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 visual designer and are willing to endure textbook experiences (which aren’t known for being good reads or for achieving any level of fun). Here’s the list, annotated with my notes (as I’ve read some of them).

These are by far the two best because they are well written and in an accessible way that anyone can pick up and follow, which is not true for many supposed intro design books.

  • 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. Covers the fundamentals of making things look good, covering composition, color theory, layout, typography and more. Unlike many visual design books it’s practical and by example.
  • Go, by Chip Kidd (recommended by 4). Written for kids, but don’t let that stop you. I’m part way in and that seems to just mean it’s friendly and well written. I wish more books were. It’s FUN, so rare a thing for design books.

These others have strengths and weaknesses, which I explain for the ones I’ve read.

2 Responses 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.

  2. Jaishree Borah

    Hello Scott Berkun! Thanks a lot for listing down the names of some best books on graphic design. I am a graphic designer myself and I am sure these books shall help and inspire me to come up with better designs that look more appealing and also help to solve problems visually. Looking forward to read more informational content from your end. Thanks again!


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