Books Graphic Designers & Students Should Read

Posted On: August 08, 2011


This is a great collection of books every graphic designer should read. I have organized this list by degree of difficulty from beginner to advanced; therefore you can find a book valuable to you no matter what your skill level. The following books focus on key elements of design such as composition, typography, grid systems, design basics and layout. If you can think of a book that you found useful please feel free to comment, I’d love to hear what you have to say!


Thinking with Type

Ellen Lupton

Skill Level: Graphic Design Students

This book treats type as a visual element and focuses more on layout and structure within typography. Typography is essential for good design so it is important to get a good grasp of it early on. This book is helpful for students who are still learning the basics of type. This book is simple, concise, is easy to digest and leaves the reader with a new skill set and a great foundation.


Layout Workbook: A Real-World Guide to Building Pages in Graphic Design

Kristin Cullen

Skill Level: Graphic Design Students & Intermediate Designers

Kristin Cullen is a graphic designer, author, and educator and has an MFA and a BFA in Graphic Design. Her book, Layout Workbook: A Real-World Guide to Building Pages in Graphic Design is part of a series of graphic design books by Rockport. This is a great, well rounded book covering everything from grid systems and design basics to client interaction and concept development. It shows examples of successfully executed layouts and explanations. This allows graphic designers to be able to dissect what makes a successful design work. The only issue I have with this book is its misleading name; it isn’t what you would think of a traditional “work book”.


This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics

Sean Hall

Skill Level:  For Intermediate Graphic Designers

This book is not necessarily a design book per say but it gets you thinking in a different way, which is important for designers. If you’re not familiar with what semiotics are; it’s the study of signs and sign processes such as analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication (Click here for more information). This book was written by Sean Hall who is Deputy Head of Department and Leader in Contextual Studies in the Department of Design at Goldsmiths College, University of London and a practicing artist. This book makes semiotics fun and easy to read and keeps you thinking of the larger picture. It also demands critical and conceptual thinking. What I mostly took from this book was a serious visual lesson in analyzing and focusing on why we perceive things a certain way and acknowledging other manners of viewing whatever subject matter.


The Elements of Typographic Style

Robert Bringhurst

Skill Level:  Advanced Graphic Designer

This book is a brilliant depiction of the subtleties that manifest in producing great typography. It was written by Robert Bringhurst who is a Canadian typographer, translator and poet. He has a profound grasp in the manner which words are written, read and constructed. This book was originally published in 1992 by Hartley & Marks Publishers and later revised. It will answer all your questions about typography. Some of the Chapter titles include; rhythm and proportion, harmony and counterpoint, structural forms and devices, analphabetic symbols, choosing & combining type and grooming the font. The book also has five appendices and a historical synopsis. I would refer to this book as the “bible of typography”. If you read it cover to cover, you will be set. It’s also a great reference resource, I keep one on my desk to refer to when I am confronted with any unusual typographical scenarios. I would suggest reading this book when you grasp the basics of typography as it may seem a bit overwhelming for first year graphic designers.


How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul

Adrian Shaughnessy

Skill Level:  Advanced Graphic Designer

This was the first book I read about graphic design the summer before I was to begin my training. I was attracted to its edgy title and wanted to get a feel for what graphic design was all about. I couldn’t understand how such a field could be referred to as “soul sucking”. As I begun to read the book, having little to no idea about the design industry, I became overwhelmed by the amount of effort and difficulty that was required to excel and find clients or even a job. I read the book from cover to cover and did not find much value in the content at the time but instead was filled with uneasiness before beginning design school. Upon my last few months of graduating and deciding to the plunge to starting my own agency, I remembered this book sitting on the top shelf in my closet calling my name. I read the whole book from cover to cover in a weekend and this time I was able to utilize every last morsel of content. The book covers, in detail, the process of starting a graphic design business, business philosophy, and has numerous techniques for young designers to find graphic design employment. Anyone coming out of graphic design school or who is starting a freelance business or graphic design career should read this book.