Ellen Lupton

Curator; Writer; Lecturer; Designer; Educator / Graphic Design / United States / Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; Maryland Institute College of Art

Books Every Graphic Designer Should Read

I’m a designer who writes and a writer who likes to fuss with fonts, formats, and the techniques of publishing. Typography and writing are deeply connected. Writing makes thought exterior, converting fleeting notions into concrete things—indelible patterns of ink or pixels. My reading list includes in equal measure books that study (and exemplify) design processes and those that explore (and demonstrate) the qualities of strong writing. . . . View the complete text
12 books
David Lodge

This handy guidebook originated as a column in The Guardian (London). Written in an entertaining and accessible manner, Lodge’s book consists of short essays about literary techniques and concepts (beginnings, endings, dialogue, monologue, irony, point of view). Each essay is built around a substantial passage from some great work of fiction. It’s a wonderful book for any designer who likes to read and wants to write.

Hans Wingler

This oversized compendium of Bauhaus source material was designed with ruthless rationality for MIT Press by the great Muriel Cooper. It is the Old Testament of design theory.

Stephen King

After Kurt Vonnegut I read Stephen King, whose earliest books remain, to me, his most compelling. I feigned illness one Tuesday in ninth grade in order to consume Carrie without interruption. I was as shocked and aroused by King’s juxtaposition of straight narrative with fake news reports as I was by the mutual mass destruction of teenage girls. Any graphic designer interested in seeing popular culture practiced at its highest level will find astonishing inspiration in this camp masterpiece.

William Strunk Jr.
E. B. White
Maira Kalman Illustrator

There remains no better guide to writing than this classic work. E. B. White reframed the ideas of his own English teacher into a charmingly proscriptive guide to building seaworthy sentences. Maira Kalman repackaged The Elements of Style in a later edition by illustrating the original book’s exemplary prose with her concise, declarative paintings. No writer or designer should be deprived of Kalman’s ingenious reissue of this useful book.

Robert Bringhurst

Typography manuals abound, but few are a pleasure to read, handle, and behold. Bringhurst’s book is one of the best guides ever devised on the principles and practices of typography.

Roz Chast

Whenever I feel desperately uninspired and there’s no ice cream in the house, I turn to my tattered old copy of this classic work by Roz Chast. Here, middle-aged angst meets existential dread and ill-fitting trousers. Chast creates quirky worlds with some shaky lines and a few words. This book will get you going when you’re craving ideas—or just having a bad hair day.

Richard Hollis

This compact little history of graphic design contains over 800 illustrations. In his crisp, smart narrative, Hollis follows the profession from the late 19th century to the close of the 20th. His book is small enough to fit in your purse and rich enough to account for the basic history of our profession.

Roland Barthes

The essays collected in this book shook my intellectual world when I first read them in college, and I continue today to force these texts upon my graduate students, who don’t always have the patience to wade through Barthes’s dense style. The reward is there for the patient. (If only the French had read Strunk and White.)

The first edition of this world-changing manifesto was designed by Muriel Cooper. Alas, the original design finds little expression in the current editions, but the text remains a profound celebration of surface. This is the New Testament of design theory.

Jacques Derrida

Derrida unleashed upon civilization his viral concept of “deconstruction” in this hugely influential text. The book is largely unreadable to Muggles like me, but its commentary on the interaction of writing, speech, and typography has shaped the way I read, write, and design. Its repercussions in the fields of art, design, literature, and fashion are legendary.

Kurt Vonnegut

I was determined at age ten to read all the works of Kurt Vonnegut. My vintage collection of four-dollar paperbacks still sits in my library. Vonnegut’s books successfully warped my preadolescent mind—none more so than Slaughterhouse-Five, which randomly mixes science fiction with vivid accounts of chaos and destruction during World War II. Novels like this one can inspire designers to think anew about the mixing of genres and vocabularies and the ability of words to create enduring images.

Emil Ruder

Ruder’s succinctly titled book embodies the ideals of the Swiss international style in its text, its visual content, and its rigorously structured pages. Whatever your own postmodern proclivities might be, this book endures as a masterpiece of method.

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