50 essential books every graphic designer should read

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

For all the power and versatility that digital devices provide, there's nothing like sitting down with a good book.

While it's good to pick up bits and pieces of knowledge from blog posts and YouTube, only the printed form can set out everything you need to know on a particular subject in an organised and comprehensive way that ensure that nothing vital gets missed.

And so, whether you're interested in learning the fundamentals of graphic design or expanding your existing skills, it's worth investing in some good books. As global leaders in graphic design education, it's something we at Shillington know a fair bit about. So here we've set out a definitive list of 50 essential reads, expertly curated by our teaching team and updated for 2019.

Whether you're studying at one of our six campuses around the world or self-teaching at home, we'd highly recommend you add these top tomes to your reading list. Meanwhile, for further suggestions, you should also check out Shillington's Book Club where we suggest ongoing titles to add to your shelves.

1. Andreas Uebele Material

A major presence in contemporary German graphic design, Andreas Uebele trained as an architect, a thread that continues to present itself in much of his work. From the graphics of the Reichstag to the iconic signage of the Vitra campus, his experiments lead to dynamic solutions, while simultaneously maintaining lightness and clarity.

This new book presents 85 of Uebele’s projects through two types of materials: the raw materials from which they emerged, and materials from creative collaborators who’ve accompanied the studio along the way. These include Matthew Carter, Adrian Frutiger, Massimo Vignelli and Hermann Zapf.

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2. How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy

If you're looking for a career manual to guide you through the profession, Adrian Shaughnessy has the solution. The legendary graphic designer, who recently guest lectured at Shillington, offers his insights and wisdom through his book, How to be a Graphic Designer, Without Losing Your Soul.

With straight-talking advice on how to establish your design career, insights into the creative process and tips on running your own business, this excellent text covers everything you need to know about becoming a graphic designer.

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3. Oh, Sh*t... What Now?: Honest Advice for New Graphic Designers by Craig Oldham

This book by Manchester designer Craig Oldham is a comprehensive and insightful guide to anything and everything that is of use to those looking to break into the creative industries, sharing experiences, ideas, advice, criticism, and encouragement. With sections covering education, portfolios, jobs/freelancing, working process, and personal development, this straight-talking, funny, and frequently irreverent guide is a must-read for all creative arts students.

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4. Logo Modernism (Design) – Jens Muller

Modernist aesthetics in architecture, art, and product design are familiar to many. In soaring glass structures or minimalist canvases, we recognise a time of vast technological advance which affirmed the power of human beings to reshape their environment and to break, radically, from the conventions or constraints of the past. Less well known, but no less fascinating, is the distillation of modernism in graphic design.

This unprecedented publication, authored by Jens Müller, brings together approximately 6,000 trademarks, focused on the period 1940–1980, to examine how modernist attitudes and imperatives gave birth to corporate identity.

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5. Typographic Systems

Typography is nothing if not a complex beast, tasking the designer to balance so many competing factors including hierarchy, the order of reading, legibility and contrast, to name but a few. In this authoritative book, Kim Elam explores eight major structural frameworks beyond the grid, including random, radial, modular, and bilateral systems.

Each system is explained and explored to give you a better understanding of these intricate, complex arrangements. This, in turn, will help you to fluidly organise your text and images within a structure, combination of structures, or a variation of a structure — a must-read for both students and professionals alike.

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6. How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World – Michael Bierut

Protégé of design legend Massimo Vignelli and partner in the New York office of the international design firm Pentagram, Michael Bierut has had one of the most varied careers of any living graphic designer.

In this must-have book, Bierut presents 35 projects that illustrate the breadth of activity that graphic design encompasses today, his goal being to demonstrate not a single ideology, but the enthusiastically eclectic approach that has been a hallmark of his career. Inspiring, informative and authoritative, it's become the bible of graphic design ideas.

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7. 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design

A good idea can change the world, and here are 100 that did precisely that. This fascinating book chronicles the most influential ideas that have shaped industrial and product design. From the origins of modern design in the craft movements of the 19th and early 20th century and the changes brought about by mass production, the book traces the most essential ideas in design through the modern movement and post-war consumer society to more modern concepts such as open-source and biomimicry.

Arranged in chronological order, each of the 100 ideas is presented through a combination of text and images, which explores when it first evolved and the impact it’s had on the world. Even if you’re not specifically working in product design, it’s an invaluable background for anyone working in design that will help you see the modern world in a whole new perspective.

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8. British Rail Corporate Identity Manual

This book collects the many individual sheets of the original 1965 British Rail Corporate Identity Manual into a unique singular volume. Funded by Kickstarter and curated by London-based graphic designer Wallace Henning, this project was a real labour of love, and it shows through on every page.

Featuring everything from the publicly-owned rail provider's symbol, logotype, lettering and colour palette to guidance on signposting, vehicles, stationery and uniforms, everything is laid out beautifully, and there are accompanying essays and interviews to boot. As a classic case study of a design system that met the test of time, this is a superb source of guidance and inspiration to any modern-day designer.

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9. The Anatomy of Colour

Colour is an integral part of design, but knowing how to use it isn’t just about learning the colour wheel: it’s also about understanding its deep historical roots and how we use colour as a society in practice. Thus every designer needs to read this comprehensive and detailed book, focusing on the use of colour in decoration over 300 years.

Drawing on a specialist archive, historian Patrick Baty traces the evolution of pigments and paint colours, together with colour systems and standards, and examines their impact on the colour palettes used in interiors from 1650 to 1960. In doing so, he highlights the distinctive colour trends and styles of painting particular to each period, which is put in context through in-depth analysis of the history of colour and the development and use of paint colours in interior design.

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10. House Industries: The Process is the Inspiration by Andy Cruz

We love this illustrated and entertaining journey through the creative process of renowned design studio House Industries, offering innovative and inspirational ideas to help artists, designers, musicians and creative people in any industry develop their best work.

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11. The Designer's Dictionary of Colour by Sean Adams

This reference book takes an in-depth look at 30 colours that are key to art and graphic design. Each hue is documented comprehensively, with charts showing the colour range and palette variations, and text detailing each colour’s creative history and cultural associations. Examples range from the artistic to the utilitarian, from the turquoise on a Reid Miles album cover to the avocado paint job on a 1970s Dodge station wagon.

Everything is organised by spectrum, in colour-by-colour sections, making it easy to find whatever you’re looking for quickly. It all adds up to a must-have resource for graphic designers that are both practical and inspirational.

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12. Copy this Book, an Artist's Guide to Copyright

Copyright is one of the areas of law that designers struggle with most. This book offers a guide to the subject that’s written in plain English, making often complex concepts easy to understand and follow. Both practical and critical, it will guide you through the concepts underlying copyright and how they apply in your practice.

How do you get copyright? For what work? And for how long? How does copyright move across mediums, and how can you go about integrating the work of others? This book answers all these questions and more and will help you keep on the right side of the law.

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13. Stitt Autobiographies – Alexander Stitt

Stitt Autobiographics is a pictorial record of the 50-year professional life of graphic designer Alex Stitt, who has been the hand behind many aspects of Australia's culture since the 1950s and has been described by Phillip Adams as one of the country's most under-recognised creative talents. If you want to discover his account of the how, why, and for whom Stitt worked for, then this book uncovers everything, including 1,800 illustrations, comic strips, storyboards and film title frames.

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14. Drawing Type: An Introduction to Illustrating Letterforms – Alex Fowkes

Part inspiration and part workbook, the images of hand-drawn type will inspire and excite any designer to draw and explore type. Drawing Type features real-world projects and sketchbooks of well-known type designers, including interviews about their processes.

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15. Why Fonts Matter – Sarah Hyndman

Fonts have different personalities that can create trust, mistrust, give you confidence, make things seem easier to do or make a product taste better. They’re hidden in plain sight; they trigger memories, associations and multi-sensory experiences in your imagination. This book by Sarah Hyndman – who has joined us for guest lectures at Shillington – opens up the science and the art behind how fonts influence you and explains why certain fonts or styles evoke particular experiences and associations.

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16. Type: New Perspectives in Typography – Scott Williams

This selection of typographic design, edited by leading typographers A2/SW/HK, showcases more than 100 carefully selected contemporary designers, including the best examples of their current work, and also features an introduction by Rick Poynor.

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17. Watching Words Move – Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar

This legendary document of typographic creativity, after nearly fifty years of Watching Words Move, is now available for the first time as a trade book. New essays by top designers add value even for those already familiar with the original text.

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18. Don't Get a Job... Make a Job: How to make it as a creative graduate – Gem Barton

Too often, a design or architecture degree is seen as a means to an end (a job in an established practice). But imagine for one moment that there are no employers, no firms to send your CV to, no interviews to be had – what would you do? How would you forge your own path after graduation? This book celebrates the various strategies that students and graduates are taking to succeed in their design careers.

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19. The History of Graphic Design Vol 2

This second volume of Jens Müller’s masterful work spans the history of graphic design from the 1960s until the mid-2010s. Everything from the establishment of the International Style to the rise of the digital age is seen through the lens of 3,500 seminal designs across the globe. Around 80 key pieces are analysed in close detail, as are 118 of the era's most important designers, including Massimo Vignelli, Otl Aicher, Paula Scher, Neville Brody, Kashiwa Sato and Stefan Sagmeister.

All this material is set in context to make it easy to follow how one movement led to another, and how different strands and disciplines within the design world interacted and influenced each other. The author curates the standout designs for each year, alongside an excellent overview of the major design milestones.

A visual timeline is provided for each decade, too, and the perspectives are refreshingly global. Even if you know all this stuff already (and there’s a lot to know), the systematic way in which this excellent volume is organised will help give you a fresh perspective on the recent history of design and how it all fits together.

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20. I Used To Be a Design Student – Frank Philippin

This book offers a rare chance to read what graphic designers feel about their education and profession. Fifty influential designers give the low-down about their student days and their professional lives.

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21. Alan Kitching: A Life in Letterpress by Alan Kitching & John L. Walters

This long-awaited monograph documents the work of world-renowned typographer, designer and letterpress practitioner Alan Kitching. Spanning over fifty years, the book leads us from Kitching's first typographical experiments under the auspices of mentor Anthony Froshaug to his most iconic creations at The Typography Workshop.

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22. Paula Scher: Works – Unit Editions

This stunning monograph covers Paula’s early days in the music industry as an art director with CBS and Atlantic records; the launch of her first studio, Koppel & Scher; and her 25-year engagement with Pentagram. It also provides an up-to-date look at Paula’s idiosyncratic hand-painted maps, part of her prolific artistic practise that complements her still-growing graphic legacy.

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23. Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? by Lucienne Roberts

The second and updated edition of this ambitious book examines the varied and vital relationship between graphic design and health, focusing on work that demonstrates how communication strategies and visual languages are employed to persuade, inform, prevent and ultimately protect.

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24. From Japan, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe Set by Counter-Print

From the top-rated 'From' series, courtesy of Counter-Print, you can now get your hands on the 'From Japan' and 'From Scandinavia' and 'From Eastern Europe' book set, each book is a celebration of graphic design from the area featured.

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25. Grid Systems in Graphic Design

Initially published in 1999 and now in its 9th edition, this book is a classic guide to graphic design and layout technique, and a must-read for any modern-day student or working designer.

Written by professionals for professionals, this book addresses all of the significant problems that can be encountered in the design of grid-based systems. It offers precise directions in how to overcome them, along with useful, real-world examples. In doing so, it builds on systems of functional typography and graphic design that have been in development since the 1920s and brings them up-to-date to solve the challenges of today’s designer.

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26. Women Design by Libby Sellers

From architects and product designers to textile artists and digital innovators, Women Design profiles a selection of the most dynamic female designers from the modern era, showcasing their finest work and celebrating their enduring influence.

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27. Handstyle Lettering by viction:ary

Between calligraphy and typography stands the age-old art of hand-lettering, which encompasses both forms while retaining its character and individuality. While we depend over-abundantly on the digital form and type printing, Handstyle Lettering represents the comeback and resurgence of the titular art, returning the human touch and warmth that has been lacking in our digital age.

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28. Special Edition by viction:ary

Presenting a medley of playful and masterfully crafted designs from around the world, Special Edition focuses on product packaging that stands out for its engaging concept, unexpected choice of material or artistically elaborate design. Tailored to celebrate a unique product or extend a brand, these solutions often come about as the result of a one-off creative collaboration.

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29. Start Me Up!: New Branding for Businesses – Robert Klanten

Little brand, big effect: In the age of startups and a new generation of entrepreneurs, corporate design is being redefined through distinctive visual creativity. Never before has there been more enthusiasm surrounding entrepreneurship. Today, young entrepreneurs across the globe are relentlessly developing innovative products and services.

New businesses and social initiatives are appearing in industries ranging from fashion to farming, from high-tech to creative handcraft. These companies are run by passionate professionals who are well aware that following their vision is just as important as continuously communicating their vision's brand.

Corporate branding works as an extension of a business by visually expressing its concept, so it is no surprise that new stories require a new visual language. Start Me Up! presents a wide range of original examples for inspiration and is a comprehensive compendium of innovative corporate design for a new generation.

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30. DESIGN(H)ERS: A Celebration of Women in Design Today

This much-awaited book features the work of 30 talented women, including Jessica Walsh from Sagmeister & Walsh, Verònica Fuerte of HEY, Yah-Leng Yu of Foreign Design Policy Group and doodle artist Hattie Stewart. It also features insightful interviews that bring to light the thoughts and stories behind their successful careers, along with a foreword by Roanne Adams of RoAndCo Studio.

Designed by an all-women team, and covering a wide range of backgrounds, crafts and skills, the work is reproduced beautifully, often across full double-page spreads. All in all, this is a book that serves to inspire and encourage the creatives of the future.

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31. Women in Graphic Design 1890-2012 – Gerda Breuer

Why are there so few women in the history of design? Why do previously well-known women become forgotten, and at what point can someone be considered successful? Do women create differently to men? What effects of the gender debate are noticeable in today's everyday working life, and are women judged today solely based on their quality of work?

This book prompts a look beneath the surface: with numerous contributions from design historians, programmatic texts and a comprehensive collection of biographies, alongside interviews with internationally recognised female designers such as Irma Boom, Paula Scher, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Julia Hoffmann and Tina Roth Eisenberg.

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32. Type Hybrid: Typography in Multilingual Design by viction:ary

Increasingly globalised, the world is looking for a new-era language that can unite and identify with multiple cultures at once. This does not only come as a verbal challenge, but an intellectual one for designers to understand foreign values and communication systems to create a productive discourse. Type Hybrid is a groundbreaking research into this specialist area.

It begins with a collection of 120 logotypes that feature synchronised multilingual details within a compact design. The showcase then expands to probe into 100 visual communication solutions. From corporate branding to event communications and packaging designs, each project demonstrates how designers from different parts of the world draw an international crowd with a hybrid language that stays sensitive to the complexities of local culture.

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33. Tasty Stories: Legendary Food Brands and Their Typefaces – Joke Gosse

Tasty Stories presents 50 of the world's best-known food brands, describing them through the evolution of their packaging, logo, typeface and fonts. A brief history of each brand is followed by details of the logo and typeface and accompanied by 'Nice to Know' anecdotes — a must-have for graphic designers, foodies, and other people of good taste.

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34. How to Have Great Ideas: A Guide to Creative Thinking – John Ingledew

This is an essential guide for students and young professionals looking to embrace creative thinking in design, advertising and communications. Numerous strategies are introduced accompanied by practical projects, each showing how to unlock creative ideas in different ways — packed with great examples of innovative thinking in graphic design, advertising, photography, illustration, architecture, product design, furniture design, industrial design, animation, digital design, car design, engineering, art and fashion.

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35. Logotype – Michael Evamy

Logotype is the definitive modern collection of logotypes, monograms and other text-based corporate marks. Featuring more than 1,300 international typographic identities, by around 250 design studios, this is an indispensable handbook for every design studio, providing a valuable resource to draw on in branding and corporate identity projects.

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36. Jurriaan Schrofer (1926-90) Restless Typographer – Unit Editions

This book celebrates the experimental typography of Dutch graphic designer Jurriaan Schrofer. Famously known for his time spent at the renowned design studio Total Design, he was an outspoken figure within Dutch professional design organisations as well as a pioneer in corporate identity, a designer of photo books and art director of the architectural magazine, Forum.

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37. The Visual History of Type

Typography is not just a technical craft, but one steeped in history and tradition. Each typeface and type system is fundamentally about standing on the shoulders of giants, and so understanding the history of type will help you to make informed and creative decisions for your modern-day projects. This book, then, contains a comprehensive survey of the major typefaces produced since the advent of printing, from movable type in the mid-fifteenth century to the current period.

Arranged chronologically to provide context, more than 320 typefaces are displayed in the form of their original type specimens or earliest printing. Each entry is supported by a brief history and description of the key characteristics of the typeface. This book is perfect for graphic designers, educators, historians and design students, as well as anyone else fascinated by type.

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38. Marks of Excellence: The History and Taxonomy of Trademarks by Per Mollerup

A revised edition, this groundbreaking tome embodies a rigorous exploration of the trademark: its history, development, style, classification and relevance in today's world. The book includes extensive discussion of its origins in heraldry, monograms, owner's marks and certificates of origins, and also contains a comprehensive taxonomy of trademarks and an alphabetical index of trademark themes.

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39. Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler

This best-selling guide outlines a universal five-stage process for brand development and implementation. From research and analysis through launch and governance, it provides in-depth guidance on all aspects of the process and describes the best practices that build better brands.

First published in 2009, this book was updated in late 2017 to incorporate emerging trends and technologies. This updated fifth edition now includes new and expanded coverage of social media cross channel synergy, crowdsourcing, SEO, experience branding, mobile devices, wayfinding, and placemaking, with 30 all-new case studies of top brands from various industries around the world.

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40. Identity: Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv by Alexandra Lange

Identity: Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv showcases a body of work spanning 60 years from the seminal New York design firm founded in 1957 by Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar. The firm’s contribution to design has shaped the way corporate identity programs influence culture.

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41. The EPA Graphic Standards System

Initially designed in 1977 by Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Geismar, and Steff Geissbuhler, the EPA Graphics Standards System manual details a customised system created to unify the federal programme’s communications across hundreds of offices. It beautifully encapsulates the role design has played in advancing federal programmes for public good.

This facsimile reprint includes every page of the original EPA Graphic Standards System, as well as a foreword by designer Tom Geismar, a historical essay by Christopher Bonanos, and 48 photographs from the EPA-commissioned Documerica project.

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42. Print Matters: The Cutting Edge of Print – Viction:ary

In an attempt to examine the cutting edge of printmaking, this book brings together an amalgam of print designs that have gone beyond pure digital printing. Through more than 110 samples of new graphic identities, packaging, communications and book designs, it offers a professional look into the use of varnish, foil-stamping, die-cut, thermal prints, technical folds, and many more, with design specifications.

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43. The History of Graphic Design Vol 1

If you want to know where you’re going, you need to know where you’re coming from. And here’s a great place to start. This first volume of Jens Müller’s comprehensive and enlightening 2017 book traces 70 years of graphic design, designers, and developments from the late 19th century through the economic boom after the Second World War.

That sounds like a lot to take in, and it is. But this lovingly conceived reference is organised and laid out in a way that’s easy to digest. Across its 480 pages, year-by-year spreads are combined with in-depth features on landmark projects, profiles of industry leaders, and visual timelines of each decade. It all adds up to a must-read for anyone involved in graphic design.

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44. Graphic Design Visionaries

To paraphrase Harry S Truman, “People make history and not the other way around.” So while theory is important, it’s primarily the work of individual designers that has genuinely shaped the history of the discipline. Appropriately, then, this book focuses on 75 of the world's most influential designers, shares their personal stories and examines their most significant works and how they’ve shaped design history.

Arranged in chronological order, the book shows the development of design, from early innovators such as Edward McKnight Kauffer and Alexey Brodovitch to key figures of mid-century Swiss Design and corporate American branding. We also get profiles of masters of typography, such as Wim Crouwel; visionary magazine designers, such as Leo Lionni and Cipe Pineles; designers who influenced film, such as Saul Bass and Robert Brownjohn; and iconic poster designers including Armin Hofmann, Rogério Duarte and Yusaku Kamekura. In short, not a stone is unturned in covering the most important figures in the history of design, and no designer should be without this book.

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45. Know Your Onions: Graphic Design by Drew de Soto

The focus of this book is on practical tips and pointers to help you be a better designer. The closest thing you’ll get in print to having a real-life graphic design mentor, it will guide you through the fundamental processes of generating ideas, developing your concepts, and putting them into practice.

Designed like a notebook, in which all the authors’ tips and knowledge have already been added, there is a light and accessible tone throughout this book. But that doesn’t mean it’s not comprehensive; in fact, it covers all of the main techniques of graphic design and its digital implementation and will teach you both how to think like a creative and act like a businessperson. It also includes blank pages that allow you to add specific notes that are relevant to your own studio, suppliers or clients.

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46. 100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design

If you work in design, you need to know about the Swiss Style, which influenced the discipline of graphic design all over the world. And here’s the book to explain it. Taking a fresh look at Swiss typography, graphics, posters, corporate image design, book design, journalism and typefaces over the past century, the book is designed by the Zurich studio NORM and features a series of enlightening essays by experts in the field, each beautifully illustrated with stunning visuals.

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47. Editorial Design: Digital and Print – Cath Caldwell & Yolanda Zapaterra

Editorial Design: Digital and Print is a comprehensive guide to the traditional and digital skills that a designer will need for a future career in visual journalism today and the design of magazines and newspapers for a wide variety of markets.

Generously illustrated, including case studies, practical exercises and tips, examples of best practice and profiles of individual designers including Mark Porter, Scott Dadich and Janet Froelich, the book explains the fundamentals of editorial design and layout.

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48. DixonBaxi Monograph

This 300-page monograph is a snapshot in time of one of London’s leading brand agencies. It is a reflection of the studio today, our most recent work, process and the insights behind it. Most of their work exists in motion, as digital experiences and on screens. Hence, a book is a wonderful opportunity to curate and craft a beautiful object that embodies what they do.

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49. Basic Designs 01: Format – Gavin Ambrose & Paul Harris

Typography is how a written idea is given a visual form. Effective use of typography can produce a neutral effect or rouse the passions, symbolise artistic, political or philosophical movements, or express the personality of a person or organisation. This book aims to impart a comprehensive understanding of typography, to explore its history, theory and practice.

If you'd benefit from a thorough examination of how typography informs other aspects of creative design, this book is for you.

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50. Basic Designs 02: Layout – Gavin Ambrose & Paul Harris

Through this book, Ambrose and Harris introduce the fundamentals of layout within the field of graphic design. It provides a guide to the effective arrangement of text and image elements within a design scheme, enabling you to learn how to create powerful forms of visual communication in both print and electronic media.

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