What’s the best first book on visual / graphic design?

I posted on twitter recently asking for recommendations. Specifically for non-designers who need some design literacy, but without the goal of becoming a professional designer. Not UI design, not UX, but focusing on aesthetics.

Often pro designers recommend books from their degree program, but that’s not quite what I’m after, as those books tend to assume you’re going to be a practicing designer.

Here’s the list, annotated with my notes (as I’ve read some of them).

  • Non Designer’s Design Book, Robin Williams (recommended by 4 people – it’s also my current go to recommendation, and was glad to see it’s still popular for this scenario).
  • Go, by Chip Kidd (recommended by 4. Written for kids, but ten pages in so far and that seems to mean it’s friendly and well written. I wish more books were).
  • Thinking With Type, Ellen Lupton (Recommended twice. I’ve read her Design is Storytelling, which is excellent, but not this one).
  • Graphic Design: The New Basics, Ellen Lupton (new to me)
  • How To See, George Nelson (a fun and visual to thinking about design that uses a cityscape, streets, cars, buildings, as the way to start thinking about the design of things. But it’s not focused on visual design).
  • Slideology, Nancy Duarte (it’s primarily about presentation slide design, but it does thoughtfully introduce many basic visual design concepts).
  • Graphic Design Rules, Peter Dawson (new to me)
  • Graphic Design as a second language, Bob Gill (new to me)
  • Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works, Erik Spiekermann, E.M. Ginger (It’s a friendly a short introduction, but focused on typography).
  • The Vignelli Cannon, Massimo Vignelli (a collection of one of the most famous graphic designers works. It would help someone new to design to understand what design is, but doesn’t teach specific concepts or how to start to critique designs experienced in everyday life).
  • Design Basics Index, Jim Krause (new to me).
  • The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst (it’s a beautiful book but very focused on typography as the name suggests)
  • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Tufte (This book is recommended often but for the wrong reasons. It’s a beautiful book, but it’s not easy to learn from for understanding design in general. It’s rare that most people will need to think about representing data visually, which is the focus of this book).
  • The New Typography, Tschichold (It’s apparently a classic, but this is the first time I’ve heard it mentioned).

One Response to “What’s the best first book on visual / graphic design?”

  1. Jacob

    Bruno Munari’s Design as Art and Paul Rand’s Thoughts on Design are both essential reads from two design masters.


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