Reading List from a Designer Founder

Hey, this is Harrison with NUMI, a guild of engineers and designers ready to grow with your company.

Today, I thought I'd share some titles I've collected over the years. Some of the books were suggested by our very own NUMI guild pros and my designer buddies - I appreciate the help. There are a handful of books you might expect to see, but some you might not (including some from my childhood!).

For context, I'm the co-founder of NUMI, a Y Combinator company. I graduated from RISD and was a product designer building teams for the better part of a decade in San Francisco before starting NUMI.

These books are for everyone, designer or not, novice to expert; get your hands on these, and you’ll be better prepared to approach the design discipline. They'll cover the following topics:

  • Allowing design to shape you
  • Design thinking
  • Accessible and inclusionary design
  • The business and branding of design
  • Visual, information architecture, and experience design

Allowing design to shape you

The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda

John Maeda was the president of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) during the time I was there, and it was a pleasure seeing some of the principles found in this book reflected in my experience during my four years there. In The Laws of Simplicity, Maeda explores how we can achieve greater simplicity in our lives. He begins by discussing the concept of "the paradox of choice," which states that the more options we have, the more difficult it is to decide. Maeda argues that this paradox also applies to how we live our lives and that the proliferation of choices has made us both stressed and unhappy. To combat this, Maeda prescribes several "laws" that can help us to simplify our lives and find greater happiness. These laws include "eliminate the unnecessary," "do one thing at a time," and "think about process, not product." By following these guidelines, Maeda believes we can enjoy greater simplicity and satisfaction in our lives.

Wordless Trilogy by Aaron Becker

Aaron Becker's "Wordless Trilogy" is a masterpiece of visual storytelling. Through color, line, and composition, Becker creates three stories that are both accessible and profound at once. In the first book, "Journey," a young girl uses a magic marker to enter a fantastical world of flying machines and castles in the sky. In the second book, "Quest," the girl must team up with a brave fox to save her kingdom from an evil emperor. And in the third book, "Return," the girl returns home to find that her adventure has transformed her world. The "Wordless Trilogy" is a stunning achievement in picture-book making and makes for a great bedtime read if you have kids.

Self-Portrait as Your Traitor by Debbie Millman

Debbie Millman's book, Self-Portrait as Your Traitor, is a collection of essays that explore the themes of betrayal and self-doubt. Millman is a highly respected graphic designer, and her experience in the industry gives her a unique perspective on the challenges faced by women in the workplace. In her essays, she candidly discusses her struggles with impostor syndrome and self-doubt and how she has learned to overcome them. She also interviews other successful women who have faced similar challenges and shares their stories of strength and resilience. These stories provide encouragement and inspiration for anyone who has ever felt like they are not good enough. Self-Portrait as Your Traitor is an essential read for anyone who wants to learn how to overcome self-doubt and achieve their goals.

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

Creativity Inc. is a book by Ed Catmull, co-founder, and president of Pixar Animation Studios. The book explores the history of Pixar and its unique culture, which has nurtured some of the most creative minds in the film industry. Catmull describes how he and his team have been able to consistently produce hit films, such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Inside Out. He attributes much of their success to their focus on creativity and innovation. One of the key insights from the book is that creativity is not just about coming up with new ideas; it's also about taking risks and learning from failures. This is something that Catmull and his team have always embraced, and it's one of the reasons why Pixar has been so successful. If you're interested in learning more about how to foster creativity in your own life or organization, Creativity Inc. is worth a read.

The Longest Day of the Future by Lucas Varela

The Longest Day of the Future is a gripping science fiction novel by Lucas Varela. It tells the story of a group of scientists working on a time machine that will allow them to travel back in time and prevent a future catastrophe. However, when they test the device, they find themselves stranded in a post-apocalyptic world where they must fight for survival. The Longest Day of the Future is an exciting and suspenseful novel that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is a tour de force of comic book analysis and history. McCloud breaks down the various elements of comics, from the gutters that separate panels to the use of onomatopoeia, and explains how they work together to create meaning. He also traces the origins of comics, from early hieroglyphs to modern superhero stories, and shows how the medium has evolved. Throughout the book, McCloud's insights are both penetrating and entertaining, making Understanding Comics an essential work for anyone interested in this fascinating art form.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

A subtle masterclass in user research read about the journey through many cities with Calvino's high-fidelity descriptions and observations. Through these stories, the character Polo describes his travels to various cities and empires worldwide. Some cities are based on real places, while others are entirely imaginary. However, all cities share a common theme of beauty and mystery. The stories are intricately detailed, each paints a unique picture of a different place. While some cities are prosperous and thriving, others are in decline or have been completely abandoned. Overall, Invisible Cities is an imaginative and captivating work that offers a glimpse into different worlds and cultures.

Design thinking

Thinking in Systems by Cennydd Bowles

In Thinking in Systems, Cennydd Bowles offers readers a crash course in systems thinking. He begins by explaining what systems are and how they operate. He then explores how humans interact with systems and how our actions can lead to unintended consequences. Throughout the book, Bowles uses real-world examples to illustrate his points. For instance, he discusses how the introduction of predators can help control an overpopulation of prey, how financial incentives can lead to unethical behavior, and how a change in one part of a system can cause ripple effects throughout the entire system. By the end of the book, readers will have a better understanding of how systems work and how we can use this knowledge to make better decisions.

The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher

The Art of Looking Sideways is a book unlike any other. Part visual dictionary, part puzzle book, and part design manual encourage readers to think creatively about their world. Author Alan Fletcher believes that we all can see the world in new and innovative ways, but that too often, we get bogged down in the routine of everyday life. The Art of Looking Sideways helps to liberate the mind from these constraints, providing a playful approach to problem-solving that can be applied to any situation. With its captivating illustrations and thought-provoking exercises, The Art of Looking Sideways is an indispensable tool for anyone interested in unlocking their creativity.

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things is a book that changed how we think about design. Norman argues that good design is not just about making things look good but about making them accessible and intuitive to use. He gives the example of a door handle: it should be designed so anyone can figure out how to use it without thinking about it. This may seem small, but Norman shows how lousy design can significantly impact our lives, making everyday tasks needlessly tricky and frustrating. The Design of Everyday Things is an essential read for anyone interested in design, and its insights are as relevant today as they were when the book was first published.

I Wonder by Marian Bantjes

Marian Bantjes is a world-renowned graphic artist known for her intricate and beautiful patterns. In her latest book, I Wonder, Bantjes explores the importance of creativity and self-expression. Through a series of short essays, each illustrated with one of her signature designs, Bantjes shares her thoughts on art, life, and the creative process. I Wonder both an inspiring read for creatives and a beautiful work of art in its own right. Whether you're looking for some words of wisdom or enjoy admiring pretty things, this book is sure to delight you.

The Best Interface is No Interface by Golden Krishna

In The Best Interface is No Interface, Golden Krishna challenges the notion that more user interface is always better. He makes the case that many gadgets and devices we use today are making our lives worse, not better. For example, he argues that our dependence on screens has led to increased staring contests and a decrease in face-to-face interactions. He also points out that the constant interruptions from notifications and alerts can lead to a state of perpetual distraction. Instead of creating more and more interfaces, Krishna advocates for designing products and services that minimize or eliminate the need for interaction. Doing so can create a more seamless and intuitive user experience that didn't rely on constant attention and interrupted flow states. In summary, The Best Interface is No Interface is a thought-provoking book that makes a strong case against the proliferation of interfaces in our modern world.

Accessible and inclusionary design

The Senses: Design Beyond Vision by Ellen Lupton and Andrea Lipps

The Senses: Design Beyond Vision is a fascinating book that explores the role of the senses in design. Lupton and Lipps argue that the traditional focus on vision has led to a neglect of the other reasons, which can result in designs that are not user-friendly. They provide numerous examples of how incorporating all senses can create more successful strategies, from products to buildings to public spaces. The book contains fascinating information and will change your thoughts about design. Whether you're a professional designer or simply someone who appreciates good design, this book is worth checking out.

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

In his book Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug describes the principles of good web design. He argues that the best websites are easy to use and understand without making the user overthink. To achieve this, Krug recommends keeping web pages clean and uncluttered, using familiar conventions, and providing clear and concise instructions. He also stresses the importance of testing websites with real users to catch potential problems. Overall, Don’t Make Me Think is an insightful and practical guide to creating user-friendly websites.

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes

In her book Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design, Kat Holmes argues that the design process should include all people, regardless of ability or background. She provides several examples to support her claim, including the case of a woman with cerebral palsy who could not use a standard computer mouse. The woman's needs were not considered during the design process, so she was effectively excluded from using the device. Holmes makes a compelling case that the design process must be inclusive to be effective. She offers readers several practical tips for creating more inclusive designs, and her book is sure to be valuable for anyone interested in the topic.

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery

In A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences, authors Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery provide a comprehensive guide to designing websites that are accessible to all users. The book covers a wide range of topics, from the basics of web accessibility to more advanced concepts such as cognitive biases and assistive technologies. The authors provide clear explanations and real-world examples to illustrate key points in each chapter. The result is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to create user-friendly, inclusive websites.

Cross-Culture Design by Senongo Akpem

In his book Cross-Culture Design, Senongo Akpem explores how design can be used to bridge cultural divides. He argues that design has the potential to bring people together by providing a common language and understanding. Akpem provides examples of how innovation has effectively improved cross-cultural communication and collaboration. He also offers insights into the challenges and opportunities posed by cross-cultural design. Overall, Cross-Culture Design is an informative and thought-provoking book that will interest designers, educators, and anyone interested in international relations.

The business and branding of design

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a fascinating book that closely examines the science of habit formation. Duhigg explains how habits are formed and why they are so powerful. He also shares practical tips for breaking bad habits and creating new, positive ones. The Power of Habit is an incredibly insightful book that will change how you think about your daily routines.

Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team by Alina Wheeler

In Designing Brand Identity, Alina Wheeler provides an essential guide for anyone involved in branding, from the creative director to the marketing manager. Drawing on her experience as a branding consultant, she outlines the process of creating a brand identity from start to finish. The book covers everything from market research and target audience analysis to developing a brand strategy and designing a visual identity. Throughout, Wheeler stresses the importance of collaboration among the entire branding team. Following her advice, businesses can create a solid and cohesive brand that will resonate with customers. Designing Brand Identity is an essential resource for anyone who wants to create a successful brand.

Branding: In Five and a Half Steps by Michael Johnson

In his book, Branding: In Five and a Half Steps, Michael Johnson provides readers with a comprehensive guide to creating and maintaining a successful brand. The book is divided into five sections: developing a brand strategy, creating a visual identity, managing the brand experience, promoting the brand, and protecting the brand. In each area, Johnson offers practical advice and real-world examples. He also includes checklists and exercises to help readers put his concepts into practice. Branding: In Five and a Half Steps is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in creating a solid and enduring brand.

Copy this Book: An Artist’s Guide to Copyright by Eric Schrijver

Copyright can be confusing, but Eric Schrijver's Copy This Book aims to demystify the subject for artists and creators. The book starts with a brief history of copyright law before diving into more contemporary issues. Schrijver covers everything from fair use and public domain to licenses and contracts, providing clear explanations and real-world examples. He also offers guidance on when and how to register copyrights and tips for dealing with infringement. Copy This Book is an essential resource for understanding your rights and protecting your work, whether you're a visual artist, musician, writer, or filmmaker.

How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy

Adrian Shaughnessy's book "How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul" guides aspiring designers who want to learn the ropes of the industry without sacrificing their creative integrity. The book covers topics such as finding your design voice, developing a personal style, and staying true to your vision in the face of client demands. Throughout, Shaughnessy offers advice and insights based on his experience in the field, making "How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul" an essential read for anyone interested in pursuing a career in graphic design.

Freelance, and Business, and Stuff by Amy and Jen Hood

Amy and Jen Hood's Freelance, and Business, and Stuff is a lighthearted yet practical guide to running a freelance business. The book covers a wide range of topics, from Time Management to Social Media Marketing, and includes plenty of tips and resources for getting started. One of the most valuable aspects of the book is its focus on the importance of networking. The authors emphasize that networking is not just about meeting new people but also about maintaining relationships with existing contacts. They also provide advice on building a solid network, including identifying potential mentors and collaborators. Overall, Freelance, Business, and Stuff is an informative and helpful resource for anyone interested in starting or growing a freelance business.

Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman

Blessing us with her presence, Debbie Millman does it again with another hit._ _It's a collection of essays that explores the field of branding. Millman, President of the design firm Sterling Brands, draws on her experience in the industry to provide insights into the creation and development of brands. The book covers a wide range of topics, from the history of branding to the importance of design in creating a solid brand identity. In addition, Millman offers advice on creating a brand that will resonate with customers and stand out in a crowded marketplace. With its mix of practical advice and fascinating case studies, "Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits" is essential reading for anyone interested in branding.

Visual, information architecture, and experience design

Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell

In Universal Principles of Design, William Lidwell provides an overview of essential design principles. Organized into sections, the book covers a wide range of topics, from the psychology of design to the politics of design. The book is packed with fascinating examples and insights, making it essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the principles that underlie good design. One of the book's key insights is that successful design is often the result of a careful balance between opposing forces. For example, simplicity and complexity, order and disorder, and function and form must be carefully balanced to create an effective design. By understanding these principles, designers can create beautiful and functional designs.

Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design by David Dabner, Sandra Stewart, and Eric Zempol

David Dabner, Sandra Stewart, and Eric Zempol's Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design is an excellent resource for anyone interested in graphic design. The book covers a wide range of topics, from the history of graphic design to the latest software and techniques. The authors provide clear explanations and helpful examples, making the book easy to understand even for those with no prior experience in graphic design. In addition, the appendices offer valuable resources for further study. Overall, Graphic Design School is an essential guide for anyone seeking to learn more about the field.

The Secret Lives of Color by Kas­sia St. Clair

In her debut book, The Secret Lives of Color, journalist Kassia St. Clair delves into the history, science, and culture behind our favorite hues. Through a series of fascinating stories, she explores the many ways that color has shaped our world. St. Clair reveals the hidden stories behind some of the world's most iconic shades, from the stealthy tactics of military generals to the sensational trials of poachers. Along the way, she sheds light on the fascinating science of color and its often-surprising impact on our lives. With equal parts wit and wisdom, St. Clair has crafted a captivating ode to color that will delight readers of all stripes.

Drawing Type: An Introduction to Illustrating Letterforms by Alex Fowkes

Drawing Type is an excellent introduction to the world of lettering and illustration. Alex Fowkes does a fantastic job of breaking down the various elements of typefaces, from strokes and serifs to negative space and flourishes. He also provides helpful tips on how to create your unique letterforms. The book includes several step-by-step tutorials and a gallery of stunning examples from some of the world's most talented illustrators. Drawing Type is sure to provide plenty of inspiration and guidance, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro.

Layout Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Using Grids by Beth Tondreau

This is packed with information on how to use grids effectively in your designs and includes plenty of examples to illustrate the points made. The book is divided into four sections: understanding grids, using grids, breaking the grid, and creating custom grids. In the first section, Tondreau covers the basics of grid theory, including explaining different types of grids and how they can be used. The second section discusses different ways to incorporate grids into your designs, including grid-based layouts, columns, and modularity. The third section explores more advanced concepts, such as breaking the grid and creating asymmetrical designs. Finally, the fourth section provides a detailed look at how to create custom grids tailored to your specific needs. Whether you're just starting using grids or looking to take your skills to the next level, Layout Essentials is an essential resource.

These are just a few of the many great design books out there. Adding them to your collection gives you a wealth of inspiration at your fingertips whenever you need it. Happy reading, and tell us what are some of your favorite design books down in the comments!