Sindhuja Hari | 11 Aug, 2023

10 Best Design Books for Design Students [Updated]

We regularly evaluate design books. These resources serve learners who prefer to work at their own pace. While we love online design courses, we also appreciate the time and value of design books.

That's why reviewed them. We considered the depth of topic coverage, cost, and user reviews to determine the best design books. Now, we present them along with a few recommended courses. Note that this list differs from our evaluations for graphic design books. Those in this list focus on design in general, not just graphic design.

The 10 Best Design Books 

Students read design books for various reasons. Some just started their design careers and want to expand their understanding of basic design concepts. Others already understand specific parts of the study and seek knowledge of other design considerations. And many professional designers just love the topic. They read design books to maintain their understanding of the field as it evolves.

And there's no wonder! Graphic designers are only a part of this industry, and the job boasts a median salary of over $64,000 per year. Of course, many designer prefer to work for themselves. Once you're ready to take on design clients, join Fiverr and start getting freelance jobs.

Ready to dive into the subject? Here are the 10 best books on design for experienced or aspiring graphic designers:

1. Universal Principles of Design, Revised, and Updated

Image of Universal Principles book

Authors: William Lidwell, Kristina Holden, Jill Butler
List Price: $35 (Check current price)

This book is for designers, engineers, architects, and students who seek to broaden and improve their design expertise. It explains every major design concept is defined and illustrated to a reader’s delight.

The book is organized alphabetically, so you can easily reference principles and sections. Additionally, the book has a list of FAQs for designers like, “How can I help people learn from my design,” “How can I enhance the usability of a design,” and “How can I make better design decisions?” Our evaluation confirms this as a strong value for a variety of designers. It earns the top spot among design books this year.

Reasons to Buy:

  • Thoughtful discourse on what makes a design good or bad
  • Interesting “Psychology of Design” section

You can buy this book here.

2. Layout Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Using Grids

Image of the Layout Essentials book

Author: 1st Edition by Beth Tondreau
List Price: $27 (Check current price)

This book demonstrates basic layout guidelines through 100 design principles such as choosing a typeface, striving for rhythm and balance with type, combining typefaces, using special characters, and kerning and legibility.

Whether you are creating brochures, annual reports, posters, websites, or publications — layouts are essential in presenting information and ensuring the reader easily digests that information. Unfortunately, some customer reviews cited disappointment with this book, referring to vague descriptions and redundancy.  Despite these reviews, our evaluation determined Tondreau's Layout Essentials to be one of the top two best design books.

Reasons to Buy:

  • Great for design beginners
  • Strong, vivid grid examples

You can buy this book here.

3. The Art of Looking Sideways 

Image of The Art of Looking Sideways

Author: Alan Fletcher
List Price: $56.99 (Check current price)

The Art of Looking Sideways is an artsy coffee table book at first glance. However, each page is a piece of art that displays the creative ways you can use type, space, imagery, and color. The book’s content is seemingly random, ranging from historical quotes, absurd images, bits of information and insights, and everything else you can think of, as long as it’s presented beautifully. 

Reviewers love the book’s inspirational feel and how it encourages them to think outside the box. The Library Journal cites the book as great for those with “short attention spans,” making it a great book to visit during home office work breaks or on lazy days in the living room. It's a top choice for best design book.

Reasons to Buy:

  • Great for designers looking for inspiration
  • Lighthearted, for short spurts of reading
  • Lovely decor piece as a coffee table book

You can buy this book here.

4. The Design of Everyday Things

Image of The Design of Everyday Things book

Author: Don Norman
List Price: $19.99 (Check current price)

A practical take on design, The Design of Everyday Things explores the relationship between cognitive psychology considerations and strong product design. Norman describes common product design issues that lead to customer dissatisfaction, like hidden controls or unintuitive functions. An exceptionally low price point and unique perspective earns Norman's The Design of Everyday Things a spot on our evaluated list of the best design books.

Reasons to Buy:

  • Great for those interested in UX design and human factors psychology, with concepts applicable to many other industries as well
  • Ideal for the pragmatic graphic designer

You can buy this book here.

5. Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design - Seventh Edition

Image of Graphic Design School book

Author: David Dabner, Sandra Stewart, Abbie Vickress
List Price: $62.95 (Check current price)

As the name implies, Graphic Design School is a great book for students that want a general introduction to design fundamentals, the design industry and profession, and printing techniques. The book also covers information about influential designers in the field.

After soaking up this book’s knowledge, students can apply what they’ve learned through the many activities and tutorials within the text. Unfortunately, some reviewers cite frustration with, ironically, the book’s poor design, as well as its small font that some may find difficult to read. This limited our ranking, but the book still earned top marks for its overall depth.

Reasons to Buy:

  • Great for students interested in graphic design, user experience, or user interface design
  • An introductory book that’s suitable for beginners

You can buy this book here.

6. Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team

Image of Designing Brand Identity book

Author: Alina Wheeler
List Price: $53.95 (Check current price)

Graphic design helps you communicate through visuals. For businesses, that means communicating their brand vision and values, which isn’t always an easy task. Words aren’t often sufficient, which is why so many businesses rely on graphic design to create and communicate branding identity. Alina Wheeler’s Designing Brand Identity covers branding case studies, helpful insights from industry professionals, and branding fundamentals. 

The book is specially tailored for marketing staff and designers within a company. However, aspiring freelancers could use these principles to impress a variety of clients. Our evaluation uncovered several notable reviews. Customer reviews cite Wheeler’s excellent, accessible tone and voice, which makes the text digestible even for beginners. That gives Wheeler's Designing Brand Identity a spot among the best design books of the year.

Reasons to Buy:

  • Easy to understand
  • Comprehensive 

You can buy the book here.

7. Logo Modernism

Image of Logo Modernish book

Author: Jens Müller
List Price: $80 (Check current price)

Logo Modernism is one of the best books for designers that want to learn about how trademark design principles evolved over the course of a few decades. When you think about some of the world’s biggest companies — Apple, Nike, Tesla — what do you picture? It’s likely the little apple icon or smooth checkmark comes to mind. Logos are essential in helping potential customers become aware of your brand. 

Jens Müller’s Logo Modernism explores what came shortly before the biggest logos of the world, examining the modernist aesthetic from 1940-1980 on trademarks. The book covers logos from all sorts of companies, including newspapers, retail, airlines, and more. The coverage of historic principles earn this a spot in our list of best design books.

Reasons to Buy: 

  • Fun book to browse through without the expectation of reading heavy text
  • Relatable categories for graphic designers, like shapes, lines, monograms, and more. 

You can buy this book here.

8. How to Become a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul

Image of How to Become a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul book

Author: Adam Shaughnessy
List Price: $26.95 (Check current price)

Peppered with low salaries and long hours, the graphic design industry is known to be ruthless for those just starting out. The graphic design market is saturated and competitive, and success comes only to those who work hard and polish not only their technical skills but also their networking and soft skills. Shaughnessy’s book helps aspiring designers navigate the tumultuous job landscape, offering actionable steps and advice to ace job interviews, manage clients, build portfolios, polish resumes, apply for work, start a studio, and more.  

Reviewers especially liked the book’s coverage of integrity within the design field. The positive reviews and relatively low cost earned this a place among the top 10 best design books.

Reasons to Buy: 

  • Practical advice for navigating a career in graphic design
  • Interviews from reputable graphic designers

You can buy this book here.

9. Design Elements, Color Fundamentals: A Graphic Style for Understanding How Color Affects Design

Image of Design Elements Colors book

Author: Aaris Sherin
List Price: $34.99 (Check current price)

Graphic designers have many tools at their disposal, including shapes, lines, images, and of course, color. Just through color, designers can influence a piece’s meaning and message, and this book teaches them exactly how to do that. Sherin covers color theory and its principles, and helps students understand the circumstances in which they can break the rules for the sake of an art piece. 

When it comes to color, this is one of the best books on graphic design. The book’s many visual examples also offer students plenty of inspiration.  Because of the price, our evaluation determined this to be one of the best design books for overall value.

Reasons to Buy:

  • Insightful sections about color theory and color fundamentals in design
  • Accessible for beginners

You can buy this book here.

10. The Graphic Design Idea Book: Inspiration from 50 Masters

Image of the Graphic Design Idea book

Author: Steven Heller and Gail Anderson
List Price: $20 (Check current price)

Heller and Anderson’s “idea” book is a great resource for beginners to the field. It offers a basic introduction to graphic design fundamentals, including themes like narrative, color, and form. That earns it a spot in our list of the best design books.

The book also displays countless examples of work from the industry’s best talents, serving as a great inspiration for designers experiencing artists’ block. The two authors have impressive resumes. Heller was the New York Times Art Director for 33 years, and Anderson is an expert designer and illustrator with a few awards under her belt. 

Reasons to Buy:

  • Inspiration for artist’s block
  • Accessible for beginners

You can buy this book here.

Closing Thoughts

While there are many to choose from, our evaluations uncovered 10 best design books. We reviewed these and provided our best guidance on their depth, cost, and overall value. We encourage you to choose one or more of these design books for yourself. Those looking for additional visual lessons may also find value in graphic design courses, which we review every year. Of course, there are other resources available for various parts of the field. These UX design courses specifically help students learn to improve user experience. Whatever your niche, we hope you valued our reviews of these design books.

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By Sindhuja Hari

Sindhuja Hari, a technology geek, content producer & writer brings over 20 years of experience. She builds and delivers best in class content for global audiences. Her favorite domains/ genres are IT, Manufacturing, Logistics & Supply Chain, and Travel & Leisure.

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