Books Recommended by Top Designers



Designers from Shopify, VICE Media, Microsoft, and Automattic recommend books that have helped them throughout their career as designers.

Adrian Mato

Senior Design Manager, Azure DevOps at Microsoft

Website Linkedin

Adrian Mato has lived and designed in places like London, Madrid, and San Francisco for the last 10+ years. Starting out as a software developer, Mato quickly recognized his passion was Design. He’s worked at a number of companies across the globe, even founding and selling his own (Eramusu) student community with 2M+ registered users to Spotahome in 2011.

Today he’s a part of Microsoft’s Azure DevOps team in the San Francisco Bay area but who knows where you’ll find him next?

These are some of the books that have helped him arrive at where he is today:

Sources Bio:https://www.linkedin.com/in/adrianmg/ Books: https://adrianmato.com/blog/design/books/favorite-design-books/
The World as Design by Otl Aicher

“One of the classics, and also one of my favorite books from Otl Aicher, founder of the Ulm School. Aicher re-inforces the idea that every design decision must have a purpose and a reason behind it.” (Adrian's Notes)

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Otl Aicher's writings are explorations of the world, a substantive part of his work. In moving through the history of thought and design, building and construction, he assures us of the possibilities of arranging existence in a humane fashion. As ever he is concerned with the question of the conditions needed to produce a civilised culture. These conditions have to be fought for against apparent factual or material constraints and spiritual and intellectual substitutes on offer. Otl Aicher likes a dispute. For this reason, the volume contains polemical statements on cultural and political subjects as well as practical reports and historical exposition. He fights with productive obstinacy, above all for the renewal of Modernism, which he claims has largely exhausted itself in aesthetic visions; he insists the ordinary working day is still more important than the 'cultural Sunday'.

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Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

A comic book that teaches you how to design comics. One of the biggest challanges we face as designers is to tell compelling stories in different ways, I think this book does a pretty good job explaining it. (Adrian's Notes)

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Praised throughout the cartoon industry by such luminaries as Art Spiegelman, Matt Groening, and Will Eisner, Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is a seminal examination of comics art: its rich history, surprising technical components, and major cultural significance. Explore the secret world between the panels, through the lines, and within the hidden symbols of a powerful but misunderstood art form.

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The Laws of Simplicity – John Maeda

One of the most difficult challenges as designers is to find the right balance between the complexity and simplicity: granularity of information, visual resources, mental models, and so on. Maeda does a pretty great job explaining what simplicity is while sharing his methodology to transform complex problems into simpler ones. (Adrian's Notes)

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Finally, we are learning that simplicity equals sanity. We're rebelling against technology that's too complicated, DVD players with too many menus, and software accompanied by 75-megabyte ‘read me’ manuals. The iPod's clean gadgetry has made simplicity hip. But sometimes we find ourselves caught up in the simplicity paradox: we want something that's simple and easy to use, but also does all the complex things we might ever want it to do. In The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda offers ten laws for balancing simplicity and complexity in business, technology, and design―guidelines for needing less and actually getting more. Maeda―a professor in MIT's Media Lab and a world-renowned graphic designer―explores the question of how we can redefine the notion of ‘improved’ so that it doesn't always mean something more, something added on. Maeda's first law of simplicity is ‘Reduce.’ It's not necessarily beneficial to add technology features just because we can. And the features that we do have must be organized (Law 2) in a sensible hierarchy so users aren't distracted by features and functions they don't need. But simplicity is not less just for the sake of less. Skip ahead to Law 9: ‘Failure: Accept the fact that some things can never be made simple.’ Maeda's concise guide to simplicity in the digital age shows us how this idea can be a cornerstone of organizations and their products―how it can drive both business and technology. We can learn to simplify without sacrificing comfort and meaning, and we can achieve the balance described in Law 10. This law, which Maeda calls ‘The One,’ tells us: ‘Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.’

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The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

An excellent introduction to the psychology and design decisions behind the day to day objects that surround us. I’d recommend you read the book while combining it with others as it can get a bit dense and dull (rhythmically speaking, don’t get me wrong). (Adrian's Notes)

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Even the smartest among us can feel inept as we fail to figure out which light switch or oven burner to turn on, or whether to push, pull, or slide a door. The fault, argues this ingenious-even liberating-book, lies not in ourselves, but in product design that ignores the needs of users and the principles of cognitive psychology. The problems range from ambiguous and hidden controls to arbitrary relationships between controls and functions, coupled with a lack of feedback or other assistance and unreasonable demands on memorization. The Design of Everyday Things shows that good, usable design is possible. The rules are simple: make things visible, exploit natural relationships that couple function and control, and make intelligent use of constraints. The goal: guide the user effortlessly to the right action on the right control at the right time. The Design of Everyday Things is a powerful primer on how--and why--some products satisfy customers while others only frustrate them.

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Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton

When designing, typography is the foundation of print and web design. This book will give you the best historical background, terminology, and every technical consideration you need to know when thinking with type. (Adrian's Notes)

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Our all time best selling book is now available in a revised and expanded second edition. Thinking with Type is the definitive guide to using typography in visual communication, from the printed page to the computer screen. This revised edition includes forty-eight pages of new content, including the latest information on style sheets for print and the web, the use of ornaments and captions, lining and non-lining numerals, the use of small caps and enlarged capitals, as well as information on captions, font licensing, mixing typefaces, and hand lettering. Throughout the book, visual examples show how to be inventive within systems of typographic form—what the rules are and how to break them. Thinking with Type is a type book for everyone: designers, writers, editors, students, and anyone else who works with words. The popular online companion to Thinking with Type (www.thinkingwithtype.com) has been revised to reflect the new material in the second edition.

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Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler

This is the kind of book you’d like to read jumping back and forth between different topics. It’s a beautiful compilation of several design principles along with in-depth explanations, illustrations, and examples. I find it useful whenever I want to refresh theory or don’t land the right words for explaining the reasoning behind design decisions. It’s also a good source of inspiration. (Adrian's Notes)

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Whether a marketing campaign or a museum exhibit, a video game or a complex control system, the design we see is the culmination of many concepts and practices brought together from a variety of disciplines. Because no one can be an expert on everything, designers have always had to scramble to find the information and know-how required to make a design work - until now. Universal Principles of Design is the first cross-disciplinary reference of design. Richly illustrated and easy to navigate, this book pairs clear explanations of the design concepts featured with visual examples of those concepts applied in practice. From the 80/20 rule to chunking, from baby-face bias to Ockham's razor, and from self-similarity to storytelling, 100 design concepts are defined and illustrated for readers to expand their knowledge. This landmark reference will become the standard for designers, engineers, architects, and students who seek to broaden and improve their design expertise.Whether a marketing campaign or a museum exhibit, a video game or a complex control system, the design we see is the culmination of many concepts and practices brought together from a variety of disciplines. Because no one can be an expert on everything, designers have always had to scramble to find the information and know-how required to make a design work - until now. Universal Principles of Design is the first cross-disciplinary reference of design. Richly illustrated and easy to navigate, this book pairs clear explanations of the design concepts featured with visual examples of those concepts applied in practice. From the 80/20 rule to chunking, from baby-face bias to Ockham's razor, and from self-similarity to storytelling, 100 design concepts are defined and illustrated for readers to expand their knowledge. This landmark reference will become the standard for designers, engineers, architects, and students who seek to broaden and improve their design expertise.

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Interaction of Color by Josef Albers

Josef Albers was one the most important artist-educators in the Bauhaus in 1920. His learnings and systematic approach to the color theory are a great way to understand how surrounding colors influence our perception of colors. (Adrian's Notes)

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Josef Albers (1888–1976) was one of the leading pioneers of 20th-century modernism: he was an extraordinary teacher, writer, painter, and color theorist, who is best known for the Homages to the Square (painted 1950–76) and The Interaction of Color, published by Yale University Press in 1963. This generously illustrated overview of Albers’s work, accompanying the first major exhibition on the artist in more than thirty years, features all aspects of his long, creative career. Beginning with Albers's time at the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, the publication follows the artist to America and describes major themes of his work there as well as the importance of his frequent travels to Mexico. Paintings, prints, furniture, household objects, works in glass, photographs, and pre-Columbian sculptures are beautifully reproduced and discussed by a team of experts. The juxtaposition of Renaissance sculptures and icons with paintings by Albers underlines the intellectual and spiritual dimensions of his art, and Albers’s influence on 1960s Minimalist art is also explored. Including a comprehensive biography, the book convincingly demonstrates how this great artist transformed modern design by using line, color, surface, and space to challenge the perception of the viewer.

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Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro

A pragmatic, realistic and simple way of summarizing what being a designer means. Contracts, clients, peers, and the less fancy and artistic part of the craft. (Adrian's Notes)

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Christine Zoltok

Design Lead, Shopify

Website Linkedin

Christine is a design lead at Shopify and is based in the Montreal area, leading the team for the last year-ish. She’s been working in design roles ever since she finished her degree (also in design) for the last 10-ISH YEARS.

Christine on her reading habits

My reading habits have shifted over the years, but these days with young children at home I mostly read while commuting. It’s about 20 minutes in the morning and evening, and keeping a book in my purse means I spend less time on my phone. If I’m particularly captivated by a book I’ll keep reading it in the evening, but those moments during the commute ensure I don’t lose momentum. I read mostly non-fiction these days but I love a good fiction book if I get a great recommendation.

There have been tons of books that have influenced me throughout my career at different stages, but here are a few that were very influential for me.

Sources
Mindset - Carol S. Dweck

I had a surface level understanding of what a growth mindset was before reading Carol's seminal work, but this really helped me internalize the concept and recognize the traits of fixed and growth mindsets in my professional and personal life. It has really transformed the way I approach challenges and setbacks, and helped me focus on being a constant learner. (Christine's Notes)

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After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mindset. In this brilliant book, she shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. Mindset reveals how great parents, teachers, managers, and athletes can put this idea to use to foster outstanding accomplishment.

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The Lean Startup - Eric Ries

I read this book when I was working in a design studio, but I was restless and wanted a much tighter feedback loop with users to validate what we were building. This book really changed the way I thought about my work and the role of design in learning and validating business ideas. It helped me fall in love with a different way of working. I left my studio role to join a startup – and I haven't looked back. (Christine's Notes)

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Eric Ries defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This is just as true for one person in a garage or a group of seasoned professionals in a Fortune 500 boardroom. What they have in common is a mission to penetrate that fog of uncertainty to discover a successful path to a sustainable business. The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively. Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, it relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want. It enables a company to shift directions with agility, altering plans inch by inch, minute by minute. Rather than wasting time creating elaborate business plans, The Lean Startup offers entrepreneurs - in companies of all sizes - a way to test their vision continuously, to adapt and adjust before it’s too late. Ries provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in a age when companies need to innovate more than ever.

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John Maeda

Head of Computational Design & Inclusion @ Automattic, formerly Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

Website Linkedin

Maeda started as a Computer Science major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he completed both his masters and undergraduate degree. He then found himself completing a Ph.D. in design in Japan’s Tsukuba University’s Institute of Art and Design.

His work has laid the foundation of interactive motion graphics used on the web today, finding their permanent residence in collections in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Cartier Foundation in Paris.

Since then he has taught at both Harvard and MIT’s Media Lab, chaired the Rhode Island School of Design as its President, sat on the Board at companies like eBay, Google, Smithsonian Design Museum, Sonos Inc., among a number of other companies and organizations.

Today he sits as the global head of Computational Design and Inclusion at Automattic where his work focuses on addressing the diversity gap in the technology industry.

Sources Bio:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Maeda, https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmaeda/ Books: https://design.co/2018/09/25/5-books-on-simplicity-design-technology-business-life/
Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society by John W. Gardner

I read this book at least twice a month. It helps re-center my thinking about work, life, and the challenging pursuit of change. (John's Notes)

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I’ll Have What She’s Having: Mapping Social Behaviour by Alex Bently, Mark Earls, Michael J. O’Brien

When you discover that all that you do is simply a copy of all that you see around you, it puts life in perspective. We copy to survive. (John's Notes)

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Biology Colouring Workbook: An Easier and Better Way to Learn Biology by Princeton Review and Edward Alcamo

Understanding something is all about knowing how the parts come together as a whole. We fill in the pieces until we see the bigger picture. (John's Notes)

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Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes and John Maeda

The topic of Inclusion is difficult to understand but vital as a means to live life to its fullest — in service to others around us. (John's Notes)

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Sometimes designed objects reject their users: a computer mouse that doesn't work for left-handed people, for example, or a touchscreen payment system that only works for people who read English phrases, have 20/20 vision, and use a credit card. Something as simple as color choices can render a product unusable for millions. These mismatches are the building blocks of exclusion. In Mismatch, Kat Holmes describes how design can lead to exclusion, and how design can also remedy exclusion. Inclusive design methods―designing objects with rather than for excluded users―can create elegant solutions that work well and benefit all. Holmes tells stories of pioneers of inclusive design, many of whom were drawn to work on inclusion because of their own experiences of exclusion. A gamer and designer who depends on voice recognition shows Holmes his “Wall of Exclusion,” which displays dozens of game controllers that require two hands to operate; an architect shares her firsthand knowledge of how design can fail communities, gleaned from growing up in Detroit's housing projects; an astronomer who began to lose her eyesight adapts a technique called “sonification” so she can “listen” to the stars. Designing for inclusion is not a feel-good sideline. Holmes shows how inclusion can be a source of innovation and growth, especially for digital technologies. It can be a catalyst for creativity and a boost for the bottom line as a customer base expands. And each time we remedy a mismatched interaction, we create an opportunity for more people to contribute to society in meaningful ways.

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The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna

Spending three years in Silicon Valley exposed me to a kind of optimism that is hard to explain. Elle’s book does it perfectly. (John's Notes)

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Who hasn’t asked the question “How can I find and follow my true calling?” Elle Luna frames this moment as “standing at the crossroads of Should and Must.” “Should” is what we feel we ought to be doing, or what is expected of us. “Must” is the thing we dream of doing, our heart’s desire. And it was her own personal journey that inspired Elle Luna to write a brief online manifesto that, in a few short months, has touched hundreds of thousands of people who’ve read it or heard Elle speak on the topic. Now Ms. Luna expands her ideas into an inspirational, highly visual gift book for every recent graduate, every artist, every seeker, every career changer. The Crossroads of Should and Must has a universal message—we get to choose the path between Should and Must. And it gives every reader permission to embrace this message. It’s about the difference between jobs, careers, and callings. The difference between going to work and becoming one with your work. Why knowing what you want is often the hardest part. It gives eye-opening techniques for reconnecting with one’s inner voice, like writing your own obituary (talk about putting life in perspective). It talks about the most common fears of choosing Must over Should—money, time, space, and the ultimate fear: total vulnerability—and shores up our hesitation with inspiring stories of and quotes from the artists and writers and thinkers who’ve faced their own crossroads of Should and Must and taken the leap. It explains the importance of mistakes, of “unlearning,” of solitude, of keeping moving, of following a soul path. Presented in four chapters—The Crossroads, The Origin of Should, Must, and The Return—inspired by the hero’s journey outlined by Joseph Campbell, The Crossroads of Should and Must guides us from the small moment, discovering our Must, to the big moment—actually doing something about it, and returning to share our new gifts with the world.

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Marvin Lau

Graphic Designer, VICE Media

Website Linkedin

Marvin is a graphic designer at VICE media based in the Toronto area after completing roles like Creative Intern at Juniper Park, and completing his Bachelor at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), he continues his pursuits in beautiful things in his current role. With more stuff on his pretty beautiful site (linked above).

1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual

The NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual contains scans of Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda's (Unimark) modernist masterpiece. The manual describes the design and construction for the iconic NYC subway signs that we still see and use.

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The I-D Bible: Every Ultimate Fashion Victim's Handbook

The first book by i-D, published in 1987. It so rarely turns up that we forgot how good it was. The i-D Bible: Every Ultimate Fashion Victim's Handbook . We love how its not 'Fashion Victim'. This is a handbook for all victims and especially 'Ultimate Victims'!The book has become invaluable now for the thirty page Style Wars section edited by Caryn Franklin. B-Boys, Mods, Psychedelics (patchwork not paisley), Punks and Rockers, Goths and Gents and Preppies (music taste: Huey Lewis or Dire Straits on DAT).

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An IDEA Book About T-Shirts By Stüssy

Stüssy has worked winth IDEA to publish a 240-page super book edited by Ryan Willms and Alastair McKimm. An Idea book about T-shirts by Stüssy features an essay, interviews, editorial by Ari Marcopoulos, and a series of photographs by some of the leading image makers in the industry today including Alasdair McLellan, Amy Troost, Ari Marcopoulos, Collier Schorr, Dan Martensen, Daniel Jackson, Glen Luchford, Inez & Vinoodh, Josh Olins, Mario Sorrenti, Terry Richardson and Willy Vanderperre. There is also a large archive section featuring unseen and iconic images from the brand over the past 38 years.

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The book not only looks back at the brand’s iconic history and long lasting relationship with the printed shirt, but aims to create a new dialogue with the medium and look into the value of what it means to our culture. Coinciding with the book and T-shirt release, Stüssy has partnered with Dover Street Market to launch a T-shirt retrospective in their London Haymarket location. The exhibition will include a selection of reissued vintage graphics from Stüssy’s archive, alongside two collaboration T-shirts that bring together the brands.

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Creativity, Inc. by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull

Creativity, Inc. is a manual for anyone who strives for originality and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about creativity—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”

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For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, WALL-E, and Inside Out, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable. As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged a partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his co-founding Pixar in 1986. Nine years later, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed—was the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on leadership and management philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention.

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Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard--legendary climber, businessman, environmentalist, and founder of Patagonia, Inc.--shares the persistence and courage that have gone into being head of one of the most respected and environmentally responsible companies on earth.

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From his youth as the son of a French Canadian handyman to the thrilling, ambitious climbing expeditions that inspired his innovative designs for the sport's equipment, Let My People Go Surfing is the story of a man who brought doing good and having grand adventures into the heart of his business life-a book that will deeply affect entrepreneurs and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

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Boys Don’t Cry by Frank Ocean

Boys Don't Cry is the companion magazine to Frank Ocean's album, "Blonde".

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Things are what you make of them by Adam J. Kurtz

Handwritten and heartfelt, this pocket-sized book by designer Adam J. Kurtz offers wisdom and empathy from one working artist to others, with perforated pages to share or display. Deceptively simple, this full-color book will be a touchstone for writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and anyone else working to harness their passion for a more creative life.

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