There are thousands of great books out there covering every imaginable corner of design. So, as a beginner, where should you start?

Read on for our list of 12 essential books to kick off your learning. They include introductions to visual composition, color, typography and user experience—as well as helpful guides to working in the industry.

First, get inspired.

1. Caroline Roberts—Graphic Design Visionaries

You’ll be wowed by the 75 design greats in this rich compilation. Organised chronologically, Caroline Roberts’ book doubles as a history of design, told through individual creative work.

Available here: Graphic Design Visionaries

2. Paul Rand—Thoughts on Design

Thoughts on Design is a classic by Paul Rand, a graphic design legend who created iconic logos and campaigns for clients including IBM, UPS, and Westinghouse. In this book, Rand explores how design can integrate the beautiful and the useful.

Available here: Thoughts on Design
Read more about Paul Rand at Wired

Next, explore visual design principles...

3. Christian Leborg—Visual Grammar

Visual Grammar presents the principles by which a visual field can be composed, and how the relationships between elements create meaning. It’s an abstract, illustrative book that conveys principles such as “influence”—the way two objects appear to act upon one another.

Available here: Visual Grammar

4. Counter-Print’s Logo series of books

British publisher Counter-Print have published this amazing series of six short books, each of which explores a different category of logo design—including “Abstract”, “Alphabet”, and “Animal”.

Available here: Amazon (US)

...and don’t forget typography and color!

5. Ellen Lupton—Thinking with Type

Thinking With Type is a practical typography resource that introduces the principles of typography, and explains how to choose and work with type across a range of projects and applications.

Read more at It’s also available in print.

6. Sean Adams, Terry Stone, Noreen Morioka—Color Design Workbook: A Real World Guide to Using Color in Graphic Design

Color Design Workbook gives an introduction to color theory, and presents a wide range of case studies and examples of color systems. This is a thorough, practical point of reference for using color—one of the most difficult topics for design beginners.

Available here: Color Design Workbook
See also our 11 tips for building great color palettes.

Then, find out about user experience design and design thinking.

7. Steve Krug—Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach To Web Usability

This classic text is named after “Krug’s First Law of Usability”: Don’t Make Me Think. If you’re interested in user experience design—how to make a user’s experience of a product or service both efficient and enjoyable—this book is a great place to start.

Available here: Don’t Make Me Think
Find out more at Steve Krug’s website

8. Tim Brown—Change By Design

In Change By Design, IDEO CEO Tim Brown explains design thinking—a collaborative, human-centered approach to innovation—and how it can help to transform products and organisations.

Available here: Change By Design
Read our write-up: Great Design Thinkers—Tim Brown On Design Thinking

Get different perspectives on the industry.

9. Aaron Draplin—Draplin Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything

Aaron Draplin’s first book, Pretty Much Everything, tells the story of his career so far. Inspiring, fun, and brutally honest, he explains how he got started in the industry—completing small design gigs, working on a snowboarding magazine, and even creating the Field Notes brand of notebooks.

Available here: Pretty Much Everything
Check out Aaron Draplin’s awesome TED Talk

10. Phil Cleaver—What they didn’t teach you in design school

What they didn’t teach you in design school is packed with practical advice from Phil Cleaver, a designer with over 40 years of industry experience. His tips range from putting together a portfolio and what to wear to interview, to exporting documents for handoff and managing relationships with external contractors.

Available here: What they didn’t teach you in design school

And finally, take a look at these manifestos—and remember not to let all this reading inhibit your own creativity.

11. Michael Bierut—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

Pentagram partner Michael Bierut presents a retrospective of his career, offering deep insight into his process through preliminary drawings, models, as well as finished work.

Available here: How To Use Graphic Design

12. Frank Chimero—The Shape of Design

Frank Chimero describes himself as a multi-disciplinary designer, accidental writer, and lapsed illustrator. He’s best known for The Shape of Design, this beautiful and insightful meditation on the designer’s vocation. It’s available to read online for free.

Available here: The Shape Of Design
Read our take: Great Design Thinkers—Frank Chimero on The Shape of Design

We offer mentor-led short courses like Design 101, as well as an immersive UX Academy program to prepare you for a career as a professional user experience designer. Find out more over on our Courses page, and drop us a line at with any questions.

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Andrew Wilshere, Sara Vilas Santiago, and Patrick Multani

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