9 books designers should read in 2019

Start the new year off right–with insightful books on everything from computer history to animal evolution, chosen by design leaders.

9 books designers should read in 2019

January is a time of resolutions–and while most of them tend not to last, reading more is a resolution that pays dividends.


We asked a slew of design leaders for the best books they read in 2018, and why they’d recommend them. As you kick off the first week of a new year, consider putting some of these titles on your list.

Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee

[Image: Little, Brown Spark]

Joyful gave me a new lens to apply to my design, both at work and at home. It shares 10 aesthetics of joy, describing them, providing examples, and a personal story of how Ingrid discovered that specific pattern. What I love about this book is how it gives designers permission to use joy as part of the design process, taking it from superfluous to an integrated part of an experience. It got me to think of my home and wardrobe as an environment to experiment with, to try different colors, arrangement, and styles. The stories of how Ingrid went searching for the sources of joy grounded the book and provided powerful firsthand accounts of experiencing joy. I loved how she brought me along on her journey, and I can’t wait to incorporate more of these aesthetics into my design work and life!— Kathryn McElroy, Creative Director, Argodesign

Broad Band by Claire L. Evans

[Image: Penguin Random House]

Broad Band by Claire L. Evans was definitely one of the most inspiring book releases to me in 2018. Claire tells the (until now) untold history of the female visionaries who helped catalyze the (I would argue, still-ongoing) computer revolution. In particular, I loved the chapter on Hypertext, featuring Cathy Marshall and Wendy Hall, both computer scientists who worked on alternate versions of Hypertext. Evans expertly and patiently explains the concept of Hypertext and describes the delicate thinking that went in to its potential manifestations. The thought process that went on in the early days of Hypertext was so focused on enabling humans to be able to carve associative trails through a sea of information and share those trails with others. That thinking feels as relevant as ever, in our current information-rich and attention-poor environment that we find ourselves in today.– Charles Broskoski, cofounder,


Darwin Comes to Town by Menno Schilthuizen

[Image: Macmillan]

A book on how urbanism is accelerating animal evolution, often in unpredictable ways–think of the mosquitoes living all year long in the London underground. A useful and highly original reminder of the fact that cities are inhabited not just by people, and that we need to find a new balance with our fellow living beings.– Carlo Ratti, Director, MIT SENSEable City Lab

The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century

[Image: Little, Brown and Company]

Mark Lamster’s dazzling portrait of Philip Johnson narrates the rise and fall of every architectural movement of the 20th century refracted through one man’s ambition, while providing an analysis, and an indictment, of how power in America is gained, wielded, and squandered. In The Man in the Glass House, Lamster takes a protagonist who is compromised in every possible way–morally, politically, and aesthetically–places him squarely at the intersection of American commerce and culture, and dares us to watch what happens.— Michael Bierut, Pentagram Partner

Housing as Intervention

[Image: Wiley]

My favorite was Karen Kubey’s issue on housing design, Housing as Intervention. It presents a great cross-section of people and organizations working around the world to use good design to address what is really a crisis in addressing the need for affordable and quality housing and increased urbanization. It also connects other important considerations like policy, funding, and social dynamics to how designers are able to advance new solutions.— Justin Garrett Moore, Executive Director, New York City Public Design Commission


Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes

[Image: The MIT Press]

This book is one-of-a-kind as I feel that it’s one of the first books to really take inclusive design out of an academic setting and into the working world. Nobody really wants to exclude people from their designs and this book shows you how you can avoid doing that.— Christina Mallon, Founder, Open Style Lab

Exhibit A by Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen

[Image: Phaidon]

How do you exhibit architecture in a gallery or a museum? This question perennial inspires architects and curators to think beyond the confines of traditional spaces and forms of representation. This book explores the impact and influence of the world’s most significant architectural exhibitions of the 20th century, which have helped define emerging styles, critical positions, and a broader understanding of architecture.— Ben Prosky, Executive Director, Center For Architecture, AIANY

On Beauty

[Image: David Brower Center]

My favorite design-related book is On Beauty: Douglas R. Tompkins–Aesthetics and Activism.  The book was released in 2017, but I read it during my recent trip to Chile, where Doug led highly impactful conservation projects. This book showcases how nature created an ultimate balance between functionality, sustainability, and beauty. The inspirational message is clear: We are responsible for protecting the planet through sustainable practices.— Tetsuya O’Hara, VP of Innovation, Gap Inc.


World Without Mind

[Image: Penguin]

I [liked] World Without Mind, by Franklin Foer. This books does a good job of digging into the control of knowledge by the large tech companies and what that might mean for individual freedom and thought. He’s basically saying we’re trading a lot of convenience for our privacy, control, and independence. It’s dark. I don’t think it will go that way in the long-term but it’s a useful warning about our immediate future. As a designer it’s a harsh wake-up to the world we contribute a lot of design towards.— Mark Rolston, founder, Argodesign


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.