Book List: Essential Reading for Students of Design
Portfolio Review
Creative Director and Principal of Catalyst Workshop Inc. and Design Educator Adam Antoszek-Rallo RGD shares a list of essential reading for students and potential students of design. 


Design Principles

1. Graphic Design: The New Basics, revised and updated by Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips 

Most design educations start with a primer on visual literacy. It is important to understand the mechanics of visual language in order to apply it effectively. There are many books that cover this subject well, but this seems to be the most popular option these days. 

2. Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell 

This book reads more like a collection of short one page lessons on various topics of principle. While there is not enough room in such a format to approach most of these topics with much depth, each page contains excellent references for further reading. Overall, it is a useful and very enjoyable book, jumping through all kinds of theories and principles that underline design. If nothing else, I think you would enjoy this. 


3. Universal Methods of Design by Bruce Hanington and Bela Martin

This book follows the same format as the book above, but focuses on design ideation and research methods. Not nearly as fun, but a good useful primer on design iteration and research methodologies. 


4. The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition by Don Norman

An excellent primer on how design principles co-relate to everyday experiences. Critically important read for Interactive Design. 


5. Information Anxiety 2 by Richard Saul Wurman

The man behind TED, is also considered the godfather of Information Architecture. Collection of articles and ideas related to how we think, learn, perceive and interact with the world. Of this first section of books, this is the only one I would deem optional.



1. Stop Stealing Sheep (3rd Edition) by Erik Spiekermann

This is the best introduction to typography I can think of. Very clear, very easy to read, very illustrative. Unfortunately, like most beginners books, its re-read value is low.


2. Thinking with Type, 2nd revised and expanded edition by Ellen Lupton
This is the best beginner to intermediate typography book I can think of. Every design student should own a book like this.


3. Elements of Typographic Style version 4.0 by Robert Bringhurst

This is the definitive reference on typography. Most professionals own this.


4. Designing Type by Karen Cheng

If you want to design a typeface, there is no more useful a reference book I know of than this.


Information Design

1. Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Second Edition by Edward R. Tufte

This is a must read, a 20th century classic book. Edward Tufte is the definitive guru of information design. His style of writing is different than most books on this list, as he looks at historical examples while illustrating the underlying principles in a more narrative style. The principles outlined in these four books are relevant to design as a whole, and highly relevant to user interface design.

2. Envisioning Information by Edward R. Tufte

If the last book proved worth your while, don’t stop. Here is the 2nd book in this series, another essential classic, even if slightly repetitive.

3. Visual Explanations by Edward R. Tufte

Did you enjoy the second book? Here is the 3rd book in this series, another essential classic, even if slightly repetitive.

4. Beautiful Evidence by Edward R. Tufte

Still want more? The 4th and last written book in this series, another essential classic, even if slightly repetitive.



1. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug

Short, to the point, great examples, a light read with heavyweight information.

2. Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug

An addendum to the previous book in the exact same stye, this focuses exclusively on fixing usability problems through testing.

3. About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design (4th Edition) by Alan Cooper 

A highly respected book on interface design, this resource is referenced in countless interactivity books.

4. Designing for the Digital Age by Kim Goodwin

Arguably the most ambitious and comprehensive resource on the digital design profession.


Design Profession

1. The Business of Graphic Design: The RGD Professional Handbook

The first and only comprehensive Canadian guide to maintaining a graphic design business.

2. Success By Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers by David Sherman 

This is by far and away the best (and most accurate) book on the realities of running a graphic design business. A must read for anyone considering venturing out on their own.

Design Culture & History

1. Graphic Design, Referenced by Armin Vit & Bryony Gomez Palacio

Graphic Design, Referenced is a visual and informational guide to the most commonly referenced terms, historical moments, landmark projects, and influential practitioners in the field of graphic design.

2. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design (5th Edition) by Philip B. Meggs & Alston W. Purvis

This is the definitive graphic design history book.



What other books would you consider essential reading for potential students of design? Email your suggestions to to add to the list. 


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