The best design books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about design and why they recommend each book.

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The Art of Looking Sideways

By Alan Fletcher,

Book cover of The Art of Looking Sideways

A seminal classic for any graphic designer. “A primer in visual intelligence, an exploration of the workings of the eye, the hand, the brain, and the imagination.”


Who am I?

I am a graphic designer, writer, and brand consultant. I work with clients of all sizes, from multinationals to companies of one. Since opening my business in 2005 I’ve created logos and visual identities for brands in more than 30 countries. I run two design blogs Logo Design Love and Identity Designed. They resulted in publishing deals to write their accompanying books, and their pages now get millions of views each year.


I wrote...

Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding

By David Airey,

Book cover of Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding

What is my book about?

Identity Designed formalizes the process and the benefits of brand identity design and includes a substantial collection of high-caliber projects from a variety of the world's most talented design studios. You'll see the history and importance of branding, a contemporary assessment of best practices, and how there's always more than one way to exceed client expectations. You'll also learn a range of methods for conducting research, defining strategy, generating ideas, developing touchpoints, implementing style guides, and futureproofing your designs. Each identity case study is followed by a recap of key points.

The Absolute Guide to Dashboarding and Reporting with Power Bi

By Kasper De Jonge,

Book cover of The Absolute Guide to Dashboarding and Reporting with Power Bi: How to Design and Create a Financial Dashboard with Power Bi - End to End

Kasper DeJonge works at Microsoft on the Power Query team. Before joining Microsoft, he was a data analyst, just like you. In this book, Kasper walks a data analyst through the steps of modelling your Excel data and getting it published on a Power BI dashboard. Along the way, his examples are designed to get you up to speed with the important aspects of Power BI.


Who am I?

I’ve been running the MrExcel website since 1998 and have written 66 books about Excel. I am an Excel generalist – I know a fair amount about almost every aspect of Excel. But I respect the specialists who become experts on one part of Excel and offer deep knowledge dives into those portions of Excel. Cleaning data with Power Query, calculating “impossible” calculations with DAX, and then presenting them on interactive dashboards are some of the deep dives that you will learn on this list.


I wrote...

Power Excel 2019 with MrExcel: Master Pivot Tables, Subtotals, VLOOKUP, Power Query, Dynamic Arrays & Data Analysis

By Bill Jelen,

Book cover of Power Excel 2019 with MrExcel: Master Pivot Tables, Subtotals, VLOOKUP, Power Query, Dynamic Arrays & Data Analysis

What is my book about?

657 Excel mysteries solved. Direct from MrExcel himself, Bill Jelen. If you use Excel 10, 20, 40 hours per week, you will save 50 hours per year with the tricks in this book.

The Process

By Richard Wilde, Judith Wilde,

Book cover of The Process: A New Foundation in Art and Design

If any book can explain why there’s always more than one way to solve a visual problem, this is it. The book shares a compendium of 13 experimental projects, each designed to teach conceptual thinking and problem solving to art and design students.


Who am I?

I am a graphic designer, writer, and brand consultant. I work with clients of all sizes, from multinationals to companies of one. Since opening my business in 2005 I’ve created logos and visual identities for brands in more than 30 countries. I run two design blogs Logo Design Love and Identity Designed. They resulted in publishing deals to write their accompanying books, and their pages now get millions of views each year.


I wrote...

Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding

By David Airey,

Book cover of Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding

What is my book about?

Identity Designed formalizes the process and the benefits of brand identity design and includes a substantial collection of high-caliber projects from a variety of the world's most talented design studios. You'll see the history and importance of branding, a contemporary assessment of best practices, and how there's always more than one way to exceed client expectations. You'll also learn a range of methods for conducting research, defining strategy, generating ideas, developing touchpoints, implementing style guides, and futureproofing your designs. Each identity case study is followed by a recap of key points.

Another World Lies Beyond

By T. June Li (editor),

Book cover of Another World Lies Beyond: Creating Liu Fang Yuan, the Huntington’s Chinese Garden

The handsome hardback volume, enriched by colored photos, consists of essays from a variety of contributors, including an art historian, a botanist, and literary scholars. It introduces to the reader the construction of Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, the largest Chinese garden outside China, and discusses its aesthetics in Chinese culture and civilization. It provides a valuable guide for both lovers of gardens and students of garden architecture.

Who am I?

I am a Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside. I was brought up in the family of a Chinese poetry scholar. Arriving in the States for my graduate studies at Harvard in 1982, I have engaged myself in academia here ever since. Acutely aware of, and deeply fascinated by, the cultural similarities and differences of China and the West, I have continued my learning experience, in my thirty years of college teaching, often from direct exchanges with my students. The books on my list of recommendations include both required texts chosen for my courses, and those I want to share with what Virginia Woolf called the Common Reader.


I wrote...

Vignettes from the Late Ming: A Hsiao-p'in Anthology

By Yang Ye (translator),

Book cover of Vignettes from the Late Ming: A Hsiao-p'in Anthology

What is my book about?

More than two decades after its publication, this anthology of seventy pieces from fourteen representative writers remains a rare, if not entirely unprecedented, selection of belles-lettres non-fictional essays from the Chinese tradition which provide invaluable glimpses of the colorful daily life of the Chinese society during the Late Ming period, especially that of the literati or men of letters. Generically meant to amuse and entertain its readers, as well as the authors themselves, the vignette (hsiao-p’in) focuses on sensual pleasures and triviality, and more than often displays individual personality and wit in a playful manner. It could help the reader to better appreciate and understand the psyche and spirit of an important epoch of new developments in literature and fine arts in Chinese history.       

The Unknown Craftsman

By Soetsu Yanagi,

Book cover of The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight Into Beauty

They say that travel opens the mind in ways that staying home doesn’t. Books can take you places you can’t otherwise go. So with Yanagi, I got to visit the mind of an early 20th-century Japanese craft connoisseur who looked at thousand-year-old (plain and unassuming) tea bowls and wondered why they’re utterly beautiful and treasured (the best fetch huge sums at auctions–$25million recently for one). Yanagi’s exploration of how the hands of craftsmen can unknowingly and unintentionally create objects of great beauty was both fascinating as it was challenging. It made my shop work a hundred times more enjoyable.


Who am I?

As a teenager, I worked on cars and motorcycles in my spare time while apprenticing in an architectural millwork shop, paneling the homes of the rich and famous. Thus I discovered the great joys and satisfactions of working with my hands. After a long stint in graduate school, then four years as an editor at Fine Woodworking magazine and for Taunton Press books, I opened a custom design furniture business in 2000. Travel, writing, and reading are aligned passions, and I’ve lived, taught English, and woodworking here and abroad in France, Slovakia, India, and Japan.


I wrote...

Doormaking: Materials, Techniques, and Projects for Building Your First Door

By Strother Purdy,

Book cover of Doormaking: Materials, Techniques, and Projects for Building Your First Door

What is my book about?

Doormaking contains “lots of solid information that can be used in making just about everything wood” (according to one reviewer – I agree). More than that, it embodies an approach to woodworking that you will find more fulfilling than a simple “do this, then that” how-to approach. I’m there with you, discussing options more than dictating actions. I even describe the sometimes-hidden details that will make or break a project. I discuss attitude and enjoyment. And I couch everything with respect for you as a learner and maker.

You have to live with the results and how you got there, so my role is to help you enjoy both. (OK. Sometimes I dictate actions. Because that’s how you do it).

Strategic Writing for UX

By Torrey Podmajersky,

Book cover of Strategic Writing for UX: Drive Engagement, Conversion, and Retention with Every Word

For anyone just starting out in content design or UX writing, this book is a must-have. It focuses on the technicalities of creating user-centered microcopy for web journeys, and includes frameworks and guidance to help you get it right. It also features one of my favourite exercises to try with designers – a conversational design workshop to help everyone consider the content before jumping into visual design. Torrey’s extensive knowledge comes from designing content for companies like Google and Microsoft, so she knows her stuff!


Who am I?

I moved into content design from a career in brand and marketing, at a time when the discipline was emerging and not many people really knew what it was. Much of my time since has been spent educating people and organisations and sharing knowledge to help them make better content decisions. Throughout this time, I’ve learnt most of what I know through the experience of working with the design teams, but so many books have also helped me along the way and made my work so much better. I love content design – having the power to improve people's experiences with brands through words is so rewarding, and these books will inspire others to do the same.


I wrote...

Why You Need a Content Team and How to Build One

By Rachel McConnell,

Book cover of Why You Need a Content Team and How to Build One

What is my book about?

Over the last decade, organisations have started to realise that content extends beyond marketing and advertising and into all parts of the customer experience – from how content is structured through to the microcopy elements on a website or app – everything must work together cohesively.

Creating strategic content depends on the right people with the right skills, and this book is designed to help you create and build a team. You’ll understand the different content roles for user experience design, how they can work together in any organisation, and how to hire the right people.

Writing Is Designing

By Michael J. Metts, Andy Welfle,

Book cover of Writing Is Designing

I first read this book as a technical reviewer and loved how the book almost felt like a double-act, with both Andy and Michael sharing their tips for great content design. The book takes you through the design process for good content, from creating the content itself to testing and measuring with your team. It’s simply written and laid out, so it doesn’t feel like a technical read, and you’ll feel well-equipped to approach even the trickiest content design challenges.


Who am I?

I moved into content design from a career in brand and marketing, at a time when the discipline was emerging and not many people really knew what it was. Much of my time since has been spent educating people and organisations and sharing knowledge to help them make better content decisions. Throughout this time, I’ve learnt most of what I know through the experience of working with the design teams, but so many books have also helped me along the way and made my work so much better. I love content design – having the power to improve people's experiences with brands through words is so rewarding, and these books will inspire others to do the same.


I wrote...

Why You Need a Content Team and How to Build One

By Rachel McConnell,

Book cover of Why You Need a Content Team and How to Build One

What is my book about?

Over the last decade, organisations have started to realise that content extends beyond marketing and advertising and into all parts of the customer experience – from how content is structured through to the microcopy elements on a website or app – everything must work together cohesively.

Creating strategic content depends on the right people with the right skills, and this book is designed to help you create and build a team. You’ll understand the different content roles for user experience design, how they can work together in any organisation, and how to hire the right people.

Content Design

By Sarah Richards,

Book cover of Content Design

Content design is about creating content (not just written content but any type of content, including maps, infographics, and images) that best serves users’ needs, and it’s key to getting found and read online. 

This short guide in plain English features many examples of how to create content that pulls readers towards a website (rather than just pushing content outwards). I especially like the chapter on the science of reading as well as the chapter on job stories and user stories.

I love how practical this guide is. It’s written by someone who’s clearly been knee-deep in the trenches of content design. 


Who am I?

In 2012, I escaped my corporate job to found Enchanting Marketing. I had discovered I love writing and I love teaching people how to write even more. I help small business owners and solo flyers find their voice and share their ideas with gusto, so they can captivate, educate, and inspire their audience. I created this list with 5 book recommendations as a mini-course on writing for the web. There’s little overlap between the books; they all complement each other. Happy reading and happy writing! 


I wrote...

How to Write Seductive Web Copy: An Easy Guide to Picking Up More Customers

By Henneke Duistermaat,

Book cover of How to Write Seductive Web Copy: An Easy Guide to Picking Up More Customers

What is my book about?

This practical book takes you through a 6-step process to write your own web copy. 

I decided to write this book because I found that many coaching clients struggled with the process of writing their own website copy. How do you go from a blank page to a persuasive website? None of the books on the market seemed to offer this kind of advice, so I wrote this book. This is more a workbook than a textbook. Each chapter includes one or two assignments, helping you plan, write, edit, and optimize your web copy so you can convert more website visitors into leads and customers.

Handy Dad

By Todd Davis,

Book cover of Handy Dad: 25 Awesome Projects for Dads and Kids

Todd Davis, the author of Handy Dad: 25 Awesome Projects for Dads was a competitive snowboarder and a stuntman, and this is reflected in the choice of some of his projects, like the half-pipe, skate longboard, zip line, and climbing wall. Somewhat similar to Mike Adamick's Dad's Book of Awesome Projects, this book has a much more adventurous feel. I know my boys would have loved the bike jump and who wouldn't love a Jumanji-style rope bridge. The cover doesn't quite do justice to what's inside, which includes plenty of colour photography and nice design touches.


Who am I?

I am an author, illustrator, and award-winning creative director. I have loved to draw and make things since a young age, mostly wacky contraptions (inspired by my love of the Hanna-Barbera Wacky Races cartoons). I’m particularly passionate about making the process of creating fun, the five books below definitely achieve that, each in its own unique way.


I wrote...

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff: Projects You Can Build for (and With) Your Kids!

By Scott Bedford,

Book cover of Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff: Projects You Can Build for (and With) Your Kids!

What is my book about?

The Snail Soup Can Decoy to keep the candy stash safe. The Customizable “Keep Out” Sign to deter meddlesome siblings and parents. A Bunk Bed Communicator made from cardboard tubes (“Psst! Can you keep the snoring down?”). No screens, no hi-tech gadgetry.

Made by Dad combines the rough-edged, handmade ethos of a Boy Scout manual or The Dangerous Book for Boys with a sly sense of humor that kids love. Contraptions and gadgets, things that are surprising―a chair that appears to be balanced on eggshells. Things that are complex―a multilevel city, with buildings, tunnels, and roads, built from old boxes around the legs of a table. And especially things with humor―the Snappy Toast Rack, made to resemble a crocodile’s gaping mouth.

Love and Electronic Affection

By Lindsay D. Grace,

Book cover of Love and Electronic Affection: A Design Primer

If we want to heal the world, we first need a little love. Some might not associate games with emotions, care, and love, but they couldn’t be more wrong. I think about all the virtual creatures, critters, characters, and real friends that I have connected with through games. Love and Electronic Affection provides a fantastic overview of love and affection in games like Dragon Age, Life is Strange, and Bioshock.


Who am I?

I first realized the power of games when I won the Geography Bee in my elementary school. I had been playing Carmen Sandiego, which encouraged me to study maps and read almanacs. I started to see how games could motivate interest in all different topics. But I didn’t realize I could make games until I was a graduate student at MIT, and I made an augmented reality game to teach history. Since then I have been designing games to inspire connection, care, and curiosity. I am Associate Professor and Director of Games at Marist College, and I have designed media for organizations like the World Health Organization, Scholastic, and Nickelodeon.


I wrote...

We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics and Civics

By Kat Schrier,

Book cover of We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics and Civics

What is my book about?

The world is in crisis. Can games help us to solve the world’s biggest problems—such as global pandemics, climate change, and racial and gender inequality?

Ethics and civics have always mattered, but perhaps they matter now more than ever before. Games are starting to be seen as communities for civic debate and problem-solving. The book, We the Gamers explores how we engage in civics and ethics when we play games. The book shares examples of all different types of games, including Minecraft, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Fortnite, When Rivers Were Trails, Buffalo, Quandary, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. We the Gamers shows us how we might repair and remake our world through gaming. 

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