My library of graphic design books is huge, but the list of graphic design books I want is probably even bigger. There are just so many amazing books for graphic designers that it’s hard to make a ‘best of’ list that really covers everything. For that reason, this list is made up of the best graphic design books I’ve read and own and have learned so much from. These 10 best graphic design books are essentially just my favorite design books… so far.

For this list of the ten absolute best graphic design books I’m listing books that are graphic design specific, but cover branding in design, design thinking, and working in the design industry.

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Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff They Don’t Teach You in Design School, But Should

by Michael Janda

Burn Your Portfolio Book

Level Intermediate
Published 2013
Topics Practical tips and advice for working in the design industry

This one is at the top of this list of the best graphic design books for a reason. It’s the type of book every designer should read immediately before entering the industry as a professional designer. After over a decade in the industry, everything Michael Janda writes here is so accurate and I wish this book existed when I started my career.

This book covers things like behavior, work ethic, having a good process, your social aptitude, production speed, handling supervisors and clients, the business of design; all while working as a freelancer, running your own firm, or working at an agency.

Design Co.: Pretty Much Everything

By Aaron Draplin

Pretty Much Everything Book

Level Beginner
Published 2016
Topics Aaron’s design career, history, and work

Pretty Much Everything is part Aaron Draplin bio and part amazing design work. It delves into Aaron’s history and the process behind many of his larger design projects. This book showcases all the collective works of an extremely talented designer and has very quickly become one of my absolute favorite design books of all time.

One of the best things about this book is the tactile feel. Honestly. It’s a solid hard cover book with beautifully embossed detailing on the front and back. Without ever opening it, you know it’s something special. I only wish this book existed when I was starting out in my design career.

Creating a Brand Identity: A Guide for Designers

by Catharine Slade-Brooking

Brand Identity Book

Level Intermediate
Published 2016
Topics Brand identity & strategy development

If you’re at all unfamiliar or uneasy with the brand identity process you need this book. It goes into such great detail about each stage of the process; research, analysis, concept development, presentation, and the basics of branding in general. Chapters covered are branding basics, brand anatomy, brand strategy, the design process, research, analysis, concept development, and delivering the final design.

This book goes into really great detail about each stage of the process, including the creative process itself, which includes preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. This is the book I needed once I got out of design school because the majority of the design process was never covered at this level.

Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming

By Ellen Lupton

Graphic design thinking

Level Intermediate
Published 2011
Topics Creative thinking & the design process

It’s impossible to have a list of best graphic design books without having at least one by Ellen Lupton. Her book list is extensive and includes awesome works like Design is Storytelling, Graphic Design: The New Basics, Thinking With Type, and more. But this one, Graphic Design Thinking, is my favorite.

This book details the entire design process, with a lot of emphasis on the research and concept development stage. Its has a number of case studies that discuss various points of a project in the research, concept, development, and presentation stages. This is a really helpful book for any designer who wants to improve their overall design process skills.

Universal Principles of Design

By William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler

Universal Principles of Design

Level Beginner
Published 2010
Topics Design fundamentals, principles of design

I actually have the pocket version of this, but it’s so great I wish I had bought the full version. Universal Principles of Design is so full of stuff they don’t teach you in design school, likely because it applies to every form of design, not just graphic design. Also because there is just a ton of content here to teach. This book covers things like the 80/20 rule, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, Expectation Effects, and more.

A lot of the information covered by this book is psychology and how people perceive things. For example, one topic the book talks about is contour bias, which refers to a tendency to favor objects with contours over objects with sharp angles or points. The reason for this is that things that have sharp angles or points activate an area of the brain associated with fear. The book goes into this in more detail, but these types of principles could be useful for designers when creating printed materials or packaging for certain products.

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

By Susan M. Weinschenk, Ph.D.

100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People

Level Intermediate
Published 2020
Topics How people process information, psychology of design

This book is for the designer who wants to go the extra mile and really learn how people interact with visual information on a day-to-day basis and learn more about the psychology of design. This book is primarily divided in to how people see, how people read, how people remember, how people think, how people focus their attention, what motivates people, how people feel, and how people decide.

How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul

By Adrian Shaughnessy

Be a graphic designer without losing your soul

Level Beginner
Published 2010
Topics Practical industry advice & info, the creative process, ethics, etc.

I’ve seen this one on a lot of other people’s ‘best graphic design books’ lists. However, I put off getting this book for a long time because I hated the inside layout. The text is small and force justified and the chapter title pages are difficult to read since they use small blue text on a dark grey background. But when I actually started to read this book, it’s quite good.

It’s quite similar to Burn Your Portfolio by Michael Janda in the way that it covers a large array of practical information for being in the graphic design business; either as a freelancer or working for someone else.

Book of Ideas Vol. 1

By Radim Malinic

Book of Ideas Vol.1

Level Beginner
Published 2016
Topics Inspiration, design process, work showcase

If you’re looking for extremely high-quality design inspiration within a book that is so beautifully laid out you’ll spend most of your time with it going ‘ohhh’, this is it. There are three books (so far) in this series; the first two are Book of Ideas Vol. 1 and Vol.2 and the third is Book of Branding. Every page of each book is a celebration of design excellence, colour, and style. I’ve never wanted to learn 3D design more than when I read this book since so many of the projects use some sort of 3D elements.

Each book almost comes off as more of a designer’s portfolio, though I’m not sure if that’s accurate or if it’s work from the author’s entire studio, Brand Nu. I actually hope it’s the latter because the amount of sheer skill and talent in these books is intimidating enough.

The only drawback to these books is the smell. Because there is so much ink on every single page, the moment you open it you are hit with a wave of strong ink smells. I got the first one in August 2019 and it still smells halfway through 2021. Honestly though, it’s totally worth it because each of these books is just so amazing.

Know Your Onions: Graphic Design

Drew de Soto

Know Your Onions

Level Beginner
Published 2012
Topics Industry, design process, fundamentals, print & digital design

This is a really well balanced book that covers a variety of topics quickly that designers need to know. For that reason it’s a great resource for new designers and design students. Topics covered are the principles of typography, spacing with type, punctuation, knowledge of colour, reprographics, print, finishing, and paper. There are also some handy lists, keyboard shortcuts, and a glossary.

Identity Designed: The Definitive Guide to Visual Branding

By David Airey 

ID Book

Level Intermediate
Published 2019
Topics The visual branding process with case studies

This book is a newer one I’ve added to my library and I absolutely love it. It’s massive and covers a ton of information about the visual branding process, not leaving out that messaging and the non-visual aspects of a brand are just as important. This one feels like a textbook but in a way that’s easy to absorb so it fits really well on any ‘best graphic design books’ list.

The 10 Best Graphic Design Books – In Summary

I sincerely hope this list of the best graphic design books has helped you to figure out which design books are worth getting, at least from my point of view. I’ve learned a ton from these books and many others in my collection, but these are by far the ones that stand out the most.

You might notice there aren’t a lot of the classic, must-read graphic design books that every big-time designer swears by. Books like Logo Modernism, How To by Michael Bierut, or Paul Rand: A Designer Art. That’s because I simply don’t own them and haven’t read them and I don’t want to recommend anything I haven’t actually read. But believe me, they are all on my wish list.

Are there any other books I should all to this list of ‘the 10 best graphic design books?’ What do you consider to be the best graphic design books? Other than best graphic design books, should I do best marketing books? Best illustration books? Best branding books? Let me know in the comments below!

Photo Credits

Header photo by Jeroen den Otter on Unsplash