Mindful Design for Visionaries, Creative Professionals, and Artistes.

The Books that Sold Me on Design

I read. A lot. Like, many books at a time. Might have some­thing to do with my Scanner-ness. For me, there was never a time before design. As soon as I dis­cov­ered how to make a web­site, I was hooked. The prob­lem was that all I knew was the code. I didn’t get design at all. Blame it on my youth, as Jamie Cul­lum would say. When I started design school, I knew that I liked what good design felt like. I wanted to repli­cate that. I wanted peo­ple to feel fan-freaking-tastic when they looked at/interacted with my designs.

The prob­lem: I didn’t know how to get from “Damn, I really love this” to “This is why I love this and this is how I can repro­duce it”.

That’s when I started read­ing design books.

Oh. My.

Every­thing started click­ing. Design wasn’t about mak­ing things look pretty. It was about so much more. There was a logic, ratio­nale, and beau­ti­ful math­e­mat­i­cal pre­ci­sion to design that I didn’t real­ize existed. My per­cep­tion of design was irrev­o­ca­bly shifted. My zeroes were now ones. I couldn’t stop smil­ing. It might’ve freaked my hus­band out a bit.

The Five Essen­tial Design Books on my Desk

The Ele­ments of Typo­graphic Style by Robert Bringhurst

Before Bringhurt poured his knowl­edge into my brain, typog­ra­phy was a mys­tery that I sought to unravel. Why is proper kern­ing so impor­tant? Why should we care about the Golden Ratio? I con­sumed this book in the course of a week. And then I read it again. Nom.

The New Typog­ra­phy by Jan Tschichold

This is less of a “omg learn typog­ra­phy here!” and more of a “omg deli­cious his­tory!”. It’s a bit of a dry read but totally worth it for the typog­ra­phy enthu­si­ast in you.

Grid Sys­tems: Prin­ci­ples of Orga­niz­ing Type by Kim­berly Elam

There’s a way to ORGANIZE TEXT? It’s not mystery?As it turns out: no mys­tery, only awe­some guide­lines. This book gave me the tools to rec­og­nize and under­stand why text should be laid out in a cer­tain way, depend­ing on ten­sion, visual hier­ar­chy, other design ele­ments within the body of text.

Think­ing with Type: A Crit­i­cal Guide by Ellen Lupton

When I was brand new to design school, I read this book first. It was fas­ci­nat­ing. I devoured it in one sit­ting. It was the pre­cur­sor to Bringhurst’s text but it gives me pic­tures to fall back on if I can’t seem to get in the groove.

The Design of Every­day Things by Don­ald Norman

DOET, as it’s referred to as by the author, is more about usabil­ity than it is about design prin­ci­ples. It talks about doors and why we can never seem to fig­ure out how to open them. I liked that part. I always walk into doors. And walls. And any­thing else that’s sup­pos­edly sta­tion­ary. DOET told me why. I’m still a klutz.

Bonus: 2000 Color Com­bi­na­tions by Garth Lewis

Okay, this is num­ber six because it’s not really strictly a design book but it’s my inspi­ra­tion. I get many colour com­bi­na­tions out of this book that I find sur­pris­ing and beau­ti­ful. It’s worth the look, just for that.


While books and tools are essen­tial to any web/graphic designer’s job, it does not mean that those tools make a great designer. Time, energy, edu­ca­tion (whether it’s self-directed or in an aca­d­e­mic set­ting), and cre­ativ­ity work syn­chro­nize to fuel the design engine. The best design­ers have man­aged to piece it all together. It’s why you shouldn’t pay your friendly neigh­bour­hood designer $5 to make a logo. I’m still try­ing to piece it all together. There’s always more to learn. Always bet­ter tech­niques. Always bet­ter ways to do one’s job.

“Find some­thing you’re pas­sion­ate about and keep tremen­dously inter­ested in it.” — Julia Child

If you’re look­ing for another read, check out A Pat­tern Lan­guage by Christo­pher Alexan­der. It will change the way you see the world.

2 Responses to “The Books that Sold Me on Design”

  1. You know, I wasn’t quite as moved by The New Typog­ra­phy, but that was also a while ago, so maybe I should give it another shot.

    Good post all around. The design of your blog is also really refresh­ing and different..makes me want to rethink my blog..if I ever get around to fin­ish­ing the design.

  2. […] This post was men­tioned on Twit­ter by IDSA and Joe Moak, Mechelle Busby. Mechelle Busby said: The Books that Sold Me on Design | vio­let­minded http://bit.ly/6uW8St […]

  3. Dave Doolin says:

    Grid Sys­tems” is *crit­i­cal* for any­one even remotely inter­ested in design.

    I also have Elam’s “Typo­graphic Sys­tems” and Lupton’s “Think­ing with Type.”

    Nor­man I’m not as sold on. He could have made it an eas­ier, more pow­er­ful read.

    BTW — I like the for­est green. Still main­tain you need a bit more orange for punch. Go spin that color wheel, woman.
    Dave Doolin´s last blog ..Lurk­ers, Sabo­teurs & Gauntlets… it’s Two Weeks in Review! My ComLuv Profile

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