When it comes to design, it’s easy to feel like you already know everything or that you will never know everything you should know, with no between. It can become an overwhelming battle between feeling unsure if you should delve into learning a bit more, sharpening your skills, or discovering something brand new that just might completely change the game for you.
Regardless of your motives for reading, new designers are especially great to tackle this reading list because of how fresh everything is to you. With the knowledge that you carry with you now at the forefront of your mind, anything you read and pursue will just be more fuel to your fire of ideas. The perspectives you have can be highly influenced, and you just might learn something that really sets you apart from your coworkers and makes your work stand out among the rest.
This article compiles a reading list for all types of readers and designers alike. Each book covers a different concept or part of design, which in and of itself can be pretty broad. Richening your understanding can be an added bonus in the rare event that you don’t learn something new with one of the books on this list.
So without any delay, here is the ultimate reading list for new designers. Find a good reading spot and open the new pages. Congrats on starting a journey that will have you never looking back!The Best Books For New Designers
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Don Norman was a usability engineer, so it comes as no surprise that his book is all about creating functionality and usability between users and objects. This book is consistently atop any reading list for designers, and for good reason. The book overarches the idea that any object’s design should efficiently communicate to any user just how to use the object. If an object can be used without any difficulties or room for malfunction, then the user finds using the object pleasurable.
Of course, with a more philosophical-based concept, Norman guides the reader through a series of several different psychological case studies to really study and hone in on the connections between users and objects and the process that happens between them. He even coined the term “user-centered design” to drive this point. If you want the bare minimum knowledge to guide your design choices, this is the best book to read.
The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley
General manager of the famous designing firm and company IDEO, Tom Kelley, writes a behind the scenes look on what goes on behind one of the most successful design companies. From the creative ideas turning into a process, and the process turning into a real product, readers can catch a witty glimpse into the biggest part of any design: the team and the process. One of Kelley’s biggest arguments in this book that can be carried throughout reader’s design experiences is that their hit after hit success is not the result of one person, but several different people working creatively and collaboratively.
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Dr. Susan M. Weinschenk
As someone with a PhD in behavioral psychology, Dr. Susan M. Weinschenk knows a thing or two about the ways people behave, and the reasoning behind these behaviors. When it comes to any kind of design, the bare minimum skill to have is to know how people work, according to Weinschenk herself. This book is a great way to learn crucial information about human behavior and then use the tools available throughout this book to really design something meaningful and based on the user. Littered with science, data, and real examples, Weinschenk’s work deserves a top spot on any designer’s reading list, and should be one of the very first they pick up.
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
It comes as no surprise that web design specifically can be really tricky. With such a plethora of different websites consumers can choose from, creating one that really stands out in user-friendliness is the most sought after goal. However, it isn’t as easy as it might sound. When it comes to designing a website that is optimized for usability, Krug’s book is the first place any web designer should start.
In this book, Krug dives deep into the concepts of human-computer interaction to guide designers into the right direction when building their websites. He emphasizes that the number one goal should be that users don’t have to think all that much when navigating or using the website, hence the title of his book. It should be self-explanatory to use the site, leaving no questions to be asked or roadblocks to cross. An added bonus is that Krug intended the book to be short and easily read, so this can be a quick read on your next flight or time between meetings.
The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero
Being in design, while plenty worthwhile, isn’t always a cakewalk, especially when it comes to design language. Sometimes design how-to books, regardless of how helpful and informative they are, can seem to have an overabundance of “techy” talk. For people who have a hard time comprehending all the technical talk, or even just visualizing it enough to apply to your own work, The Shape of Design is for you.
At only 125 pages, it is a super short read, one that you could read on your next subway ride to work. Packed into its pages is a story about telling stories, and the elements of craft that are embedded in design and can make your work really stand out. In Chimero’s own words, the book is more of the “why” instead of the “how,” which is great for people who feel that they have the how-to down but really just need that added creative push.
How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert
With the full book available on the book’s website, How to Make Sense of Any Mess is a must read. With the field of design comes the inevitable “mess” phase, and it can be easy to find yourself feeling uninspired and stuck in that phase. Covert’s workbook is the true solution for pushing yourself to move forward! Each chapter guides you the steps you must take to get through a different part of the “mess,” for example, face reality, or state your intent.
Beyond just telling you matter of factly, Covert goes the extra mile and provides a story like you would find in a traditional fiction book about someone stuck in the mess and who needs to make sense of it, just to put her words into something a bit more tangible. More than that, each chapter concludes with Covert’s own worksheets, so you can have some practice getting out of your head and finally making that mess you’ve been starting at for so long into something realistic.
Weird Ideas That Work by Robert Sutton
Sutton takes on a fresh perspective of design culture through sharing that it is the weird, counterintuitive ideas that end up being successful in the long run. Sutton’s research based background trails this book along on an immersive how-to that deviates from the corporate culture of black and white, shifting towards a culture of misfits and rule breaking. Sutton explains that in order to be successful and stand out in what can feel like an overswamped business in design, you have to start thinking so outside of the box that it’s no longer visible.
The book is riddled with how-tos and practices to get yourself thinking more creatively and in an entirely different headspace. If you’re starting to feel discouraged or intimidated by the vastness of design, this a great book to grab to get yourself out of it!
As new designers, it’s important to get the strongest influences possible as you head straight towards your goals. Gain a fresh perspective, hear new ideas, pull yourself out of unproductive habits, negative headspaces, and overproduced ideas. This reading list doesn’t mean you have to read every book, although that would be a great accomplishment. Picking even just one to read during short breaks can be enough to get you out of the mess, away from the nerves, and head first into success!