written by Sean Kane

Top 5 summer reads for graphic designers

Sean Kane

Sean Kane

When I’m not designing, I’m reading books. And when I’m reading books, I’m reading about design.

So, combining my two passions – classic books and design – I’ve compiled a list of my top five summer reads: graphic design edition.

These five books are the ones that have had the greatest influence on my work, and are the ones that I’d recommend to any graphic designer.

Each touches upon a different element of design – from typography, grid systems, design principles or the business of design – but complement one another, covering the entire creative process, from concept to execution.

1. Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Müller-Brockmann

Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Müller-Brockmann

I’m a details man. So it’s no surprise that a 174 page book about grid systems is my top read.

In true German style, Müller-Brockmann’s book is quite exacting, so it can take a while to learn and appreciate what he’s covering in such detail, but everything he says is spot on.

Grids give structure and rationale to a design, dividing a page into fields, which can contain text, image or white space. A solid grid makes design much easier, and elevates the quality of work.

It’s affected me in such a way that I apply his grid system to everything I do, from business cards to a multipage book. I don’t need to read it anymore because I know it off by heart!

2. The Vignelli Canon by Massimo Vignelli

The Vignelli Canon by Massimo Vignelli

The Vignelli Canon by Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli is the man behind some of the world’s most recognisable designs – the New York Subway, Ford, Target and American Airlines to name a few.

He’s known for revolutionising design – and his love of Helvetica (he almost exclusively used the font!)

He penned this book in 2010, at the end of his career, to showcase his understanding of good design, rules and criteria referencing brands he worked on in his career.

One of his key messages is that ‘design is one’. His design principles can be applied to any form of design – whether that is product design, interior design, architecture or packaging. In this day and age, with an increasing focus on digital design, this message is as important as ever.

It’s a really easy and short to read, and I find myself frequently referring back to it. The best part? It’s available to download for free!

3. Typographie: A Manual of Design by Emil Ruder

Typographie: A Manual of Design by Emil Ruder

This book is the Bible of typography.

From fonts to positioning, letter and line spacing, column width and more, Ruder explores how to use typography in a modernist way with contrast and rhythm.

The key takeaway from this book is that symmetry, and having things too perfect and square isn’t always attractive. What makes good design is rhythm, excitement and flow.

4. Graphic Design Manual: Principles and Practice by Armin Hoffman

Graphic Design Manual: Principles and Practice by Armin Hoffman

Graphic Design Manual: Principles and Practice by Armin Hoffman

Hoffman’s Graphic Design Manual may be 53 years old, but his ideas are as modern as ever.

It covers basic design principles like repetition, contrast and patterns, and how you can play around with simple elements (think dots and lines) to come up with smart ideas.

This book is really useful in the creative process – it helps me play and explore concepts for original designs, and highlights the importance of simplicity.   

5. Design, Form, and Chaos by Paul Rand

Design, Form, and Chaos by Paul Rand

Design, Form, and Chaos by Paul Rand

Paul Rand focuses on the commercial side of design in his book, Design, Form and Chaos.

This book is about the role of a designer and the business of design, which is a huge part of our job that’s often forgotten (and you don’t learn about it at Uni or TAFE). It covers how to get people on board with your idea, and how to explain the value in good design.

The best thing about the book is that Rand has provided examples of his client presentations, showing how he takes clients on a journey.

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