1991, it was the world's biggest and best-known airline, with an iconic blue globe logo and a knack for effective publicity campaigns featuring some of the best design and advertising in the business. The visual history of Pan Am is a design goldmine, and Pan Am: History, Design & Identity (opens in new tab), featuring a stack of never-before-published images, is a must-have guide to it. The standard edition has already sold out, but a premium edition – featuring extra images, as well as spot varnishes and Pantone colours – is well worth investing in.
03. Now Try Something Weirder
If you're looking for a book full of hints, tips and advice on how to work with clients, deal with design briefs, deliver fantastic presentations and generally improve your creative confidence, then look to Michael Johnson's Now Try Something Weirder (opens in new tab). It features exactly 233 tips drawn from over 30 years in the creative industries, and promises to share Johnson's ultimate secrets to enviable success; sounds like a good deal to us, and it's now available in a more portable paperback format.
04. Queer X Design
Starting long before the Stonewall riots and coming right up to the present day, Queer X Design (opens in new tab) highlights and celebrates the many inventive and subversive designs that have helped drive the LGBTQ movement over the years. You're doubtless familiar with Gilbert Baker's rainbow flag, but that's just a tiny part of a vast history of queer design that's covered here. From protest badges through to the AIDS quilts of the 1980s and beyond, it's an inspiring and colourful visual history of design harnessed to bring about political and societal change.
05. Jan Tschichold and the New Typography
One of the most influential figures in modern graphic design, Jan Tschichold was a designer, writer and theorist who, inspired by the work of the Bauhaus school, helped bring about a revolution in visual culture between the two World Wars. Thanks to Tschichold's influence, print design in the 20th century became more dynamic and elemental, and Jan Tschichold and the New Typography (opens in new tab) by Paul Stirton expertly traces his impact as well as his own influences.
06. The Big Book of Font Combinations
Finding the perfect font pairing can be a nightmare, and it's one that gets ever bigger as the size of your font collection increases. So here's a much easier way to find the right font combination for your work without spending hours hunting down and fiddling with fonts. Over 370 pages, The Big Book of Font Combinations (opens in new tab) presents you with more than 350 typeface pairings that combine the most popular fonts in the business to stunning effect. It's perfect for inspiring browsing, it can save you time and it'll also help you work out your own font combinations in future (see our post on font pairings (opens in new tab) for more ideas).
07. The Graphic Design Reader
Featuring writings by key design and cultural critics including Adrian Shaughnessy, Leslie Atzmon and Steven Heller, The Graphic Design Reader (opens in new tab) is pitched as an essential resource for students, researchers and practitioners of graphic design. Over the course of 800 pages – supplemented by 360 illustrations – this hefty volume covers is a treasure trove of scholarly and insightful writing that starts with the history of graphic design, moves through a number of topics including education, criticism and political and social issues, and finishes on the future – or futures – of graphic design. Enormous and wide-ranging, it's a must for anyone serious about the subject.
08. Own Label: Sainsbury's Design Studio 1962-1977
Any lover of packaging design is certain to be delighted by this exhaustive collection, showcasing the revolutionary creative work behind Sainsbury's Own Label products in the 1960s and '70s. Headed up by Peter Dixon, the Sainsbury's Design Studio developed packaging that was simple, modern, stripped-back and thoroughly creative, and helped build the supermarket into the retail giant that it is today. More than a nostalgic trip down memory lane – although it's hard not to enjoy it from that perspective – Own Label: Sainsbury's Design Studio 1962-1977 (opens in new tab) is a beautiful and in-depth overview of an incredible body of work.