The Typographic Desk Reference coverThe Typographic Desk Reference
by Theodore Rosendorf

Just as the title suggests, this is a must to have sitting on your desk at all times. It may be thin, but it’s a densely packed visual glossary of type terms and design knowhow. Basically, a typographer’s manual of style.

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Graphic Design Theory coverGraphic Design Theory
by Helen Armstrong

This book offers a great primer on graphic design theory by collecting 24 essays from design luminaries like Jan Tschichold, Lorraine Wild, Paul Rand, El Lissitzky, Herbert Bayer, and more, culled from writings spanning more than a century on wide ranging topics from typography to the social responsibilities of a designer.

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Bird by Bird coverBird by Bird
by Anne Lamott

One of my all-time favorite books. Lamott manages to dissect writing and process in such an inspiring way that it becomes something you simply must do as a thinking person. If you are tasked with putting words to paper at any point in life, I can’t recommend any book more highly. Especially love the notion of “Shitty First Drafts”, something I’ve always done with my design work but never really practiced while writing before.

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The Form of the Book coverThe Form of the Book
by Jan Tschichold

A collection of 23 essays compiled over 40 years on Tschichold’s thoughts on layout and design, primarily with type. While this work focuses mostly on concerns specific to book design, its presentation of topics is wonderfully approachable, and many of the guidelines are applicable to any medium. A true treasure from one of the father’s of modern book and system design.

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How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer coverHow to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer
by Debbie Millman

Interviewer extraordinaire, Debbie Millman, talks to 21 designers and the results are thoroughly enlightening. We all love to hear about how other designers work, their processes, and what drives them to want to create; and it’s for those reasons that I really connected with this book. My copy is bursting with marginalia, highlighted passages, and dog-eared pages. Tons of insight from many of our most celebrated and accomplished designers.

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The Art of Looking Sideways coverThe Art of Looking Sideways
by Alan Fletcher

A seriously massive work from the late Alan Fletcher compiling tons of quotes, work, and nuggets of wisdom from designers, artists, writers, and more, all categorized by topic. One of the most diverse and densely packed sources of inspiration you can have on your shelf.

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Fonts & Logos coverFonts & Logos
by Doyald Young

A master course from one of the greatest typographers. This book provides a groundwork in type and logo design, as well as insights on choosing the right typefaces, spacing for legibility, and common pitfalls to watch out for, all played out using examples from Young’s own work and rejected concepts.

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How Designers Think coverHow Designers Think
by Bryan Lawson

A seminal classic in design theory and practice that breaks down the nature of our engagements with clients and conspirators, process and inspiration. This book will teach you how to design better by thinking better and understanding how the creative process works. Basically, a handbook for how to be a designer.

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Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works coverStop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works
by Erik Spiekermann

An entertaining and educational look from one of the world’s most outspoken designers, covering all the basics of designing with type, but also many topics with less discourse devoted to them like choosing appropriate typefaces to evoke the right connotation, and understanding the smaller details of typefaces and how they affect the communication (or miscommunication) through their use.

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Art Direction Explained, At Last! coverArt Direction Explained, At Last!
by Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne

Defining “art direction” is a hard enough nut to crack on its own, but teaching it to someone can be a daunting task. It combines so many unknowns, so many gut feelings, and so much intuition, that it’s best learned from seasoned practitioners. Steve Heller and Veronique Vienne, two battle-hardened art directors in their own right, define and discuss just what art direction is and how to capture the best thoughts in your designs. This book compiles their take on the topic, and polls many of the world’s best art directors through case studies and interviews.

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Art As Experience coverArt As Experience
by John Dewey

While the language can be dense at times, the rewards are wonderful. Art is an experience in itself, both as a practitioner and a viewer. Being able to tap into the reasons why something was created and its intent gives deeper meaning to a work and a deeper understanding of why it was made a particular way. Invaluable for thinking through aesthetics and engagement in what we make, and how they impact us as designers or our intended audience.

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How Buildings Learn coverHow Buildings Learn
by Stewart Brand

Buildings, like any of the things we design, don’t exist as static entities. They are shaped by their surroundings and the ways people interact with them, and because of this, they change. Some adapt peacefully, others, not so much. A great read on how the passage of time affects the things we make and how we can better understand designing for contingency.

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How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul coverHow To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul
by Adrian Shaughnessy

This book won’t teach you how to be a graphic designer, but it will teach you how to survive as one. Shaughnessy includes great tips on self-promotion, finding work, managing and maintaining client relationships, and sound advice on some of the philosophical dilemmas designers encounter on the job.

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Designing for People coverDesigning for People
by Henry Dreyfuss

Written in 1955, Dreyfuss’ book is no less poignant today than it was then. Though Dreyfuss was an industrial designer, his book amounts to a quintessential manual for user centered design and showcases how he pioneered many of the same practices we use today in interaction design.

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What is a Designer: Things, Places, Messages coverWhat is a Designer: Things, Places, Messages
by Norman Potter

A relatively thin volume, with incredibly dense language, on the role of the designer, individually and in the global community. Potter can be harsh and demanding at times in his unwavering views of the design industry and the duties of its members, but this is a rich work with much wisdom to impart. Also includes a good model for a creative process.

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Designing Interactions coverDesigning Interactions
by Bill Moggridge

A thoroughly enjoyable history of interaction design, from the first glimmers of man and machine interfaces to modern day sci-fi, that describes not only how we interact but why we interact. The book centers around interviews with interaction design luminaries who all offer up their insightful experience in the field. Required reading for any designer. Also doubles as a hefty doorstop or burglar deterrent.

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The Design of Everyday Things coverThe Design of Everyday Things
by Donald A. Norman

An analysis of usability, or sometimes more importantly, the lack of usability in objects. Norman seeks to expose the dangers of not considering how people interact with the things we make, as well as the hurdles to comprehending interfaces and functionality of technology. Includes some great material on complexity vs simplicity in interfaces.

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Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus coverDesign and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus
by Johannes Itten

The Bauhaus School focused on bringing design to the people, reducing everyday things to their simplest, most functional forms. It encompassed many different types of art, of which graphic design was just a part, from architecture to industrial design. The lasting effects of the schools ideals and principles can still be seen today. This is as basic as it gets, useful and informative for anyone starting out.

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Visual Literacy: A Conceptual Approach to Graphic Problem Solving coverVisual Literacy: A Conceptual Approach to Graphic Problem Solving
by Judith Wilde, Richard Wilde

A ground-level course in basic design principles like rhythm, pattern, focal point, and contrast presented as assignments from a design class complete with creative thinking exercises and real solutions from the authors’ students. Solid advice and examples to help you walk before you can run. These practices are so fundamental, yet are so easily overlooked daily.

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Grid Systems in Graphic Design coverGrid Systems in Graphic Design
by Josef Müller-Brockmann

Your basic course in grid work. Though I will probably be dragged outside and beaten, I have to say that this book is not the bees’ knees. While it is an incredibly worthwhile book in grid systems, there are many more, newer volumes that are, I dare say, easier to digest. Many designers find this book to be the end-all-be-all, most of that is due praise because Müller-Brockmann was pretty much the first guy to synthesize this information. All I am saying is every designer should read at least one grid design book, and this is the daddy of them, but do some research, you may find one that works better for you (even if they are just presenting the same information a little differently).

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A Whack on the Side of the Head coverA Whack on the Side of the Head
by Roger von Oech

Even though I thought this would be a cheesy self-help book, my opinion was quickly changed and became a very important tome. Whack teaches you just how to free up your imagination and think out of your proverbial, self-imposed box, altering your line of thinking to allow you to get to more innovative ideas and concepts. Also very worthwhile is Roger von Oech’s follow up, A Kick in the Seat of the Pants.

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On the Subject of Me

Jason Santa Maria is a graphic designer living and working in sunny Brooklyn, NY. More »

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How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul coverHow To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul
by Adrian Shaughnessy
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Design Is History

Design Is History, created as a teaching tool for young designers just beginning to explore graphic design and as a reference tool for all designers. Chock full of great info.

Education at FontShop

Education at FontShop, a great resource for tips, tricks, and type knowledge.

A List Apart: Issue 311

A List Apart: Issue 311, Start web design projects the right way. Learn when and how to say no. Articles by Whitney Hess and Kevin M. Hoffman.

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