Essential Design Books

Being a designer, I'm obliged to have Ikea Expedit shelving (one day I'll upgrade to advanced designers' shelving: Vitsoe). In that grid of sixteen shelfulous holes, Dr B and I have managed to compartmentalise all sorts of reading material – Penguin, Marvel and Laurence King each get there own squares, as does Philip K Dick. But there's one square at the top that contains a collection of my essential, always-helpful, never-to-be-eBayed, perfect books. Whenever I hit designer's block, it's to these books that I turn first. They're a great source of reference and inspiration. Here they are (with – disclaimer – Amazonian affiliation links which will help go towards building my Peanuts and Hellboy libraries):

Fifty Years of Painting
by Ed Ruscha

Since coming face-to-face with OOF a few years ago, Ruscha has become one of my favourite artists. Dr B bought me this rather lovely book after we went to the Hayward Gallery's excellent retrospective in 2010. Flicking through his work – a distinctive blend of photography, packaging design, architecure, colour and type – never fails to spark up my imagination valves.

Full Moon
by Michael Light

Very simple, this one: it's photographs taken by astronauts on their way to, and on, the moon. The moon for crying loud. If that doesn't inspire you in any way, you're a moron.

Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth
by Andrew Smith

Smith's quest to interview the surviving astronauts who have stepped onto the moon. Like Full Moon, but in text form. And quite heartbreaking. Puts any troubles you're having into perspective (frustrated that you can't get Word to shut down properly? Try coping with a life stuck on Earth after you've walked on the frisking moon, desk jockey) and a reminder that mankind is capable of quite astonishing, brilliant things.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius 
by Dave Eggers

Yes, he's a bit pretentious, but I'm a complete sucker for Eggers' words. This memoir, which goes from the death of his parents through to the launch of Might magazine (because start-ups aren't a new thing, you know?) is … well, what the title says actually.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
by Edward Tufte

Tufte knows information. He knows how it works and how it should be presented. And he demonstrates that the complex presentation of data has been around since long before the invention of the Mac – the explosion in infographics in recent years probably wouldn't have happened without this and a couple of Tufte's other texts. Whenever I'm stuck and wondering if I'm doing it right, this book always helps (actually, a cheaper alternative would just be a big piece of paper with "NO YOU ARE NOT" printed on it).

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design
by Michael Bierut

Culled from Bierut's articles for Design Observer, this collection is always a great place to spend a few minutes and, with each essay, get you thinking about design in a completely new context. Plus, each essay is set in a different typeface, so it's handy just as a type reference guide too. And it's yellow.

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities
by David Airey

If you have any interest whatsoever in branding and logo design, you'll already know of David Airey. Based on a multitude of typically helpful and generous blog posts that go behind the scenes of his design process, this is a great resource for anyone in the business of creating/embiggening logos.

Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design
by Khoi Vinh

An excellent guide to the theory, not the code, of designing for the web by the former Design Director of the NY Times. I couldn't have made this site without it. If you're not familiar with Vinh, take your eyes for a wander over to his blog Subtraction at once.

Studio Culture: The Secret Life of the Graphic Design Studio
by Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy

The first of many great titles from Unit Editions, this is a book-shaped peek through the windows of other people's studios. With interviews and (unfortunately rather small) pictures, this is a great look at the how, what and where of the design industry at the moment. Shaughnessy's How to be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul and Graphic Design: A User's Manual are also pretty much essential.

The BLDGBLOG Book
by Geoff Manaugh

Another case of taking a blog and repurposing it for print, finding a more suitable rhythm and medium for the subjects at hand (in this case, "architectural conjecture, urban speculation and landscape futures"). Some of it is quite heavy-going, but always fascinating. Fingers crossed for a second edition based solely on Manaugh's film-related articles (Nakatomi Space is a particular favourite of mine).

Grid Systems in Graphic Design
by Josef Müller-Brockman

A classic text for any designer, looking at the core elements of design. Written pre-Mac, pre-Adobe, it gets to the fundamentals without getting bogged down in the specifics of execution. Plus it's bilingual, so you can teach yourself German whilst reading it. Which is nice.

Eames
by Gloria Koenig

There are chunkier books on Charles and Ray Eames, but for a simple overview of their work, and something that you can just dip into and be immediately inspired by, this slim volume does the trick nicely thank you very much. A constant reminder that the boundaries between design disciplines can – and should – be traversed.

Barbican – Penthouse Over the City
by David Heathcoate

The Barbican is one of those pieces of design that absolutely fascinates me. The architecture, the ideology behind it, everything. It's like a post-war idea of what a fortress on Mars would look like. One day, Dr B and I will live there, oh yes we will. Heathcote's book goes into incredible detail about its development, with an amazing array of plans and photographs and illustrations. Plus it's simply an excellent example of editorial design.

Less and More – The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams
by Keiko Ueki-Polet and Klaus Klemp

It's a big book full of pictures of things design by Dieter Rams? What's not to love? Well, one thing actually: the cover of the first edition. It's made of the most horrible plastic stuff imaginable – like putting a Fabergé egg in an athlete's foot sock. Apart from that, utterly beautiful.