Books and Design: Resources for Design Students

Every year, more and more people become aware of graphic design, many of whom are students, like myself. However, if you attend a liberal arts school as I do, you’ll probably find that professors only teach the essential programs (in this case, Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator) and neglect the fundamentals of design. To remedy this, I found my own solution: I read. I’ve always loved reading novels, but recently my choice of literature has taken an educational turn. I’ve begun teaching myself design fundamentals by reading various books, and by doing so I’ve learned much more than I have in the classes that come with my high tuition cost.

Books are best

The Non-Designer’s Design & Type Book (Robin Williams) was actually a required book for my first design class in college, taught by an adjunct who works in the field. This book is really helpful for people who are interested in just beginning design, teaching the basic fundamentals with easy to understand language. If you already have some design experience, you won’t even want to look at this book—but if you want to get your friends to understand the four principles of design for basic desktop publishing, send this book their way.

Thou Shall Not Use Comic Sans (Tony Seddon, Sean Adams, John Foster, and Peter Dawson) is filled with 365 “sins and virtues” of graphic design, from type to layout to color, starting with basic rules every designer should know. The basic premise is that a designer needs to learn the rules that can later be broken—only once you have a strong reason to do so. Don’t forget the #1 rule though: Thou shall not use Comic Sans! (Unless you’re using it ironically; see Commandment #2.) You can read an excerpt of this book here.

History is helpful

Did you think you were going to avoid history lessons by starting design? You were wrong, sorry. (I admit, sometimes I am sorry about this too.) There are a few great books to help you with this though, the biggest being Meggs’ History of Graphic Design (Philip B. Meggs, Alston W. Purvis). It may be a big textbook but it has a lot of useful information that, I admit, is also another required book for my studies (I said my classes neglected design techniques, but I didn’t say they ignored the techniques completely!) Another reference book that goes along with this book (frequently bought together on Amazon, as well as another required book for the same course as Meggs) is Graphic Design History (Johanna Drucker, Emily McVarish). But if you just want a more concise history book, you should look to Graphic Design: A Concise History (Richard Hollis). This one is very informative and much smaller to handle than textbook-sized books. (What is this, college? Oh right…it is.)

The hype with type

And so I move on to typography, my favorite part of graphic design. My favorite book that deals with typography is Thinking with Type (Erin Lupton). I’ve come across mentions of this book and author in multiple places, unlike all other books and authors I’ve mentioned thus far. (This is where the quote “Typography is what language looks like” comes from.) The book was created for one of Lupton’s classes, and has been used in many college classes across the country. Another great typography book is Just My Type (Simon Garfield), which gives the reader a great insight to the motivation of many well-known fonts we see all around us.

Design info online

Now, I know I said I’ve been teaching myself with books, and I really have, I swear. But of course, books can’t teach you everything. You’re already reading this on the Internet, so I’m going to (hopefully correctly) assume that you do things besides read books and go to classes. Since online media is the latest trend, who is to say you can’t learn from YouTube? There is one specific YouTuber I watch, Karen Kavett, and she is only a few years older than I am, with a degree in graphic design from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). She has a great blog full of design projects that you can use for inspiration, and a great number of “How To” videos on YouTube for graphic design. I found these videos very helpful, and many of the books I’ve listed are recommendations from her. (In fact, I would have listed all the books she listed, but there are still some I have not yet read, so that wouldn’t be very fair.)

That’s all for now…

There are of course plenty more resources for aspiring graphic designers, and as I read and review more, I’ll be sure to share them with you. These are resources I’ve found most helpful so far, and I’m always discovering more by following blogs and reading articles (CreativePro’s email newsletters are a great way to start!).

Are there any resources you’ve found particularly helpful? Let me know so I can check them out!


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