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Essential Design Books You Must Have (25 Design Books For Your Library)

by | Aug 4, 2014 | Articles, Graphic Design, Tutorials, Web Design | 3 comments

Essential Design Books For Any Pro

Whether you are new to design or you have been around for years, you can never have enough books. There are books on design, typography, web design, coding, inspiration, color, design history, design theory, and more. With so many books out there, how do you know which ones to buy for your collection? Which ones will teach you what you want to know, and which ones are just fluff? If you want to really learn everything you need to know to be a great designer, you should pick up these essential design books. These books will teach you, keep you inspired, and will be excellent sources to refer to when you need a refresh session. I have listed 15 essential design books you need below:

Principles of Beautiful Web Design, 3rd Edition

Essential design books

Before I touched it, Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird was already an awesome book about the principles of beautiful web design. The Third edition, which I co-wrote, is a great source for understanding the essentials of creating a beautiful website. Whether you’re just getting started in web design, or you want to refine your skills, this book is a must-read.

Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills

creative-workshop-essential design books

With so many exercises, this book will get your creative juices flowing. Start thinking outside of the box in no time. Push yourself to think more critically about your decisions and challenge yourself to be a better designer.

Making and Breaking the Grid: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop

making-and-breaking-essential design books

Knowing and understanding grid systems and how you structure your designs is an integral part of being a true professional. Know when to use the right grid, and when to break the grid to make an impact.

Make It Bigger by Paula Scher

Essential Design Books: Make it Bigger

Paula Scher is easily the best female graphic designer of the last 30 years. She has worked for huge clients, such as Citibank, and the Public Theatre in New York. Anything she writes or says, I would suggest picking up.

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

designing-brand-identity-essential design books

Branding and identity is a must for any freelancer or designer working in a design firm. Understanding the fundamentals of branding and how to position a company, its products, and its identity will make you a cut above most other designers. This book is filled with case studies and real world examples. Gain industry insight from real professionals that have been in the industry for years. Gain insight into their inspiration and the motivation behind some of the most influential brands out there.

Paul Rand by Steven Heller

Essential design books: Paul Rand

When you think about graphic design and logo design, one of the essential design books you should own has to be about the true masters of our craft. Paul Rand was a logo design master, and his work lasted for decades.

HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites

Html_CSS-essential design books

An absolutely beautiful comprehensive book on how to build websites with html and css. With strong visuals and great content, this is one of the easiest books to learn basic website design from. This book is a must have for anyone wanting a better understanding of how html and css works.

100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design

Essential design books: 100 Ideas

An abstract approach to the history of graphic design, you’ll learn about 100 concepts that changed the way we think about graphic design. From Design processes to mathematical concepts, you’ll pick up on a lot of great techniques, too.

Logo Design Workbook: A Hands-On Guide to Creating Logos

logo-design-workbook-essential design books

Logo design is an industry trade in itself. Knowing how to create a beautiful logo is essential to branding and identity. This book shows you fantastic examples of logos and breaks down how they evolved into what they are today.

Layout Essentials

Layout Essentials: Essential design books

Grids are the underlying structure of all design. Whether you use them rigidly, or knowingly break them, grids are important for keeping everything aligned. There are rules involved, which will help you to make the right layout choices for your own projects.

The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks

css-anthology-essential design books

A great book for those who know html and css, but want to get an even better understanding of how they work. The anthology covers several common problems and roadblocks that web designers encounter. It offers no-nonsense solutions to fix them.

Designing with Web Standards (3rd Edition)

designing-with-web-essential Design books

Jeffrey Zeldman hits you hard with web standards to make your site compliant. He talks about how to make your sites faster and better. The book talks about making sites easier to maintain by building them better in the first place.

Type Matters by Jim Williams

Essential design books: type matters

If you want a no-nonsense approach to typography, then Type Matters is an excellent choice. With tons of examples, you’ll understand typography and how to use it properly by the time you are finished with this book.

Bulletproof Web Design: Improving flexibility and protecting against worst-case scenarios with HTML5 and CSS3 (3rd Edition) (Voices That Matter)

bulletproof-web-design-essential books for designers

This book covers how to build better sites. Make your site load faster, make it more compliant and friendly to all browsers and make it much easier to access. You can learn all of these tips from this book. The book includes case studies, as well as before-and-after examples.

Above the Fold: Understanding the Principles of Successful Web Site Design

above_the_fold-essential books for designers

An essential book for any designer that wants to understand client interaction, as well as usability. This book will cover the layout of a site and how its layout will effect its usability and overall success.

Stop Stealing Sheep &Find Out How Type Works (2nd Edition)

stop-stealing-sheep-essential books for designers

If you want to truly understand how type works, this book is a must-have. Co-written by Erik Spiekermann, who is considered one of the fathers of modern type design. This book helps you to understand type and how the letter forms work with each other. This book covers type choices, as well as type arrangements, balance and negative space. I consider this to be one of the most essential books for designers.

The Elements of Typographic Style

elements-of-typographic-style-essential books for designers

This book is an excellent mix of history and type theory, explaining type and technology. The book covers how to lay out type, and theory such as the golden rule. Learn how to calculate the optimal space for type on a page. Learn about how to calculate the proper amount of margin space, and column width. This book is a very comprehensive guide to proper typographic structure.

How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul (New Expanded Edition)

how-to-be-a-graphic-designer-essential books for designers

This book is an excellent guide to being a professional designer. It covers subjects such as how to run your business,  and business ethics. It talks about working with clients and much more. The book talks about how to find work and promote yourself, as well as how to be a responsible designer.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition

make-me-think-essential books for designers

An essential guide to usability, this book talks about how to design a site to be easily usable and accessible. The book is entertaining, while offering real world advice about web design. It covers how to make a site easy to use and understand. This is a widely popular book, and a good read.

HTML5: The Missing Manual (Missing Manuals)

html5-missing-manual-essential books for designers

Learn about semantic design with this no-nonsense guide to HTML5. Learn about html5 for video and web apps, drag and drop, and many other new features associated with html5.

CSS3: The Missing Manual

css3-missing-manual-essential books for designers

A great companion to the html5 book mentioned above, this book covers how to build great layouts using CSS. It covers time saving tips and teaches you how to structure your sites to work well with css and to be as streamlined as possible. This book breaks down what CSS3 features work in which browsers. This will help you to make the best decisions on how to style your sites.

The Web Designer’s Idea Book, Vol. 2: More of the Best Themes, Trends and Styles in Website Design


Gain great inspiration from some of the best examples of beautiful web design. Get inspiration and see examples of how other designers solved common problems in web design. You never know when something might spark a new idea for your next project. Stay up to date on the latest web design trends with this book.

jQuery: Novice to Ninja


The second edition of an already great book. get up to speed on how to use jquery in your web development projects. If you are new to jQuery, by the end of this book you will be a real pro. Create plugins and widgets, and learn how to create fast, amazing javascript sites with ease.

Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton

Thinking with Type: Essential Design Books

If you want a book that takes a hands on approach to typography, this book is it. Learn by doing, with several exercises, and tons of great examples.

Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design

Saul Bass

Famous for logo design, amazing film titles and title sequences, Saul Bass is a true master. Studying his work and his methodology will give you great insight into a true innovator of our time. Some of his film titles include Cape Fear (one of my personal favorites) and Casino.


These books will inspire you and teach you the fundamentals of being a great designer. Staying up to date with the latest industry practices will make you a valuable asset to any company. Great typography, great branding, and building lightning-fast websites will make you a well rounded designer. Pick up a handful of these books and hone your skills. A $15-$20 investment can end up making a huge impact on your career.

What books do you recommend? If there is a stellar book out there that everyone needs to hear about, list it in the comments section below.

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