The best design sensing books

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a designer, a teacher, a father, a husband, and a friend. I love beautiful things and personally want to know why I find certain things more beautiful than others. I love learning about the world and finding connections between everyday experience and art. When I say “art” I really am blending art, design, architecture, landscape architecture, product design, etc. I believe everything is connected in some way. If I were to pigeonhole myself in any way I would call myself a generalist design thinker. I draw, I write, I make little objects, I make big objects – I see very little difference in any of these things.


I wrote...

Archi Graphic: An Infographic Look at Architecture

By Frank Jacobus,

Book cover of Archi Graphic: An Infographic Look at Architecture

What is my book about?

This informative and engaging book uses a variety of inventive infographics to take an unusual look at architecture in a way that would not be possible with words and images alone. Through a variety of different infographics it compares, for example, the range of materials and colours used by different architects, the relative locations of their buildings, who influenced who, and which architects are the most discussed. It also approaches architecture from more unconventional angles with spreads that show the kinds of architecture favoured by dictators, the networks of love affairs that architects got entangled in; the defining facial features of famous architects and so on. Irreverent and entertaining, this book will appeal to all those with an interest in architecture or infographics.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding

Frank Jacobus Why did I love this book?

This book provides the reader with a foundation as to how we think through our bodily experience in the world. It argues that we think through the body and through experience and that bodily engagement with the world (organism-environment interaction) is used to develop more abstract modes of thought.

I find this key to understanding design generally.

By Mark Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Meaning of the Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In "The Meaning of the Body", Mark Johnson continues his pioneering work on the exciting connections between cognitive science, language, and meaning first begun in the classic "Metaphors We Live By". Johnson uses recent research into infant psychology to show how the body generates meaning even before self-consciousness has fully developed. From there he turns to cognitive neuroscience to further explore the bodily origins of meaning, thought, and language and examines the many dimensions of meaning - including images, qualities, emotions, and metaphors - that are all rooted in the body's physical encounters with the world. Drawing on the psychology…


Book cover of Art As Experience

Frank Jacobus Why did I love this book?

This book is essential to anyone who wants to come into the meaning of art, design, and architecture.

Give it time and it will undoubtedly change your life. Dewey’s central argument is that experience itself is aesthetic, that we need to pay deep attention to the quality inherent in every experience.

By John Dewey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Art As Experience as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on John Dewey's lectures on esthetics, delivered as the first William James Lecturer at Harvard in 1932, Art as Experience has grown to be considered internationally as the most distinguished work ever written by an American on the formal structure and characteristic effects of all the arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and literature.


Book cover of Visual Thinking

Frank Jacobus Why did I love this book?

This book outlines how the visual field operates at a psychological level.

I am an architect and cannot believe that we don’t teach straight from this and other Arnheim books more often. If you want to know what is happening to you, why you get chills up your spine when looking at art, read this book.

Arnheim is a psychologist, not a designer, so he breaks art down from this perspective.

By Rudolf Arnheim,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Visual Thinking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For thirty-five years Visual Thinking has been the gold standard for art educators, psychologists, and general readers alike. In this seminal work, Arnheim, author of "The Dynamics of Architectural Form", "Film as Art", "Toward a Psychology of Art", and "Art and Visual Perception", asserts that all thinking (not just thinking related to art) is basically perceptual in nature, and that the ancient dichotomy between seeing and thinking, between perceiving and reasoning, is false and misleading. This is an indispensable tool for students and for those interested in the arts.


Book cover of Language of Vision

Frank Jacobus Why did I love this book?

Where Arnheim provides a psychological foundation for art as experience, Kepes deconstructs the visual field graphically and shows us how all of its elements operate.

This is another book that doesn’t get enough attention anymore. Kepes shows many diagrams as examples but also shows work produced by artists and graphic designers and discusses how the visual field is operating in each case.

My two copies of this book are so littered with underlines and marginalia that I may have to buy a third!

By Gyorgy Kepes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Language of Vision as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kepes, Gyorgy


Book cover of The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling and the Making of Cultures

Frank Jacobus Why did I love this book?

This is outside the box a little for design-related books but there is an important reason why I list it.

I began with Johnson’s The Meaning of the Body and end with The Strange Order of Things because they are both body-based studies. Ultimately, we feel the way we do about art and design because of our bodies, our sensing, and our interaction with the world.

It is important to know as a designer, but also simply as a human, that the foundation of our feeling about art and design is the same as our feeling about the taste of a good soup (Dewey reference) or the feeling of a nice breeze.

We do a bit of damage to art and design when we attempt to separate it from everyday living.

By Antonio Damasio,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Strange Order of Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Damasio undertakes nothing less than a reconstruction of the natural history of the universe ... [A] brave and honest book' The New York Times Book Review

The Strange Order of Things is a pathbreaking investigation into homeostasis, the condition of that regulates human physiology within the range that makes possible not only survival but also the flourishing of life.

Antonio Damasio makes clear that we descend biologically, psychologically and even socially from a long lineage that begins with single living cells; that our minds and cultures are linked by an invisible thread to the ways and means of ancient unicellular…


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Book cover of This Animal Body

Meredith Walters

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

To prove she’s sane, Frankie investigates her forgotten past and conducts clandestine experiments. But just when she uncovers the truth, she has to make an…

By Meredith Walters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Animal Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frankie Conner, first-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, is finally getting her life together. After multiple failures and several false starts, she's found her calling: become a neuroscientist, discover the cause of her depression and anxiety, and hopefully find a cure for herself and everyone like her.

But her first day of the program, Frankie meets a mysterious group of talking animals who claim to have an urgent message for her. The problem is, they're not willing to share it. Not yet. Not until she's ready.

While Frankie's new friends may not have her highly evolved, state-of-the-art, exalted human brain,…


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