education

These 5 books will make you a better designer

You can learn good design through these books. Most of which is avoiding bad design.

  • Like chess, Formula 1, and making ravioli… design has rules.
  • The rules are flexible. But the main point of these rules is to avoid bad design.
  • The best part? It’s achievable.

Design is all around us in a myriad of forms. From the screen interfaces on your phones and devices to the handles on your shower faucets. We often know instinctively what constitutes great design, there’s an almost ephemeral quality to it. Great design offers comfort, ease of use and a feeling of being in the know and in control.

Bad design on the other hand hits us like an ill-shaped rock – hard to navigate websites, Rube Goldberg machines and a general sense of annoyance and confusion. Design is both a science and an art and everybody is affected by it in some way. Whether you’re a designer or just appreciate design and want to know more, here are the 5 best books on design.

The Design of Everyday Things

In a clear and concise matter, Don Norman writes about the flaws that plague the design of everyday objects, which makes our lives more trouble than they need to be, more inconvenient and sometimes downright dangerous. This was a book written in the late 1980s, but is still relevant today, as it has been updated a few times.

The book isn’t just an exposé of horrid design, but also a tale of how designers in all industries can become better apt to customers’ and end-users’ needs. It’s a must read for any type of designer, as Norman goes into great detail about design methodologies, ideals and psychology. He has many thoughts about how if you can’t figure something out, it’s not always your fault but often the designer’s. His philosophy of design is proper communication and usability, Norman states:

“Eliminate the term human error. Instead talk about communication and interaction. When people collaborate with one another the word error is never used to characterize another person’s utterance.”

About Face: The Essentials of Interaction

Let’s face it, the majority of design today is within the digital field: software design, websites, applications and other mediums of online & digital expression. Alan Cooper & Co.’s About Face is the premier book for interaction design. It covers project processes, goal directed design and everything you could ever need to know about user feedback, controls and comprehensive overview of interaction.

The book is sprawling and deep dives into just about any common UI widget in existence. It’s considered a pillar of learning material for UI/UX designers. While some may get turned off by its length and pedantic explanations, it also serves as an excellent reference book for UX designers.

A Designer’s Art 

Paul Rand’s book was published in 1985 and was one of the first of its kind. The renowned graphic designer wanted to create a book that would explain the art of a growing discipline, rather than just show it visually. The book is packed with personal views on design, peppered with his expansive portfolio and also cites a number of renowned academics.

Rand was another designer who felt that communication is absolutely key when it comes to design. He states:

“Graphic design which evokes the symmetria of Vitruvius, the dynamic symmetry of Hambidge, the asymmetry of Mondrian; which is a good gestalt, generated by intuition or by computer, by invention or by a system of coordinates is not good design if it does not communicate.”

Beauty and symmetrical supremacy doesn’t mean a whole lot if it can’t communicate its intended message. For students of design, teachers and professionals, this is a book that is great for explaining and expressing the creative communication of ideals.

A Product Guide to UX Design

Business and design often coalesce together in an alliance of production. A professional designer is going to be required to interact with other aspects of running a business. Ensuring that a user interaction is running smoothly and the design assets are glowing in perfect fidelity and union with the product are all well and good and the meat of a UX designer’s job; but working this into an overall business perspective is also an important skill to have.

This book by Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler covers a breadth of topics for those who might have minimal experience in UX design, but are interested in applying their newfound skills in a business setting.

Elements of User Experience

Jesse James Garrett exposes in a very clear way the essence of user experience for the web. He breaks down the ux for the web into five different planes going deep into the vocabulary and strategy for designing better experiences for our digital world.

He sets out some simple rules for consistency and great design:


“Presenting a style on your Web site that’s inconsistent with your style in other media doesn’t just affect the audience’s impression of that product; it affects their impression of your company as a whole. People respond positively to companies with clearly defined identities. Inconsistent visual styles undermine the clarity of your corporate image and leave the audience with the impression that this is a company that hasn’t quite figured out who it is.”

About author

Anton Ferreira is a veteran journalist who has spent the last 20 years working with newspapers, magazines and websites covering marketing, business, technology, financial services and a variety of other topics.
Sign up for our Newsletter and
stay informed