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Top Ten Design Books to Use for Creative Inspiration

May 07, 2020

While it's easy to spend a fruitless hour scouring Pinterest for ideas, more often than not, the spark of inspiration you actually need is sitting on your bookshelf. It's with this in mind that we've compiled a list of our top ten design books to use for creative inspiration.



1. Notes on Book Design - Derek Birdsall

For anyone designing a book, brochure or magazine, we'd strongly recommend picking up a copy of Notes on Book Design and reading it from cover to cover. It showcases the work of master book designer Derek Birdsall, but it's far more than just a compendium of his work. It's full of insight on things like typesetting, page layout, printing, binding... no detail is omitted. By the end of it, you will feel truly enlightened, and will have developed an enhanced appreciation of the book as an object in itself.

 



2. Type Only / Type and Image - Unit Editions

A collection of mainly posters from around the world, featuring some remarkably bold and daring typography. A great reminder that some of the best visuals come out of not following the "rules". 

 



3. Look Inside - Gestalten

Berlin based Gestalten are perhaps the most prolific publisher of design books out there. By now there's probably at least a few of their titles on every creative's bookshelf. Our personal favourite of theirs is Look Inside, a compilation of illustrations that reveal the unseen inner workings of everything from trees to dogs to trains. Our favourite pages are the educational illustrations of Richard Orr, the sorts of images one can spend hours studying and still discover new things.

 



4. Photograms - Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Moholgy-Nagy's photograms are a great lesson in the use of light, shadow, composition and negative space. Created between 1922-1945, even today nearly a century later, they still feel fresh and surprising.

 



5. Lubalin - Adrien Shaughnessy

We have to admit to being largely unaware of Herb Lubalin's work at the time of this book's publication. We took a punt on this one, as the publisher Unit Editions rarely disappoints. What we discovered inside was page after page of Lubalin's sumptuous typography. It's curvy, chunky and full of expression, meaning this volume has proved an endless resource of typographic inspiration.

 



6. Merz to Emigre and Beyond - Steven Heller

Author Steven Heller claims to have so many design books and magazines that he rents an entire second apartment just to house them. Here he dips into his hoard to look at "avant-garde magazine design of the twentieth century".

Titles from Soviet era Russia, 1960s psychedelic San Francisco and all the eclectic and underground locations in between are beautifully showcased and thoroughly analysed. We see page spreads featuring Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Theo Van Doesburg, Victor Moscoso... just open to a random page and you're bound to find something to be inspired by.

 



7. Factory Records, the Complete Graphic Album - Matthew Robertson

There's a fine line between 'coffee table book' and 'serious design book', and it's perhaps fair to say that Factory Records, the Complete Graphic Album straddles it. What shines through and elevates this to our list is Peter Saville's work, not only in his famous covers for Unknown Pleasures and Power Corruption and Lies, but equally some of his lesser known works featured within, like early 7" singles and promotional posters for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Saville's work is consistently mesmerising, and demonstrates the power of allowing one simple idea to take centre stage without distraction or clutter.

 



8. This is... series - Miroslav Sasek

Not technically a design book... in fact not technically a single book at all but a series of beautifully illustrated travel guides for children. These are also a must have source of inspiration for any creative, Sasek is a master of colour and composition. If you're lucky enough to have grandparents who've passed these down to you, then be sure to delve in - if not, don't worry they're still in print!

 



9. The Prints of Barnett Newman 1961-1969

Our copy is in German, so we only look at the pictures - but what beautiful pictures they are. Barnet Newman's mastery of colour and simple forms are the perfect reminder of the power of simplicity.

 



10. Envisioning Information / The Viual Display of Quantitive Information - Edward Tufte 

Tufte explains how to convey complex data and ideas visually, and gives wonderful examples of where getting the visuals right can make a difference. Sometimes the answer to your creative block is to go back to first principles - in this case there's no better author to turn to than Tufte.

 


 

Let us know what you think of our choices or if there's any we've missed!



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