It doesn’t matter if you’re a student of design, or just someone who hears the term “design thinking” and stays quiet at meetings while noting to Google it later. There’s always more you can learn about design to benefit whatever you do.
So we reached out to professors at seven of the world’s top design schools to ask what books they recommend for getting your feet wet in design. Each school submitted five books that span design disciplines, from industrial design to graphic design to interior design and more. We combined them into this reading list, links to Amazon and all.
Thinkertoys (Michael Michalko)
A workbook for better brainstorming.
Design Basics (S. Pentak and A. Lauer)
A textbook to teach you the fundamentals of 2-D graphic design.
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (Twyla Tharp with Mark Reiter)
Choreographer and creative Twyla Tharp explains how to develop and hone creativity.
Visual Notes for Architects and Designers (Norman Crowe and Paul Laseau)
Learn how sketching like an architect can sharpen your thinking (and make for some awesome Moleskines).
Geometry of Design: Studies in Proportion and Composition (Kimberly Elam)
Why is a Braun blender or Barcelona chair beautiful? The geometry. This paperback breaks it down.
The Industrial Design Reader (Carma Gorman)
A paperback history on the origins of industrial design.
Design in the USA (Jeffrey Meikle)
Where do hit products meet necessary products in American culture? A history book and design philosophy book in one.
History of Modern Design (David Raizman)
Strap in. This history textbook spans the evolution of decorative arts, industrial design, and graphic design from the 18th to 20th century.
Design Studies: A Reader (Hazel Clark and David Brody)
A collection of essays examining the “history, methods, theory, visuality, identity, consumption, labor, industrialization, new technology, sustainability, and globalization” of design.
Design as Future-Making (Susan Yelavich and Barbara Adams)
How will design shape our future? (You’ve gotta buy the book to find out.)
Product Design (Rodgers and Milton)
An explanation of what product designers really do, from concept to manufacture.
The Design Process (Karl Aspelund)
A thesis breaking down the seven universal stages of design: identification; conceptualization; exploration and refinement; definition and modeling; and communication on the way to production.
Toward a New Interior: An Anthology of Interior Design Theory (Lois Weinthal)
Interior design, presented through the lens of essays on architecture, film, and fashion.
Graphic Design: Now in Production (Ian Albinson and Rob Giampietro)
The field of modern day graphic design, explored in work published since the year 2000.
The New Basics (Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips)
Learn graphic design with a focus on visual clarity and information hierarchy.
Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist (Peter Hall and Michael Bierut)
This joint work designed by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and edited by writer Peter Hall pays tribute to the graphic design of Tibor Kalman. It appears to be out of print.
Thinking With Type (Ellen Lupton)
Master typographic layouts with this instructional book filled with dos and don’ts.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Edward Tufte)
From the godfather of data visualization, this book features 250 graphics and charts, complete with Tufte’s explanations of why visual ideas work or don’t.
Drawing is Thinking (Milton Glaser)
Explore 180 pages of drawings without words by one of the most famed graphic designers of all time.
Graphic Design: A Concise History (Richard Hollis)
This affordable paperback charts the history of graphic design with plenty of pretty pictures to illustrate it.
Type and Image: The Language of Graphic Design Paperback (Philip B. Meggs)
An annotated argument that graphic design isn’t just part of the way we communicate, but a unique language unto itself.
Meggs’ History of Graphic Design (Philip B. Meggs, Alston W. Purvis)
From the creation of written language to the rise of interactive design, this textbook takes you through the history of graphic design and includes 1,500 illustrative photos.
Anatomy of Design: Uncovering the Influences and Inspiration in Modern Graphic Design (Steven Heller and Mirko Ilic)
Everything is derivative. This paperback examines 50 graphic designs, breaking down what influenced each project.
The Design of Everyday Things (Don Norman)
An industry classic explaining how to design products for real human use.
Change by Design (Tim Brown)
A primer on the idea of “design thinking,” and working from inspiration to innovation.
Designing for Growth (Jeanne Liedtke)
Another book on design thinking–this one filled with question lists and exercises to get you going.
Next Generation Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid (Ted London and Stu Hart)
An argument that businesses should develop cheaper goods made for the entire world, and how to make these products catch on.
Vision in Motion (Laszlo Moholy-Nagy)
Part of the original Bauhaus school, László Moholy-Nagy illustrates where design, art, and science meet. Currently out of print, it can be a bit difficult to get your hands on.
World Changing: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century (Alex Steffen)
A book spanning the world of sustainability, from the locavore movement to eco-friendly homes.
Humble Masterpieces: 100 Everyday Marvels of Design (Paola Antonelli)
MoMA curator Paola Antonelli pays homage to 100 pieces of design brilliance, from Band-Aids to Post-Its.
In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World (John Thackara)
“We’re filling up the world with technology and devices, but we’ve lost sight of an important question: What is this stuff for? What value does it add to our lives?”
Sustainable Design: Explanations in Theory and Practice (Stuart Walker)
A call to think about design differently, considering sustainability first and foremost in the process.
Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye (Rudolf Arnheim)
Originally published in 1974, this book explores where art and psychology collide.