The best books about effective graphic design

Who am I?

My first career was as a reporter on daily newspapers. As I got promoted to editing and eventually webmaster jobs, I needed to learn about design. Newspapers had been trying to figure out which designs attract the most readers for a century. The Poynter Institute, founded in 1975, began doing quantitative research as part of its journalism education mission. Seven years later, Gannett, a large newspaper publisher, introduced USA Today, based on the latest graphic and readability research. About the same time, Edward Tufte wrote his seminal book on graphic design (See recommendation #1). With the arrival of the web, companies like Google and Microsoft took the research to new levels. For example, Microsoft used readability research to create Verdana, a font designed to be legible with then-low resolution screens. Of course, the advertising and direct-mail industries had been conducting design research for decades to enhance sales. In short, you can’t pretend to be a competent designer, webmaster, or editor in this day and age without understanding quantitative readability research.


I wrote...

After Yorktown: The Final Struggle for American Independence

By Don Glickstein,

Book cover of After Yorktown: The Final Struggle for American Independence

What is my book about?

The American Revolution was the United States’ first world war. It involved not just American rebels and England, but France, Holland, Spain, the Indian Kingdom of Mysore, Native American nations, and enslaved people. It was fought from the Arctic to South America, from South Africa to the Mediterranean. The war’s last battle was fought in India, where a Muslim co-belligerent of the American rebels battled the British. After Yorktown tells the story of the people and the war that continued long after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte

Don Glickstein Why did I love this book?

Tufte, a former Yale and Princeton professor, made his reputation by challenging assumptions about how to present information graphically. The result is a series of gorgeous—I don’t use that term lightly—books that look at the hard evidence. This is his first. From the concept of density of information to his popularization of sparklines, from his insistence on graphical integrity to his devastating critique of PowerPoints and how they contribute to the downfall of civilization, Tufte has been the country’s leading voice for evidence-based design. It all began with this 190-page book that will never go out of print.

By Edward R. Tufte,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic book on statistical graphics, charts, tables. Theory and practice in the design of data graphics, 250 illustrations of the best (and a few of the worst) statistical graphics, with detailed analysis of how to display data for precise, effective, quick analysis. Design of the high-resolution displays, small multiples. Editing and improving graphics. The data-ink ratio. Time-series, relational graphics, data maps, multivariate designs. Detection of graphical deception: design variation vs. data variation. Sources of deception. Aesthetics and data graphical displays. This is the second edition of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. This edition provides excellent color reproductions of…


Book cover of Designing Web Usability

Don Glickstein Why did I love this book?

Edward Tufte provided the intellectual framework to evidence-based graphic design, but Jakob Nielsen got down and dirty with web design. His lab research looks into stuff like eye fixations and click rates. But don’t get the wrong idea: He translates the research into practical suggestions about how to design web pages and web interfaces. While this book is ancient by tech standards, its principles remain unchallenged. His many other books report findings about facets of good design ranging from eye-tracking research to designing for cell phones.

By Jakob Nielsen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Designing Web Usability as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Users experience the usability of a web site before they have committed to using it and before making any purchase decisions. The web is the ultimate environment for empowerment, and he or she who clicks the mouse decides everything. Designing Web Usability is the definitive guide to usability from Jakob Nielsen, the world's leading authority. Over 250,000 Internet professionals around the world have turned to this landmark book, in which Nielsen shares the full weight of his wisdom and experience. From content and page design to designing for ease of navigation and users with disabilities, he delivers complete direction on…


Book cover of The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications

Don Glickstein Why did I love this book?

If there’s anyone who cares about effective graphic design, it’s direct-mail experts and fundraisers like Brooks. Brooks devotes about one-quarter of his book to the “design of fundraising”—how to use graphics to improve response rates. If folks can’t read your pitch because of poor design, all the words you write won’t make a difference. “It doesn’t matter how great a piece looks if it’s hard to read,” he says. He deflates designs that make the designer feel good, but make the reader toss the communication because it’s just too much work to figure out.

Book cover of Ogilvy on Advertising

Don Glickstein Why did I love this book?

Ogilvy was the original “mad man” (to cite the 2007–2015 TV show), the foremost advertising executive of the mid-20th century. Although his book is about advertising, you’ll be able to see a theme here that runs through all my top 5 choices: Design should be based first on customer-focused communications research, not on how the designer feels. One of the ads Ogilvy cites was extraordinarily successful—and a graphic atrocity. How could that be? Ogilvy spills the beans.

By David Ogilvy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Ogilvy on Advertising as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

David Ogilvy is well known and respected as the most successful adman of all time. His bestselling book, Ogilvy on Advertising, gives valuable advice to young hopefuls and veterans of the industry wanting to improve their success rate.


Book cover of The Big Red Fez

Don Glickstein Why did I love this book?

Why are three of the five books I recommend about graphic design written by marketing types? They know that their livelihood depends on effective design. Godin is one of those smarmy marketing types—who else would name a book about web design after a fez?—but he knows his stuff. He argues that website owners shouldn’t take their cues from their IT people, who don’t know nothin’ about sales, customers, and web design. Tufte and Nielsen present the data dispassionately; Godin tells it like it is. This book expands on his legendary essay, “Really Bad PowerPoint,” which you can still find as a free download on the web.

By Seth Godin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Big Red Fez as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Synopsis coming soon.......


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Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

Book cover of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

Alan Pearce Author Of Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a journalist, I'm driven to find stories that have not been covered before and to make clear the incomprehensible. I like people, and I like asking questions. I've covered wars and disasters, and on any given day, I could expect to see people at their very worst and at their very best. With my book about comas, I've met some of the finest people of my career, doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who are fighting the system, and coma survivors who are simply fighting to get through each and every day. This is the story I am now driven to tell.

Alan's book list on consciousness that demonstrates there is more to life than we know

What is my book about?

What happens when a person is placed into a medically-induced coma?

The brain might be flatlining, but the mind is far from inactive: experiencing alternate lives rich in every detail that spans decades, visiting realms of stunning and majestic beauty, or plummeting to the very depths of Hell while defying all medical and scientific understanding.

Everything you think you know about coma is wrong. Doctors call it 'sleeping' when in reality, many are trapped on a hamster wheel of brain-damaging, nightmarish events that scar those that survive for life. Others are left to question whether they touched levels of existence previously confined to fantasy or whether they teetered on the brink of this life and the next. Coma is not what you think.

Coma and Near-Death Experience: The Beautiful, Disturbing, and Dangerous World of the Unconscious

By Alan Pearce, Beverley Pearce,

What is this book about?

Explores the extraordinary states of expanded consciousness that arise during comas, both positive and negative

Every day around the world, thousands of people are placed in medically-induced comas. For some coma survivors, the experience is an utter blank. Others lay paralyzed, aware of everything around them but unable to move, speak, or even blink. Many experience alternate lives spanning decades, lives they grieve once awakened. Some encounter ultra-vivid nightmares, while others undergo a deep, spiritual oneness with the Universe or say they have glimpsed the Afterlife.

Examining the beautiful and disturbing experiences of those who have survived comas, Alan and…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in graphic design, advertising, and marketing?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about graphic design, advertising, and marketing.

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