The best graphic design books aren't just for newbies. You need to be constantly learning and growing as a creative throughout your career, and the best books offer a great way to do so.
With the long nights drawing in at the moment, it's the perfect time to settle down for an evening with a fantastic read. And so we've gathered together the best graphic design books on sale today, in one easy article.
Every designer should read these tomes, which range from timeless classics to modern masterpieces. And to make things easier, we've divided our selection into categories. So if there's something you're specifically looking for, just click the appropriate button above.
For more great books, don't miss our guides to the best branding books and best art books. And if you're seeking to refresh your graphic design arsenal, see our pick of the best graphic design tools around.
The best graphic design books
Logo and branding books
Alina Wheeler’s best-selling guide to branding is both a design classic, and relevant to a modern audience (it's been updated five times). This latest version includes expanded coverage of social media cross channel synergy, crowdsourcing, SEO, experience branding, mobile devices, wayfinding and placemaking.
The book is split into three sections: brand fundamentals, process basics and case studies. And it provides in-depth guidance for both designers and entire branding teams, walking you through a universal five-stage process for brand development and implementation.
You don't have to take our word for it. Just listen to Pentagram partner and design guru Paula Scher, who says: "Alina Wheeler explains better than anyone else what identity design is and how it functions." And with a foreword from Design Matters podcast host Debbie Millman, you know you’re in good hands.
If you're studying or starting out in branding, this is an essential read. In it, famed graphic designer Michael Johnson divides thebranding process into five key steps – investigation, strategy and narrative, design, implementation and engagement. But he doesn't oversimplify: indeed, he acknowledges the non-linear nature of branding with a crucial half step, which marks the fluid relationship between strategy and design.
A no-nonsense, six-question model structures the first half of the book; the second part analyses the design process, using over 1,000 brand identities from around the world as examples.
This book is less of a fireside read and more of a comprehensive reference, but no less compelling for that. Bringing together approximately 6,000 trademarks, registered between 1940-80, Jens Müller examines the distillation of modernism in graphic design and how these attitudes and imperatives gave birth to corporate identity.
These inspirational logos are organised into three chapters – geometric, effect and typographic – and provide a comprehensive index to inform your own work.
To create great work, you need to know the great work that came before you. In this inspiring book, leading branding and identity design experts come together to bring you the definitive list of the 50 best logos ever. As well as explaining why they work so well, this groundbreaking book also explains how they were created. Find out if your favourite logo makes the cut.
Originally published in 1992, this history and guide to typography from the Canadian typographer, poet and translator Robert Bringhurst is a true classic. Leading typographers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones call it "the finest book ever written about typography", and the moment you open its pages, it's obvious why.
This is not only a beautifully written manual combining practical, theoretical and historical information. It also goes deeper, and shares a thoughtful philosophy and understanding of typography. But don't get the idea that it's heavy going. Indeed, the appendix of the Latin alphabet and its characters is a great piece of eye-candy that all designers will adore.
The best way to understand typography is to create your own type designs. This might just be a fun project, or it could potentially end up being a handy source of income. Either way, this book by Alex Fowkes provides a ton of inspiration to get your started.
Part inspiration and part workbook, it features a ton of real-world projects and sketchbooks of well-known type designers, including interviews about their processes. Note, though, this isn't a straight 'how to' tutorial, more of a mixture of insight and inspiration.
Type choice isn't random, but if you're struggling to get your head around it, you'll appreciate this book by graphic designer and typographer Sarah Hyndman. In it, she dives into the science behind font design, and uncovers why different styles provoke different reactions. Hyndman even explains how fonts have the power to alter the taste of your food!
A well-chosen font communicates to the reader on an almost subliminal level and it can make or break a design. But to know where you're going, you need to know where you're coming from. And so Simon Garfield's book Just My Type explores the rich history of fonts, as well as looking at why the greatest ones work so well. Even if you think you already know it all, this fantastic book will teach you new things about the history of typography and give you a fresh new perspective on type design.
How to be a graphic designer
Inspired by his world-famous typographical prints, Anthony Burrill's Work Hard & Be Nice to People is short, sharp and beautifully concise. Cutting all the fat from the message, his lack of pretension and full heart make this an enthralling read.
The book is a re-worked, paperback version of Anthony's previous book Make it Now, with all-new material. It's basically an inspiring account of what he values in creatives. And the advice he shares will help you get the best out of yourself, without selling your soul, or indeed, being horrible to people along the way.
It's all well and good having talent, but even the very best designers won't get anywhere if no one sees their work. This design book by the author of the bestselling Steal Like an Artist will show you how to reach your audience and build a name for yourself.
Motion designer and 3D illustrator Hashmukh Kerai says. "I feel most creative people are too precious with their work, leaving you feeling vulnerable when it’s finally ready to be shared. This book helped me start posting work on social media, allowing for feedback, and moving on to the next project."
As you might expect from the title, this book on navigating agency life is highly amusing and irreverent. But it's also practical. Its infographics and flow diagrams bring creative processes like pitching and giving feedback to visual life, and its short, sharp chapters make everything clear and easy to follow
As you might expect from the title, this book on navigating agency life is highly amusing and irreverent. But it's also practical. Its infographics and flow diagrams bring creative processes like pitching and giving feedback to visual life, and its short, sharp chapters make everything clear and easy to foll
How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul is full of sound advice on gaining employment, setting yourself up as a freelancer, forming a company, dealing with clients, pitching and loads more. The author, a well-known designer and industry commentator, calls on such luminaries as Neville Brody, Natalie Hunter, John Warwicker and Andy Cruz to help pull together his ideas.
Veteran designer and Pentagram New York partner Michael Bierut released this monograph, which also serves as a manual and manifesto, in 2015. Detailing 35 projects, Bierut – who’s a protégé of design legend Massimo Vignelli – illustrates the varied role that graphic design plays in the modern world.
Rough sketches and rejected ideas sit alongside finished work in this beautiful crafted book. Fully updated for 2021, it's packed with insights into the creative process, making it a valuable resource to new and established designers alike.
This book offers a comprehensive, indispensable guide to modern commercial design. Rather than being drily theoretical, it offers concrete examples in the form of branding campaigns by major design studios, including Studio Makgill (for G. F. Smith), Freytag Anderson (for Fraher Architects) and Ico Design (for David Rowland).
This is combined with illuminating interviews with many of the creatives involved. And s a designer himself, Cooke knows all the right questions to ask. With the emphasis on creative collaboration and developing designs to work on multiple touchpoints, this is an inspiring and informative guide to modern design.
David Airey, author of Logo Design Lov, receives many questions about running a design business. And he answers the most common in this refreshing, straightforward guide to starting your own design business. Touching on everything from the mindset needed to be a designer to taking your first steps in business, this is a must-have read for anyone thinking of setting out on their own.
Alan Fletcher, the co-founder of Pentagram, penned various thought-provoking tomes during his graphic design career, but The Art of Looking Sideways is perhaps the best known. It questions the way designers think about everything from colour to composition.
Once you've digested this seminal text, you might also want to give Picturing and Poeting a go. That title 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.
Seen as the godfather of modern branding, Paul Rand has several inspiring books to his name, and this is the perfect one to start with. A Designer's Art probes 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. A book to be read thoroughly, rather than flipped through.
Another insightful resource from Adrian Shaughnessy, this guide covers everything you need to know to survive and prosper in the complex, ever-shifting world of graphic design. Topics include annual reports, budgeting, kerning, presenting, dealing with rejection and more. This is an entertaining and invaluable resource that’s packed with tips on the things you won’t have been taught at design school.
This is a small book, but don't judge it by its size: this may be the most useful book you can own as a designer. It offers advice on everything from light, colour and perspective to law and marketing in succinct, beautifully formed chapters. It’s the kind of book that you never stop reading once you start; and the kind you’ll always refer back to later.
Design theory and history
Graphic Design: A History (third edition) is an informative and engaging history of graphic design that's been updated for the latest edition. It includes over 500 new images, a new chapter on current trends in digital design and an expanded introduction. This chunky textbook is the sort of thing that should be on every student's bookshelf, and every agency's coffee table.
This book remains the definitive word on using grid systems in graphic design. Written by legendary Swiss graphic designer Josef Mülller-Brockmann, this visual communication manual for graphic designers, typographers and 3D designers is packed with examples on how to work correctly at a conceptual level. It’s a must-read resource for any student or practising designer.
To create successful work that's designed to be seen, you need to understand how people see things. That's where Ways of Seeing comes in. Written by art critic and painter John Burger and based on a BBC TV series, this bestseller explores the way we view art.
Designer Greg Bunbury says the book was responsible for a "pivotal shift" in his design studies. "I began to understand composition and context in every ad I saw," he says. "I recognised the inherent tension that advertising creates, and how to replicate it. But most importantly, it made me want to create meaningful communications: images worth seeing."
Conceived as a handbook and teaching aid for artists, instructors and students, Interaction of Color presents Josef Albers's singular explanation of complex colour theory principles. Fifty years since it was first published, it remains an essential resource on colour. It teaches you about principles such as colour relativity, intensity and temperature; vibrating and vanishing boundaries; and the illusion of transparency and reversed grounds.
Neville Brody was president of D&AD and head of 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, this book explores the thought process behind some of his best-known work, including his genre-defining art direction of The Face magazine.
Visual communication rests on the power of semiotics, a concept that David Crow examines in expert detail in this seminal book. Dealing with the principles of written communication and its relationship to imagery, and rounded off with an examination of audience understanding, this is a valuable assessment of academic yet essential design theory.
Paul Sahre is one of the most influential graphic designers of his generation, and he lectures about graphic design all over the world. His book, Two-Dimensional Man, is part monograph, part autobiography, part art book and part reflection on creativity. Combining personal essays that discuss the realities of his 30-year career, he proves that throughout highs and lows, humour can be a saving grace.
Austria-born, New York-based designer Stefan Sagmeister is one of the creative world's best-known and influential figures. His two monographs, published in 2008 and 2009, are all about his creative approach and output. Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far revolves around 21 thought-provoking phrases, transformed into typographic works for various clients around the world and has been since updated. His second text, Made You Look, spans 20 years of his graphic design in depth. The two complement each other perfectly.
French illustrator Malika Favre is very much a graphic designer's illustrator. The meaning is the visual message and her work is underpinned by "grids and geometric structures as a backbone for each composition," as she puts it herself. So this is a great book for illustrators, but also one of the best graphic design books.
This large-format book showcases work from across her career. Divided into some of her most oft-used themes, such as women, it features some stunning New Yorker covers and erotica, including her brilliant Kama Sutra-based alphabet.
Ideas and inspiration
The second volume of graphic designer Radim Malinic’s inspirational journal Book of Ideas is packed with advice on how to make it in the fast-paced creative industries. The designer, who works under the name Brand Nu, shares his musings on creativity and working in design, along with his key career learnings. “I wanted to challenge the traditional design book model, releasing my own titles that discuss things others don’t,” he explains. “Seeing the first copy never gets old. Having it printed and bound is quite something.” You can read our full review here.
This short and sweet book is a great pick-me-up if you're ever stuck in a creative rut. You'll find practical advice for feeding your creativity, and a way to look at your situation or creative problem in a different light. The book contains fun diagrams and drawings and provides a lighthearted yet considerate look at how to be creative.
Featuring seminal works from acclaimed designers such as Paul Brand, Neville Brody and Stefan Sagmeister, this book covers all the key elements of great design. Authors Steven Hiller and Gail Anderson hone in on professional techniques and provide a refresher on colour, narrative, illusion, humour, simplicity, ornaments and more. It's a surefire way to spark inspiration and keep those creative juices flowing.
A lot of graphic design is now digital, but this book makes a refreshing change. Illustration Play has one of the most beautiful, special and intriguing covers you’ll see, each one being individually stickered by hand, and this is representative of the explorative approach taken by the illustrators featured in the book. It's a beautiful object in itself and it provides new ideas and ways to realise concepts within contemporary illustration.