Zoë Ryan

Curator; Academic; Writer; Editor; Lecturer / Architecture; Product Design / United States / The Art Institute of Chicago

Books Every Product Designer Should Read

As the field of design becomes ever more complex, reaching into increasingly diverse areas of practice, designers are arming themselves with an expanded toolbox of methodologies and approaches in an effort to create projects that defy traditional disciplinary boundaries and more effectively speak to contemporary modes of practice and ways of living. . . . View the complete text
20 books
Janine M. Benyus

Nature—its forms, structures, and organizing principles—has been a constant source of inspiration for designers bent on transforming and rethinking our built environment. The level of experimentation around this theme has intensified in recent years as more ambitious modeling software, digital tools, and greater collaborations with scientists and biologists have afforded a greater range of possibilities in the exploration of the relationship of human beings with the environment. This book, along with Nature Design—although very different—explores how designers and other innovators are striving to create work that relies on direct contact with our natural surroundings.

William McDonough
Michael Braungart

A manifesto for our time.

Alastair Fuad-Luke

Fuad-Luke’s book is rich with examples of inventive approaches to design that emphasize collective rather than individual efforts, with networks of people and industry coming together to share their knowledge, skills, and resources as a method for generating more innovative and thoughtful solutions to numerous problems.

John Thackara

Design guru John Thackara makes clear the need for objects and buildings that are not only concerned with delivering a result but also, and more important, take into consideration the process of use.

Alex Coles

Seminal texts such as George Nelson’s 1957 article “Good Design: What Is It For?” as well as more recent writings from critics such as Rick Poynor and Hal Foster make for interesting insights into the contentious relationship between art and design.

Victor Papanek

Victor Papanek’s belief that designers should not purely mine the realm of design discourse for inspiration, but should create work that responds to the contemporary sociological, psychological, or ecological environment seems more relevant than ever in today’s challenging times.

Cameron Sinclair Architecture for Humanity, Editor
Kate Stohr Architecture for Humanity, Editor

This book illustrates the power of design to change lives and emphasizes the crucial work of organizations such as Architecture for Humanity.

Georg Flachbart

Gives a great overview of how digital technologies are changing the nature and intent of our built environment, blurring distinctions between the real and virtual, and challenging architects and designers to rethink how information is represented and displayed.

Janet Abrams Editor
Peter Hall Editor

Any discussion today of private and public spaces must include not only the design of buildings, objects, and the physical landscape but also the increased influence of data flows that run through them. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in new forms of mapping and data visualization.

Jonathan Chapman

Jonathan Chapman makes an articulate case for the need for objects and buildings with strong narratives that can help forge bonds with users through their inherent storytelling qualities.

Carl Honoré

Honoré believes that by rethinking the fluidity and pace of subject-object relationships, and following a more intuitive approach, people will have much richer, more significant experiences. His ideas are inherent in the Slow Food movement, as well as Slow Design, which emphasize sustainable approaches to contemporary production and consumption and a more mindful approach to daily life.

Steven Johnson

A clear analysis of how technology has transformed how we interact with and understand the world through a network of thoughts and ideas.

Deyan Sudjic

Deyan Sudjic eloquently sums up the importance of design: “Design in all its manifestations is the DNA of an industrial society or of a post-industrial society, if that’s what we now have. It’s the code we need to explore if we are to stand a chance of understanding the nature of the modern world.” 

A mainstay of discussions concerning the built landscape.

Philip Kasinitz

A fantastic compendium of texts on the city, including American historian Lewis Mumford’s 1938 essay “The Culture of Cities,” in which he includes this memorable description of city life. “By the diversity of its time-structures, the city in part escapes the tyranny of a single present, and the monotony of a future that consists in repeating only a single beat heard in the past. Through its complex orchestration of time and space, no less than through the social division of labor, life in the city takes on the character of a symphony: specialized human aptitudes, specialized instruments, give rise to sonorous results which, neither in volume nor in quality, could be achieved by any single piece.”

Angeli Sachs Editor

See my comments on Biomimicry.

Miwon Kwon

This book inspired my interest in temporary and permanent interventions in public space as a forum for activating the city, bringing people together, prompting discovery, and helping to promote understanding and tolerance.

George Kubler

A fascinating book that explores our understanding of time and of our place within history, the present, and even the future.

Naoto Fukasawa

A manifesto calling for an appreciation of the well-designed objects we use every day that often go overlooked or get taken for granted, written by two designers committed to producing work based on early modernist principles and founded on conceptual rigor and the employment of innovative technology and an honest use of materials.

Setha M. Low

An ambitious anthropological study of twelve cities in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe that looks at issues of race, class, gender, and politics as understood within an urban context.

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