6 Must-Read Design Books: A Golden Collection

6 Must-Read Design Books: A Golden Collection

Updated: May 04, 2022

Some call them design bibles, others – absolute classics. Either way, there are several design books on the market which have gained so much popularity among readers. These books have been established as must-read design books not just for designers, but for programmers, engineers, architects, students, and even people who simply want to understand design to its core.

For today’s post, we’ve made a research to identify exactly these design books which the community considers as must-reads. The great thing about this collection of books is that each one can be useful for newbies and experienced people. The design principles described inside have been valid regardless of the ever-changing design trends. So, without wasting any more time, let’s jump into this short but golden collection of evergreen design books you should definitely own on your shelf.

Article overview:

1. Universal Principles of Design
2. The Design of Everyday Things
3. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
4. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People
5. Visualization Analysis and Design (AK Peters Visualization Series)
5. Thinking with Type

1. Universal Principles of Design

Universal Principles of Design Book Cover

By William Lidwell, Kristina Holden, Jill Butler


Universal Principles of Design is the second, more enriched edition of a very comprehensive guide on design. Described as an encyclopedia, this book covers 125 fundamental design concepts that apply to all design matters – be it web, graphic, software, package, or another field of design.

The book is an essential read for everyone who wants to receive useful insight, valuable knowledge, and a deep understanding of core design principles. With over a hundred reviews on Goodreads and almost 5000 ratings, Universal Principles of Design is one of the top choices of people who want to pursue a career in design.

The design principles are arranged alphabetically just like a dictionary. And you don’t need to start reading from the beginning. The structure of the book allows you to just open a random page and read about a specific principle while enjoying brilliant visual examples of the particular design rule applied in real-life design. Moreover, just after the table of contents, you will find a  question-based guide that will help you choose your learning path more easily.

Among the 125 design rules, you will find famous and infamous concepts like the 80/20 rule, The Weakest Link, the Golden Ratio, Baby-Face Bias, Hick’s law, Proximity, Expectation Effect, Ockham’s razor, Scaling Fallacy, mapping, and many more. Each of them includes an easy-to-understand description, guidelines on how to apply the concept in real life, and of course, visual examples of the particular principle.

Universal Principles of Design will certainly give you valuable perspectives and enrich your knowledge in design in general which you can apply later to your chosen design field of occupation.


2. The Design of Everyday Things

By Donald A. Norman


One of the key design books which introduces the reader to the core principles of user-centered design. Considered a classic book that every designer must read, The Design of Everyday Things has been revised and updated a couple of times (the last update took place in 2013), so it contains up-to-date information about the basic rules which every UX designer should follow.

Originally written as The Psychology of Everyday Things, the book is devoted to the important principles of cognitive psychology in every design – be it physical or digital.

The book gives valuable insight into the reasons why people understand some designs easily, and others, they find confusing and frustrating. The Design of Everyday Things helps the reader identify the needs of users in terms of design and understand the essential relationship between controls and function of each design product.

Among the topics, you will find The Psychopathology of Everyday Things, The Psychology of Everyday Actions, Knowledge in the Head and in the World, Knowing What to Do:  Constraints,
Discoverability, and Feedback, Human Error? No, Bad Design, Design Thinking, and Design in the World of Business.

According to readers’ reviews, the book covers the fundamentals of human-centered design and gives valuable knowledge on common design problems and their solutions, without going too deep into each subject. However, the book is considered a brilliant introduction to the fundamentals of UX design in general. Moreover, it is an often-recommended read in design schools and courses.


3. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Don't Make Me Think Book CoverBy Steve Krug


The popular design book Don’t Make Me Think is a must-read for everyone involved in web design, be it designers, developers, website owners, or managers. As some readers and criticals say, it may completely question everything you think about web design. The book introduces the basics of website usability and accessibility. It provides the reader with rich insight into the needs and behaviors of website users. You will also receive great practical advice that can be applied in action right away.

Compared to the older version, the updated edition of the book comes with three more valuable chapters. “Usability as a common courtesy” gives insight into the reasons people actually leave websites. The book highlights the importance of usability testing and how to go with it easily and at a minimal cost. “Web Accessibility, CSS, and you” gives advice on how to make websites usable and accessible. “Help! My boss wants me to…” will advise you on how to deal with executive design whims.

Unlike the previous suggestions which are devoted to design in general, Don’t Make Me Think is specifically about web design and digital interfaces. As such, it is the perfect choice for everyone headed to this career path, as well as everyone who is planning to launch a new website. According to reviews, the book is witty and it is written in an engaging and entertaining manner.


4. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

100 Things Every Designer Needs ti Know About Book CoverBy Susan Weinschenk


One of the great design books that provide insightful information about the way people think and act, in terms of interacting with design, products, and the surrounding world. The book is intended for a broad audience, however, according to reviewers, the majority of principles and tips included apply to web design and the behavior of website users. Despite that, the principles described inside can be useful to people involved in all kinds of design fields, as they will help you understand why people act the way they do and what factors drive their behavior.

The content is broken down into the following sections: How people see, How people read, How people remember, How people think, How people focus their attention, What motivates people, People are social animals, How people feel, People make mistakes, How people decide. Within each section, the content is broken down into even more snackable sections to make a total of 100 bits of advice. At the end of each, the author has included a box of Takeaways giving valuable advice on how the put the principles from the section into practice.

By understanding how people behave, you will get a clearer idea of how to more engaging and intuitive designs, how to hold the attention of a viewer, how to predict the errors that people would make, how to motivate people to take the steps you want them to, and more. The book is based on real science and research, and it includes practical examples which can be applied in real-life designs.

Driven by the first book’s success, the author also released a second edition called 100 More Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. So, if you find the first edition useful and engaging, you should definitely give the second one a go, as well.


5. Visualization Analysis and Design (AK Peters Visualization Series)

Visualization Analysis and Design Book CoverBy Tamara Munzner


Visualization Analysis And Design is actually a textbook from which you will learn how to visualize data according to the type of data and how to construct and manipulate visual representations. According to reviews, the book is suitable for a wide range of readers, as it acts as an introductory course about visualizing data. However, the focus is mainly on design, rather than programming.

The book sets the foundations of data visualization and gives great insight into different visualization techniques. From Visualization Analysis And Design, you will learn what, when, and why to use certain elements in visualizing abstract data, spatial data, interweaving data, and more. You will also learn how to use space effectively and how to use color in order to visually encode data without having any previous knowledge in the field.

Regarding the book structure, you will find that the organization of the book is quite straightforward which makes it very easy to read and follow. The different sections and chapters build on top of one another. At the beginning of each chapter, you will find graphics for reference which help the reader understand the concept in the particular chapter. In the end, Visualization Analysis And Design end with several case studies which are analyzed in detail.


6. Thinking with Type

Thinking With Type Book CoverBy Ellen Lupton


One of the great design books devoted to typography which everyone involved in the design will find useful. Thinking With Type introduces the reader to the fundamentals of typography. From this book, you will learn how to create good typography and how to avoid common mistakes. The book covers essential factors, variables, and techniques related to the manipulation of letters, words, and paragraphs such as alignment, spacing, order, shaping, and more.

According to reviews by readers, Thinking with Type is a must-read for designers. The book puts the foundations of how to create great typography which is basically, of great use for every design field. You will find two editions of the book on the market – the first one published in 2004, and then the revised and updated version – in 2010.

The book itself is structured into three different sections: the first one about letters, the second devoted to text, and the third one – about the grid. At the beginning of each section, you will find useful information about historical, technological, and theoretical concepts. Then, the content is broken down into different subcategories. The author has also included practical exercises and finishes with real-life examples which serve as a source of inspiration on what to do and as an indication of what not to do.


Feel like reading?

We certainly do! This collection of design books is a must-read for every designer, design student, developer, engineer, architect, and a curious read for all lovers of design. Reading these amazing design books, also referred to as design bibles, will give you a solid background in the design field in general and provide you with new prospectives and ideas for your own work.

Have any other favorite design books you’d like to recommend? We’d love to expand this collection, so feel free to share your opinion in the comments below.

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Iveta Pavlova

Iveta is a passionate writer at GraphicMama who has been writing for the brand ever since the blog was launched. She keeps her focus on inspiring people and giving insight on topics like graphic design, illustrations, education, business, marketing, and more.

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