Recommended GD Books

“Nothing satisfies like learning and, through knowledge, having the power to understand and be able to do better work.”

Alex W. White 7These are books which I have found useful with links to further information on each at They are in no particular order – they are cascading simply in the order that my hand reached them on the shelves.

carolineroberts-graphicdesignvisionaries-itsnicethat-1Having written several chapters on the histories of graphic design and typography for my own books, I have learned that understanding the human aspect of design history is absolutely essential. Famous works – like those shown in this book – don’t come out of nothing, they come out of a person. So meeting 75 of the best is a good exercise. This book shows designers’ greatest hits and introduces us to their makers. By definition, nothing unique in this book, but good content well presented at a fair price (in dollars and reading time). Caroline Roberts is based in London and is co-editor of grafik magazine.

GDIdeaBook and 100IdeasSteven Heller (anything by Steven Heller is well worth our consideration) teams up with two co-authors, Gail Anderson on the yellow book (2016) and Veronique Vienne on the red one (2014). These two books mine comparable territory. They show examples of graphic design ideas selected from the graphic design canon, meaning many are historically familiar. I have twice used the red book in class and recommend it with one caveat: the text references alternate examples but does not show them. This is not a big problem if the alternates are described as supporting studies, but often the alternates are described as primacy in history or excellence, which is puzzling. The teaching workaround is to assign students to Google the other examples. But pedagogically and in principle, defining 100 graphic design ideas is valuable exposure. In contrast, the yellow book describes only 50 ideas, so it might be thought of as a distillation of the red book. In my opinion, the text in the yellow book is better, so it is a more compelling teaching and learning tool.

Typography, Referenced.
Ina Saltz, Allan Haley, Richard Poulin, et al. ||| Comprehensive. That’s the first word that comes to mind with this remarkable 400-page compilation of information. But that happens to be the first word on the back of the book, chosen by the editors and publicity mavens at the publisher, Rockport. So perhaps it’s suspect. At least, I rarely trust the blurb copy written by marketing people. Instead, let’s try inclusive, thorough, sweeping, or wall-to-wall. Each is an accurate descriptor of this valuable and necessary volume. ||| Typography, Referenced was prepared by a small group of highly-qualified authors. The lead is Ina Saltz, who worked with Allan Haley, Kathryn Henderson, Gerry Leonidas, Richard Poulin, Jason Tselentis, Tony Seddon, and Tyler Alterman. Some of these contributors are world-known, some are up-and-comers showing terrific promise. To a person, they present their sections with clarity and authority. ||| The 8.5″x10″ hardcover book is presented in ten sections, each a thorough and relentless attack on typographic ignorance: “Type History and Timeline,” “Type Classification and Identification,” “Type Design and Development,” “Type Designers,” “Type Foundries,” “Typefaces and Specimens,” “Typographic Principles,” “Contemporary Usage: Designing with Type,” “Typographic Terminology and Language,” and “Type Management.” The eleventh section is a delicious list of “Type-Specific Resources,” like schools, publications, organizations, films, collections, online resources, and illustrated bibliography. (Full disclosure: two of my books are listed in that section.) ||| Good points: 1/ Nothing typographic has been overlooked; 2/ Beautiful full color throughout; 3/ The design of the book is understated and stays out of the way of the tasty content; 4/ Concise seven-page Glossary that covers the essentials for the prospective reader of this book but doesn’t get lost in the weeds of type minutiae – that I admit some readers might miss; 5/ Yummy section on “Contemporary Usage” shows eighty pages of imaginative type used in posters, books, magazines, collateral, identity, advertising, packaging, signage, and interactive. You can’t get excited looking at this? You better reach for a TDC Annual, the only place better stocked with tasty type bits; and 6/ Makes a killer textbook: a seriously-full semester’s read. It also makes an outstanding reference work for pro’s inspiration. ||| On the other hand: 1/ The most-welcome section on Type Designers profiles 69 individuals, and not one of them is shown. The point of describing who they are would have been immeasurably advanced if photos of them had been included. Give them their humanity!; 2/ In the same section, 21 type designers’ work is represented not with samples of their types in use, but with 8p6 squares of letterform abstractions that don’t revel the types adequately. Or, really, at all. Pity no one could secure samples of all 69 designers’ works. The 48 designers who do rate proper descriptive imagery look like first class citizens among the firmament; 3/ The illustrations for the more mundane aspects of type, like Parts of Letterforms, and Type Classification (and to a lesser extent two other sections), do not look as sexy and interesting as the inherently pretty sections of this book. They make the nuts and bolts of type look like a chore. “Creativity” looks more fun, but the functionality of type – its real usefulness – looks second rate and unfunny. That’s an unfortunate message for typographic newbies who most need that material. ||| This is a superb addition to the canon. I recommend it with enthusiasm.

Do You Matter? coverDo you matter? How great design will make people love your company by Robert Brunner (of Ammunition) and Stewart Emery (an executive coach) is a clearly-written book on how good design affects the emotions of a business’ customers. As they say early on, “design establishes the relationship between your company and your customers.” This happens through multiple touch points, from first contact in advertising to how you buy it to opening the box to using it to getting support after the sale. Their big question is “How do make your customers root for your success?”

Verlag Hermann Schmidt MainzIf there were a single publisher whose entire library I could find delivered in an unexpected visit by FedEx, it would be Bertram and Karin’s magnificent library from VHS Mainz. They specialize is beautifully produced books on three subject categories: typography, graphic design, and creativity. They have a quote from Victorian-era art critic John Ruskin on their “Printed in Germany with love” Web page: When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. VHS Mainz has deservedly won many awards for their fine work. They honor the book as object. While most of their books are in German, the visual content and first rate design and production values put their books on a shelf of their own. Visit their site and poke around:

Stop Stealing Sheep by Erik Spiekermann and E.M. Ginger. This classic book on typography is now in its Third Edition and umpteenth printing. Around since 1993, this smallish paperback uses many unexpected resources to describe type relationships. It is impossible to remain ignorant of typographic ideas after reading this book. This is partly so because of questions like, “How do you design stories about children born with three heads, or families that glow in the dark, or nine-month-old babies who can bench-press their moms?” By the way, “Stop stealing sheep,” is a reference to Frederic W. Goudy’s warning that “Anyone who would letterspace lowercase letters would steal sheep.” That would a pretty amoral individual indeed!

Above the Fold: Understanding the Principles of Successful Web Site Design by Brian D. Miller. This book explains how to think about Web design. It also covers basic design principles as they pertain to Web design from an award-winning designer and superb explainer, Brian Miller. This book is broken into three parts: Web Design and Typography; Planning & Usability; and Business Value. While Web-crafting software changes about every two years, this book addresses issues that float above that battle. Lots of great visuals, a handsome design, this is for you the reader as effortless a book on a complex subject as has ever existed.

TDC’s Typography is the best annual compilation of type design and type use in the world. What makes it so? For over fifty years, this competition has identified the best of the best from all over the world. The Annuals have three sections: type use, type design, and motion titles. The pieces you see in these books are juried in, ensuring they are deemed the best by highly qualified opinionators.

CommArts has stood at the top of the professional journals heap for decades. They spend a lot of time digging out up-and-coming designers and have impeccable taste in identifying trends. Plus their columnists add thoughtful discussion of design topics. If you happen to be in art school, their student subscription discount is admirable and well worth asking Santa for in your first semester.

Eric Gill Essay on Typography coverAn Essay on Typography by Eric Gill. First published in 1931, probably at the same time as he was designing Solus, one of his lesser-known typefaces,
and nine years before his death, this squat book gives attitude and wisdom aplenty. Paul Rand reviewed it for the New York Times Book Review, so it has earned its literary credentials. Best $12 type book purchase you can make. Two tastes: “…Fancy plays a much less important part in work than reason… (and) in typography the use of colour is a reasonable and not a fancy matter…” “There are now about as many different varieties of letters as there are different kinds of fools.”

Carl Dair Design With Type coverDesign with Type by Carl Dair. Dair (1912-1967) was a professor of design at the University of Toronto and this book, first published in the year of his death, is his legacy. It treats typographic ideas with simplicity and great clarity. Note his use of a vertical hyphen in the book’s text: it is an obvious and unexpected solution to a perplexing problem of visual evenness in the days before digitally hung punctuation. Brilliant! PS: Dair authored a series of six 5¼” x 9″ booklets for Westvaco between 1964-1968 called A Typographic Quest, which are very well worth hunting around for.

Stanley Morison A Tally of Types coverA Tally of Types by Stanley Morison. Brief histories of twenty typefaces (Baskerville, Bembo, Centaur, Garamond, Perpetua, Times New Roman, etc.) written by the extraordinarily capable fellow who oversaw their drawing and manufacture for the Monotype Corporation. Each of the entries is typeset in the face being discussed, so you can immediately see and feel what is being described.

Jan Tschichold The New Typography coverThe New Typography by Jan Tschichold. 1928, Berlin: a 26-year-old artist hammers together a polemic against the longstanding decorative, unrevealing design of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and reframes design as a reflection of the machine age in which he found himself. This book still illuminates how we think of design today. Jan Tschichold did move past the beliefs he codified in this book, but they were so startling and provocative in their time, they remain a touchstone for every serious graphic design student. Well worth a stopover.

Herbert Spencer Pioneers of Modern Typography coverPioneers of Modern Typog-raphy by Herbert Spencer. First published in 1969, this lavishly illustrated book profiles El Lissitzky, van Doesburg, Schwitters, Werkman, Zwart, Schuitema, Rodchenko, Moholy-Nagy, Bayer, and Tschichold back to back to back. This tour will surely get your juices flowing. Spencer was the editor of The Penrose Annual, a highly regarded British design compendium that sadly went extinct in 1982. Rick Poyner, the founder and editor of Eye magazine and a prolific design writer, has added valuably to the newest edition.

Tom Peters Design Innovate Differentiate Communicate Cover

A renowned business consultant’s brief take on the need for and benefit of design as a business tool. Tom Peters’ Design has five chapters: 1/ Design: The Soul of New Enterprise; 2/Beautiful Systems: Design’s Long Coattails; 3/ Design in Action: Providing Memorable Experiences; 4/ Experiences-Plus: Embracing the “Dream” Business; 5/ At the Summit of Design: Branding From the Heart. What may be the single most valuable page is the very last one: Tom Peters’ Say it Loud – The Essentials Manifesto.

Font The Sourcebook Nadine Monem, Ed Cover

Font. The Sourcebook. An eclectic group of articles and visual essays on typography by invited authors including Ed Fella, Domenic Lippa of Pentagram, Peter Bil´ak, Sam Winston, myself, and others, populate this British book. The last third of the book profiles fifty types. From the back cover: “The changing shape of letterforms is explored against the backdrop of changing technologies, social mores and artistic movements, culminating in a look at the ever-evolving ways that humans have created meaning through the written word.”

Ruari Mclean Jan Tschichold A Life in Typography cover

Jan Tschichold: A Life in Typography by Ruari McLean puts the achievements and career arc of one of the greatest design thinkers and practitioners into clear and distinct focus in this excellent visually-heavy biography. From the opening: “Jan Tschichold made two unique contributions to the history and practice of typography. The first was that, as a young design student, he saw and was inspired by the modern movement proclaimed by Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1923. Tschichold showed…how the new ideas could be used to improve the design of ordinary, day-to-day printing … The second was when, having been hounded out of Germany by the Nazis as a preacher of what they called ‘Kultur-Bolschewismus,’ Tschichold saw that asymmetry was not the only way to design printed matter … Tschichold’s contribution to the typography of the twentieth century was to show the importance of getting all the details right – with elegance.” Factoid: Tschichold’s final commission was to design a three-member typeface family that would look the same whether handset (on Monotype) or machine set (on Linotype). This was a daunting technical problem. The result was Sabon, a brilliant aesthetic achievement as well.

Marc-Alain Ouaknin Mysteries of the Alphabet CoverMysteries of the Alphabet: The Origins of Writing by Marc-Alain Ouaknin, originally published in French, is a comprehensive telling of the development of writing through the pictogram (a drawing of a thing), ideogram (a drawing of an abstraction or an idea), and phonogram (a drawing that represents a sound). It then takes us through the evolution of the alphabet, from the Phoenicians, Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans. Each of our 26 letters is given a “Summary Table” of its historical and drawn development. For example, the letter “M” is derived from mem, the proto-Sinaitic writing representing a stream of water. It once was drawn as a short ziggy-zaggy line much like a child’s rendition of the surface of water.

Westvaco Issue 198 coverWestvaco (The West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company) sponsored an extraordinary series of promotional magazines called the Westvaco Inspiration for Printers between 1925 and 1962. Bradbury Thompson art directed (and there was real art in his art direction) about sixty issues between 1939 and the end of the magazine. Shown is issue number 198 from 1954. Westvaco Inspirations was sent out to about 35,000 printers, designers, and others who specified and bought printing paper. Because it explored printing at the highest possible standards of the day, it used rotogravure (ink in hollows on the plate), letterpress (ink on raised surfaces on the plate), and offset lithography (ink transferred onto a rubber blanket from a chemically-treated plate), often with the addition of die cuts to accentuate the three dimensional nature of paper and the sequentiality of pages. But Thompson’s mastery of form, using type, photography and paintings – and most significantly – space, is what ensures these publications’ place in design history. Thompson, who received every honor imaginable from the AIGA, ADC, SPD, and TDC, frequently made direct design reference to printing processes themselves, thereby elevating commercial printing as an authentic art form. As he said, “The printing press and the print shop were my canvas, easel, and second studio.” It is not easy to find copies of Westvaco Inspirations, but the best place I have found is at library book sales: collections from retired – or deceased – professionals occasionally are donated and sold for a few dollars a copy. Bound sets can also be found. I have uploaded high definition JPGs of spreads I scanned from three issues from my own collection.