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Google has a secret design library. Here are 35 of its best books

The company’s industrial design team shares a handful of titles from its studio library, which is curated by team members.

Google has a secret design library. Here are 35 of its best books
[Source Images: stendec/Blendswap (book mesh), Andrey_A /iStock (pattern)]

For just over a year, Google’s hardware design team has been working inside a new, highly classified design studio. Only a small fraction of Google’s employees are allowed inside this beautiful, birchwood-framed space—a team of around 150, who are hard at work designing the next Pixel phones, Google Home assistants, and all sorts of other things the public (and Google’s competitors) haven’t seen yet.

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As you can read in our exclusive first visit here, the Design Lab has areas devoted to every aspect of the design process, from precise color evaluation to a materials library that allows team members to handle over 1,000 material swatches.

As this dedicated design lab was being developed, Google vice president and head of hardware design Ivy Ross also had another request for the design team: a library, with actual paper books that her designers could grab and read.

Each designer was asked to bring in six of the most influential books in their lives, and write a line inside the cover about it. Some are rare art and design tomes. Others are children’s storybooks and pieces of literature. We asked Google to share a small selection of the library’s offerings with us.

Think of it as your summer reading list, presented in no particular order, compliments of Google’s hardware design team.

[Image: Lars Müeller]

Super Normal by Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison

“Timeless designs are all around us, and it’s not only the ones you see on design books. Objects that last a long time need to have a meaning for people, make them think, and bring them feelings.” [Link]

From Here to There—A Curious Collection by the Hand Drawn Map Association

“A collection of hand-drawn maps that blurs the lines between reality and imagination. A fun glimpse into each person’s unique experience in this world.” [Link]

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Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” —Spencer Johnson

“I stumbled upon this book during one of the most difficult times in my life, and it helped me think about change in a positive light.” [Link]

[Image: Basic Books]

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

“One of the first books to examine the psychological interaction of design and functionality.” [Link]

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

“A short story about finding happiness via ‘doing your own thing,’ even when it might go against perceived social conventions and norms.” [Link]

Analogous and Digital by Otl Aicher

“The digital, abstract is not higher or more important than the analog, concrete.”

“Read this book while I was in college. Not an easy read (even in German), this book is a collection of philosophical essays dealing with topics of reason (analog) and action (digital)—quite relevant today.” [Link]

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Design Noir: The secret life of electronic objects by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby

“Despite being published almost 20 years ago, I found the way it questioned the role of technology and design in everyday life [to be] very impactful—the themes of object, space, and behavior are still relevant today.” [Link]

[Image: Harper Collins]

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

“Always a great reminder about the power of unconditional love and selflessness.” [Link]

The Adventure of TinTin by Hergé

“Growing up as a child, this book made me think I can go or live anywhere in the world.” [Link]

Ando Architect and Architecture

“This book taught me the beauty of minimalism and how to embrace and appreciate nature.” [Link]

L’art de la Simplicité: How to Live More with Less by Dominique Loreau

“The beauty of keeping things light and reduced.” [Link]

El Bulli: 1998-2002 by Ferran Adria, Juli Soler, Albert Adria

“As a young cook at the time, my mind was blown at how cooking and dining could be rethought in such a radical and exciting way. By separating the limitations of tradition from true memories and stories, Adria was able to create a completely new cuisine [that] at the same time feels strangely familiar. A cookbook [that] in fact is a true design book.” [Link]

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[Image: Simon and Schuster]

Designing for People by Henry Dreyfuss

“He’s arguably one of the most impactful industrial designers in the history of the discipline. In his book, he eloquently captures the essence of design and what it means for design to serve the people buying the products. His book is timeless and hits on topics we encounter every day.” [Link]

EveryDayCook by Alton Brown

“This book inspires me to apply scientific rigor to a practical art and to challenge conventional edicts (don’t wash a mushroom). Alton shares his passion in an approachable way.” [Link]

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz

“This book inspires me to be as humble as Schulz and aspire to have my work be as relatable and relevant.” [Link]

[Photo: Random House/Amazon]

The Star Wars Storybook by George Lucas

“This book inspires me to set a goal, and when you can tell a good story and develop worthwhile characters, it will be persistent to the audience for years.” [Link]

The Trumpet of the Swan by EB White

“I like how Louis overcomes his challenges and the power of love.” [Link]

Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose

“I’m impressed by the courage, self-reliance, and a strong sense of duty coupled with amazing precision in surveying during the expedition.” [Link]

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Olivia by Ian Falconer

“I appreciate the simplicity and expressive story. Falconer is sparing in his word count and color palette and the results are greater for it.” [Link]

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

“This is a captivating story that is hard to put down, you are just hungry for more. I appreciate how well the characters are developed and how well crafted the details of the story are presented.” [Link]

[Image: Harper Collins]

A Time to Grieve by Carol Staudacher

“Useful meditations for the unavoidable times when you feel surrounded by darkness.” [Link]

Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution by Michiel Roscam Abbing

“A quick overview of everyday products we use in our lives that have a huge impact in our oceans. I once heard this quote that really resonated with me: ‘If the oceans die, we die,’ by Paul Watson. Change starts with knowledge, I bought this book with the intention to inspire change by surprising ourselves and perhaps even learning about the impact that some of these everyday products have in our salted waters.” [Link]

[Image: Random House]

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

“Loved the story of starting up the company, the early relationship with Steve Jobs, and how Ed made the team thrive by empowering creativity. The concept of the Brain Trust (their group critique sessions) is also very cool, as a way to give candid feedback in open discussions.” [Link]

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

“Within the framework of science and logic humorously denotes the adventures of an ordinary man through the infinite absurdity of the universe. This book has countless wisdom I unearth every time I pick it up. It’s my atheist bible that reflects how seriously I take mundane ideas.” [Link]

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Pop 66: A Dreamy Pop Can Camera Odyssey Along Route 66 by Wes Pope

“Inspiring because it is a reminder that beauty can be found in unexpected places and creative ideas and moments can hit us at the least likely times in life.” [Link]

Unnatural Selection by Anthony Cragg

“Collection of organic, yet controlled sculptural work from inspiring British artist.” [Link]

The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

“The first book for me, that helped me understand connections between product and brand and the way people perceive brand. Basic, short read!” [Link]

[Image: Babette Porcelijn]

The Hidden Impact by Babette Porcelain

“Great read about the other side of the iceberg we don’t see. I invited her to come talk at Google but she doesn’t fly.” [Link]

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky

“An introduction into behavioral biology, detailed explanation of stress response. Science behind our emotions.” [Link]

Buy In by John P Kotter

“Tactical book to help get ideas over the line.” [Link]

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[Image: Random House]

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

“Another tactical book/checklist for making presentations resonate.” [Link]

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, Lois Ehlert

“I LOVED the illustrations and colors as a child and surprising enough made learning the alphabet creative and fun. It is near and dear to my heart—ironically it is a children’s book but it was profound on my creative upbringing. (remember the black-eyed P?)” [Link]

Dr. Seuss: Oh, the Places You’ll Go

“My mom gave this to me when I finished high school and I keep that copy in our living room. It reminds me every time I see it that anything is possible with a few things: perseverance, hard work, imagination, and kindness.” [Link]

[Image: Princeton Architectural Press]

The Senses: Design Beyond Vision by Ellen Lupton

“As we talk more about creating design that ignites the senses, this book served as an inspiration and reminder on how much more space we have to explore.” [Link]

I Miss My Pencil by Martin Bone and Kara Johnson

“I was struck by their willingness and eagerness to explore wild ideas. They gave value and effort to develop ideas that were so ‘blue sky’ they almost seemed silly. As designers we often feel the itch to get our hands dirty and follow that ‘out there’ voice in our head. The one that keeps asking, ‘but what if.’ The one that challenges everything you’ve been told was a certain way. But I think we often feel pushback from real-world constraints and limitations. When I look at the concepts that came out of their work, they have this magical ability to inspire, and I feel permission to follow that voice. To me, this is true creativity, in the most pure, almost childlike sense.” [Link]

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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