There are an abundance of brilliant graphic design books out there, most of them offering hard-earned insight, design inspiration, and even basic refreshers on the key principles and techniques of design. You might be looking to swot up on design theory, learn some new skills or just recharge your creative batteries, but whatever the reason, we're confident that there will be something perfect for you out there.
We're confident because in this article, we've curated the best graphic design books on the market, from timeless classics to modern masterpieces. We've sectioned the books to help you find exactly what you need, quickly, so just use the links opposite to skip to the section you're interested in. So, without further ado, welcome to your essential reading list.
Logo and branding books
Alina Wheeler’s best-selling guide to branding has been updated for a fifth time to include new and expanded coverage of social media cross channel synergy, crowdsourcing, SEO, experience branding, mobile devices, wayfinding and placemaking. Split into three sections – brand fundamentals, process basics and case studies – Designing Brand Identity provides in-depth guidance for both designers and entire branding teams, walking through a universal five-stage process for brand development and implementation.
Pentagram partner Paula Scher recommends it: "Alina Wheeler explains better than anyone else what identity design is and how it functions,” she says. “There's a reason this is the 5th edition of this classic." And with a foreword from Design Matters podcast host Debbie Millman, you know you’re in good hands.
Leading graphic designer Michael Johnson demystifies the branding process in his latest book, Branding: In Five and a Half Steps. Dividing the process into five key steps – investigation, strategy and narrative, design, implementation and engagement – Johnson also 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 contemporary brand identities from around the world.
This is the ultimate step-by-step visual guide to creating a successful brand identity. It’s an essential read for anyone in the branding industry, and a particularly valuable resource for students and new designers.
Taschen produces some truly spectacular books, and Logo Modernism is no different. Bringing together approximately 6000 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.
Müller includes a variety of logos, organised into three chapters – geometric, effect and typographic – in order to both educate you as well as provide a comprehensive index of inspirational logo designs to inform your own work.
A panel of leading branding and identity design experts come together to bring you the definitive list of the 50 best logos ever. Gain exclusive insight into the creative processes behind the most recognisable identity design work in the world. And find out if your favourite ever logo makes the cut.
First published in 1992, this history and guide to typography from Canadian typographer, poet and translator Robert Bringhurst has quickly become a major typographic resource. Leading typographers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones call it "the finest book ever written about typography" – and it isn’t difficult to see why.
The Elements of Typographic Style is a beautifully written manual combining practical, theoretical and historical information, while also sharing a deeper philosophy and understanding of the topic. If you’re looking for a book covering the finer points of type and typography, you’ll save a lot of money by starting with this one.
“Over the years, this little design bible has proved to be invaluable," says art director Sara Lai. "It packs in the whole 360 degrees of typography, and has come in handy for practically everything I’ve worked on," she says. "Not only does it cover the basics of type and grid rules, it also offers insights that are philosophical and historical."
"One of the chapters I enjoyed the most was about the typography of music systems in relation to layout grids," she adds. "Oh, and the appendix of the Latin alphabet and its characters is a great piece of eye-candy that all designers will love.”
Today, creating a typeface can be equally laborious, involving hours of study and numerous phases of appraisal and refinement. A working digital font may need well over 500 characters too. Software means – theoretically – just about any designer can learn to become a typographer. FontShop AG, the renowned type foundry, conducted a survey based on historical relevance, sales at FontShop.com and aesthetic quality. With a few additions from the experts at Computer Arts magazine, the best fonts ever were selected for this book. In addition to defining the list, we’ve brought you some insightful background on each one.
Graphic designer and typographer Sarah Hyndman's Why Fonts Matter explores the impact fonts have on what we read and the choices we make. The book dives into the science behind font design, and uncovers why different styles provoke different reactions. It's a vital read for anyone wanting to understand how to use type design to influence their audience. Hyndman even promises to explain how fonts even have the power to alter the taste of your food.
Graphic designers are trained to look at typefaces, but Simon Garfield's book Just My Type will encourage you to look even closer, taking in the rich history of fonts, as well as looking at their powers. A well-chosen font communicates to the reader on an almost subliminal level and it can make (or break) a design. Discover more about the history of typography with this fantastic book.
How to be a graphic designer
Inspired by his world famous typographical prints, Anthony Burrill's Work Hard & Be Nice to People is short and sharp in its advice and its delivery. Cutting all the fat from the message, his short, aphoristic advice can make a big impact thanks to its total lack of pretension, and its full heart.
Work Hard... is a re-worked, paperback version of Anthony's previous book Make it Now, with all-new material. It's a truly inspiring, personal account of what this international designer values in creatives, and how you can get the best out of your self without selling your soul, or indeed, being horrible to people along the way.
Show Your Work! 10 Things Nobody Told You About Getting Discovered by Austin Kleon has inspired many a freelance career. 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 shows you how to find your audience and build a name for yourself.
"In the book, Kleon talks about not only sharing your work, but process too; to make sure you can produce something and be done with it," says motion designer and 3D illustrator Hashmukh Kerai. "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."
Kleon is also the author of the hugely popular New York Times bestseller Steal Like an Artist and Keep Going (at 27 in this list) – also well worth a look.
Paul Woods' How to do great work without being an asshole is both amusing and practical. Its infographics and flow diagrams help readers identify what's going on in common conundrums in the creative industries, including pitching and giving feedback, and its short, sharp chapters help them navigate agency life. If you're after frank advice on how to make it in graphic design, this book is for you. There's even a foreword by the king of straight talking, Erik Spikermann.
You can read an extract from Woods' book on how to give feedback without being an asshole here.
Sound advice from Adrian Shaughnessy on gaining employment, setting up as a freelancer, forming a company, dealing with clients, pitching and loads more fills this book.
As graphic design books go, How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul is insightful, intelligent, accessible and simply full of great advice, with the author calling 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 inspiring, highly readable monograph, manual and manifesto in 2015. Featuring 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. How To (full title How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World) is packed with insights into the creative process, making it a valuable resource to new and established designers alike. And with a new, updated version hitting the stores in June 2021, now's a great time to grab yourself a copy if this insightful tome.
Andy Cooke’s Graphic Design for Art, Fashion, Film… compiles branding campaigns of some of the world’s best design studios, along with illuminating interviews with many of the creatives involved, to provide an indispensable guide to modern commercial design.
As a designer himself, Cooke knows all the right questions to ask, and the stunning work – including Studio Makgill (for G. F. Smith), Freytag Anderson (for Fraher Architects) and Ico Design (for David Rowland) – is beautifully collated and presented. With the emphasis very much on creative collaboration and developing designs to work on multiple touchpoints, this book is the most up-to-date and informative guide to modern design around.
Inspired by the many questions that David Airey – author of Logo Design Love – receives on a daily basis, Work for Money, Design for Love is a refreshing, straightforward guide that tackles the essentials of starting your own design business. Touching on everything from the mindset needed to be a designer and how to take that first step into being your own boss, to business basics, this is a must-have read for anyone thinking about going it alone.
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.
Once you've digested his seminal text, give Picturing and Poeting a go, exploring the link between imagery and meaning through a series of visual mind-teasers, games and visual puns, assembled from his personal notebooks and diaries. Another great work by Fletcher, 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.
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 fantastic 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.
Another insightful resource from designer and industry commentator Adrian Shaughnessy, Graphic Design: A User's Manual brings you everything you need to know to survive and prosper in the complex, ever-shifting world of graphic design. Organised from A-Z, topics include annual reports, budgeting, kerning, presenting, dealing with rejection and more. This is an entertaining and invaluable resource that’s packed with pro advice on all the things you won’t have been taught at design school.
Don’t judge The Little Know-It-All: Common Sense for Designers by its cover or size – it’s possibly the most useful book you’ll own as a designer. Everything from light, colour and perspective to law and marketing are covered in succinct, beautifully carved chapters. It’s the kind of book that you never stop reading once you start; the kind you’ll always refer back to, making it a winner on pretty much every level.
Design theory and history
This informative and engaging history of graphic design has been updated for the latest edition. Graphic Design: A History (third edition) 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.
Grid Systems in Graphic Design 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 – regardless of whether you prefer the David Carson approach.
As a designer, you deal mainly in creating visual material. If you're to create work for people to see, you need to understand how people see things – and that's where Ways of Seeing by art critic and painter John Burger comes in. This bestseller, based on a BBC TV series, explores the way we view art.
This book was responsible for a "pivotal shift" in Greg Bunbury's design studies. "The lecturer set down some pages from Ways of Seeing and right there, the whole world opened up to me. When I came back to class the next day, I was a different student," he recalls. "I began to understand composition and context in every ad I saw. 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 is an influential book that presents Josef Albers's singular explanation of complex colour theory principles. It’s been over 50 years since this tome was first published, but it remains an essential resource on colour, demonstrating principles such as colour relativity, intensity and temperature; vibrating and vanishing boundaries; and the illusion of transparency and reversed grounds.
You'll find this book on the must-read list on every self-respecting graphic design course, and with good reason. Neville Brody may have been 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, 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.
Visual communication rests on the power of semiotics, a concept that David Crow examines in expert detail within this seminal text. Dealing with the principles of written communication and its relationship to imagery, and rounded off with an examination of audience understanding, Left to Right is a valuable assessment of academic yet essential design theory.
Paul Sahre is one of the most influential graphic designers of his generation and has operated his own design consultancy since 1997. Working out of his office in New York City, his clients have included The New York Times, Google and Marvel Comics 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 discussing the realities of living creativity during 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 has hit the headlines a couple of times in the last few years with his nude promotional shenanigans, but 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, is fully illustrated with a red PVC slipcase and spans 20 years of his graphic design in depth. The two complement each other excellently.
Malika Favre's work features simple shapes and bold colours in smart combinations that provide visual double entendres, brought to life beautifully in her new eponymous monograph.
The large-format book showcases work from across French illustrator Favre's career, divided into some of her most oft-used themes, such as women, featuring some stunning New Yorker covers; and erotica, including her brilliant 2013 Kama Sutra-based alphabet. 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 the artist puts it.
The book's cover is a perfect distillation of what makes her illustration so arresting: a small hole for a beauty spot and cut-out pouting lips open to reveal another image, though one that references that face-like cover: a woman's face in profile, lips parted as if blowing a little kiss to the reader.
Ideas and inspiration
The second volume of graphic designer Radim Malinic’s inspirational journal Book of Ideas is packed with advice for making it in the fast-paced creative industries. The designer, who works under the name Brand Nu, teamed up with Adobe Stock to make the oil painting-inspired cover illustration. “I want these books to look a bit odd on the shelves,” he says. Book of Ideas 2 shares Malinic’s 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.” Read our full review here.
This short and sweet book by Austin Kleon is a good pick-me-up if you're ever stuck in a creative rut. Keep Going: 10 ways to stay creative in good times and bad provides practical advice for feeding your creativity, and may help you look at your situation or creative problem in a different light. It contains fun diagrams and drawings and provides a lighthearted yet considerate look at how to be creative. This is one to keep in your bag in case of creative emergencies.
The Graphic Design Idea Book: Inspiration from 50 Masters covers all the key elements of great design, featuring seminal works from acclaimed designers such as Paul Brand, Neville Brody and Stefan Sagmeister. It's sure to spark inspiration and keep those creative juices flowing. Honing in on those professional techniques, authors Steven Hiller and Gail Anderson refresh your knowledge on colour, narrative, illusion, humour, simplicity, ornaments and more.
First up, Illustration Play has one of the most beautiful, special and intriguing covers you’ll see, each one being individually stickered by hand. This is to echo the explorative approach taken by all of the illustrators featured in the book – looking at new ideas and ways to realise concepts within contemporary illustration. A lovely object.
What is the Joker's favourite question for Batman? Are there more deaths by human or by zombie in The Walking Dead? Those are just some of the questions answered in this book via an array of inspirational infographics. Even if you're not a comic book fan, the variety of infographic styles on offer in Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong will bring you tons of inspiration.