I know the struggle of trying to find the right design books, and how often we Google things like “best books for designers 2020”. I’ve been there, I’ve Google that, a lot. And now I have collected 52 books about design and can tell you what books I like best.
Best books for designers in 2020
10. A dictionary of color combinations
Starting off with a fun one! The people who know me, know that I’m always pushing for going back to the design basics for good quality visual design. Getting the most out of typography, shape, space, and color, by spending enough time on these basics and not rushing them.
The book “A Dictionary of Color Combinations” contains hundreds of color combinations. At the start of a project I usually sit back and take my time to browse through a world of colors, finding what bests suits the current client.
9 & 8. Branding in 5 and a half step by Michael Johnson, Brand design by Ruud Boer
Both of the books above take you through the entire process of brand design. I like them both equally, but the latter was the first one that introduced me to the world of branding. Asking basic questions such as “how are we different”, “why do we exist?”, “who wants our product or service”, and the list goes on and on. Both books give you enough knowledge to have a solid conversation on branding with your client, and advise them along the way.
7. Economy of experiences
Just like book number 8, this one is also a bit older, but still very relevant today. It takes you on a journey where it becomes extremely clear that customers expect so much more from a product or service compared to 50 years ago. A point many companies these days still fail today, and thus this book provides you with a good vision on what products should and shouldn’t be. Good stuff for a nice chat with your clients.
6. The copywriters handbook
I believe as (UX/digital) designers we should really know our fair share of copywriting. The products we design eventually stand or fall with the quality of the copy. For the last few years I concern myself a lot more with the overall quality of an entire product than just the visual part. Meaning that if I notice that the content is not ideal: I’ll do my best to get that fixed.
5. Universal methods of design
For a project where you can take your time to research and experiment: this book is a good starting point. Providing you with 100 research methods for all the different design phases. Whether you are just starting a project and you’re trying to get the problem clearer, or you are at the end and want to check if your solution works: it’s all there.
4. Thinking with type
I believe that out of the 52 designs books I have, at least 10 of them are about typography.
This book provides you with all the basics of typography. The writer goes rather quickly through the history part, which is a huge pro for me. Because many books talk a lot about history. But the practical information you can get out of that, and apply in your daily work, it is often not that big. This book gets interesting very soon: what are the typography categories, what are some famous typefaces, and my favorite aspect: it’s packed with do’s and dont’s with typography.
A very well known book: why do people use and keep using certain products or service? In a very easy to read manner they take you through the steps to get people hooked on your product. At first it feels like this is really focused on products rather than everyday websites we often make. But you soon notice it’s very applicable here as well: especially when you have a website which is not meant to be a one time visit.
This one is a fairly new and soon became a personal favorite. Especially with the functionalism trend going on: I often miss the beauty in products out there. This book takes us through the history of beauty, how it became less important in society. Continues with proving that beauty is actually important and has a function, and goes on to find out if we have a general consensus on what beauty is. I’d say a must-read for designers.
(Ooh and this book looks absolutely great, eye candy for us designers).
This book also inspired me to think and write more about Why beauty matters, if you are interested.
1. Don’t make me think
Actually the only book in this list with 100% focus on UX design (I’m not really a fan of that term but more about that another day).
For UX designers I must say this is a must-read and the best starting point, by far. But even for skilled designers it’s still good to re-read this once in a while.
There is too much knowledge in there to tell you in one sentence what this teaches you. There is something new to learn on every page. But it especially excels in teaching you how people navigate digital products. How they scan, how they think, how they read, and how they make choices. And how much this means for the design we provide them with. I still use loads of examples from this book today to convince clients or other designers why I make certain choices.