10 novels every designer will love

Dig deeply enough and you'll find lots of big literary works about designers and design. Some will inspire you with epic tales of artistic pursuit. Others will have you sighing in recognition as they detail the grottier sides of the job.

Here, just in time for your summer reading list, are 10 of the best novels about design and creativity. Grab 'em before the holidays begin!

01. The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd

Design books

Chip Kidd is best known as a designer and book illustrator, with over 1000 covers to his name. The Jurassic Park logo with the T-Rex silhouette? That was Chip Kidd.

In his first novel, Kidd explores the drama of two semesters at art school, as the protagonist makes friends and his work is cruelly deconstructed by a veteran lecturer.

Described by one reviewer as a "crash course in graphic design", the text uses typographical techniques in places to tell the story.

02. The Learners by Chip Kidd

Kidd's follow up to number one on our list, usefully subtitled 'The Book after The Cheese Monkeys', is also about a graphic designer. Fresh out of college in 1961, Happy lands his first job at a small Connecticut advertising agency populated by a cast of endearing eccentrics. But when he's assigned to design a newspaper ad recruiting participants for a psychology experiment, things go rapidly downhill...

03. A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow

Design books

The main character in A Kind of Loving, Vic Brown, is a draughtsman in an engineering firm churning out technical drawings. This classic of the kitchen-sink genre about small ambitions is set in 1960, well before CAD. Vic's job is the kind of repetitive, entry level post that many designers will be able to relate to.

The use of language in Barstow's novels and short stories is brittle and spare. With lots of old Yorkshire dialect thrown in to fuddle and bemuse modern ears, it's as poetic as the moors that loom over Wakefield.

04. The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker

Design books

Nicholson Baker's notorious stream-of-consciousness novel takes place over a single lunchtime. With no real plot and extensive digressions in footnotes, The Mezzanine is about many things - and one of those things is the nature of design.

As the main character, idly ponders on shoelace wear and tear, or how milk cartons work, it becomes a meditation on the man-made world; the world that we design.

05. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Design books

Anyone interested in the creative life should love this novel. It's the fictional, but eminently believable story of how two Jewish cousins grow up to be the authors of a celebrated series of golden age comics. Josef Kavalier is a Czech refugee that Sam Clay's family takes in.

Many of the events are based on the lives of real life comic legends, like Spider-Man's Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, The Shadow's Will Eisner and Superman creators Joe Simon and Joe Schuster.

06. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

Design books

There are other worthy novels based on the lives of artistic giants, but none of them beats The Agony and the Ecstasy. Only one comes close and that's Lust for Life, the story of Vincent Van Gogh, and it's by the same author. Here Irving Stone tackles Michelangelo, based on an extensive stack of letters that the writer translated himself.

The novel details the creation of several key works, including Michelangelo's famous frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

07. Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles

Design books

Tasked with looking after his friend's pristine apartment, our unfortunate narrator soon gets out of his depth. Dark hilarity ensues. Journalist and former deputy editor of Icon magazine Will Wiles' first novel is filled with detail that will delight designers. In fact, the entire thing can be read as a metaphor for design projects - where once the dominoes start to topple it's hell to make them stop.

08. The Afterlife of Emerson Tang by Paula Champa

Design books

On the surface, The Afterlife of Emerson Tang is about the search for parts of a classic 1958 vehicle that have become separated. Underneath the hood, though, this is a novel about the past, present and future of design - the craftsmanship of the past and the sterile efficiency of its future.

09. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Design books

This multi-award winning first novel sees a web designer forced to work in a bookshop as recession takes hold. But, as is the way with the magically real, not everything is as it seems.

It's not the first novel to focus on a creative who's fallen on hard times, but this one's full of nerdy detail about typography, technology and books. Come for the promise of geeky design talk - stay for the awesome weirdness.

10. Jennifer Government by Max Barry

Design books

Max Barry's second and best novel looks to a future where branding identity has spiralled out of control to the point where people take the names of the corporations they work.

Jennifer's a government agent (of course) who uncovers a terrible plot. She investigates a series of crimes where kids have been killed for their new Nike trainers. The deeper she goes, the more it begins to look like a marketing campaign...

What design-related novels should we add to the list? Let us know in the comments below...

Words: Karl Hodge

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