8 design books for non-designers

Level up your design eye with these 8 books

By Nate Kadlac

By Nate Kadlac

By Nate Kadlac

Every creator faces a design challenge at some point.

How can I make this design look like it wasn't designed with MS Paint?

If you feel handicapped in your design decision-making, here are 8 books I would recommend reading to level up your design eye.

1. Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton

The most important thing you need to learn about design is how to make your text sing. 95% of the web is made up of text, and there are helpful guidelines to make sure your text is readable and legible.

Have you landed on a website where the text stretched from one side of the browser to the other? It's tiring to read, no matter how great the story is. And that feeling affects the brand equity of the person who wrote it.

"Thinking with Type" is one of the most approachable books on typography. It not only covers some of the technical aspects in a simple way, but this book will level up your thinking after one read.

It's filled with great illustrations, and writers will love this because many of the examples are directed at making sure your writing looks great.

2. The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams

"The Non-Designer's Design Book" is a great introduction to design for non-designers. The book covers the basics of design, including layout, color, and typography. The book is written in a friendly and accessible style, making it easy to understand for anyone.

My only knock is how dated the examples are, as it was originally written in the late 80s when it was cool to have overly designed business cards because desktop publishing was entirely new.

That said, it covers the fundamentals well, and it's a great reference book on the four basic design principles.

3. GO: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd

Chip Kidd has designed more than 1,500 book covers, including the cover of Michael Crieghton's _Jurassic Park_, which was later licensed to Universal Studios for the movie.

Personally, I believe you can learn a lot about design from the way books are created to grab our attention. This book by Chip simplifies the basic ideas of design into content, form, typography, and concepts.

The book also includes 10 mini design projects in the back, which make the concepts incredibly easy to apply.

4. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

"The Design of Everyday Things" is a classic book on design that explores how everyday objects are designed and used.

Good design should be intuitive and easy to use, and the book provides examples of both good and bad design in everyday life. The book is less about how to apply design, but instead how to cultivate your curiosity of design in the world you live in.

5. Designing News: Changing the World of Editorial Design and Information Graphics by Francesco Franchi

Much of the time, I would buy books like this to be inspired by different layouts and ways to design information. Even if you're designing a personal site, looking through newspapers all across the world is such a fascinating way to be inspired.

I have kept this on my shelf for almost 10 years, and whenever I'm feeling uninspired, this is my go-to resource to better understand different ways to combine type, form, and content.

6. Refactoring UI by Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger

While this one is helpful for developers, it’s a great resource for understanding how to simplify and bring your software ideas to life. It focuses on the fundamentals of design, and how to take clunky user interface ideas and make them feel much cleaner.

7. Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon

While this isn’t about design, it’s about taking the best of what exists and making it yours. Making good design decisions comes down to having confidence in your own taste, and this book will help you skillfully pull from the world around you.

8. Don't make me think by Steve Krug

This is focused on web design, but it's a great guide to making better design decisions on the web.

Optionally advanced:The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

This book is the definitive manual on typography. It can be a bit dense, and much of what you'll learn is in Ellen Lupton's book above. But, if you want the Bible of typography, this is it.

This covers everything from the history of typography to the basics of typography design. The book is filled with examples of good typography, making it easy to understand the principles of typography design.

This is really only for those who want to dive deeper into typography and master the craft.

Note: This post does contain affiliate links that help support me and Approachable Design. Thank you!

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80/20 Design Challenge
80/20 Design Challenge
80/20 Design Challenge

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