Useful design books



How’s your summer reading list? Would anyone care to share titles of good design books?

Some of my favourites are out of print but I’ll share them anyway. No promises they’ll be easy to acquire…

  • How Designers Think: the design process demystified by Brian Lawson. This is a terrific book for understanding design process. If you’re short of time I suggest chapters 1 and 3. The examples are mostly architecture and industrial design but I think the book is relevant to all design and certainly three-dimensional design.
  • Rapid Viz: a new method for the rapid visualisation of ideas by Hanks and Belliston. Every time I flick thought this book I’m reminded of how much of my teaching philosophy is derived from it, certainly in regard to visual thinking. I’m pretty sure this is out of print but may still be available from some sources.
  • Understanding Comics: the invisible art by Scott McCloud. This remarkable book uses the form of the comic to examine comics (‘sequential art’) and in the process delves into human perception, style, communication, narrative, it’s amazing. It’s immediately relevant to graphics and interaction design students but if you have students who are interested in comics (and you do) this might be a good book to help them reflect on design.
  • The Non-Designer’s Design Book: design and typographic principles for the visual novice by Robin Williams. The PARC principles (proximity, alignment, repetition, contrast) are useful for understanding graphic design but surprisingly applicable to three-dimensional design too. (For some reason my students find it easier to remember the acrynom ‘CRAP’.)

I’m sure this is the start of a very long list of useful books. Please share your suggestions.


For me, one for starters is:

  • The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman. I have to admit I’ve never read it cover to cover but I love it as one of the founding texts of design science. It is really at it’s heart all about user-centred design before that was such a buzz-word.

Also, put me down as an other vote for How Designers Think. That’s the textbook I learnt with in design school and it still stands out as a good one.


I am currently reading Emotional Design, Why we love (or hate) everyday things Thanks for the suggestions


Good book and very accessible. It was originally titled ‘The Psychology of Everyday Things’ with the acronym ‘POET’ so you may come across the old title sometimes. Norman wrote quite a few books but this one is probably the best.

On the topic of sustainability and design:

  • Cradle to Cradle: remaking the way we make things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart is a pretty good place to start.
  • Time To Eat the Dog?: the real guide to sustainable living by Robert and Brenda Vale is very interesting. The Vales measure sustainability of all activities, things and food to the land area or energy required to create and support them. “Because energy can be ‘grown’ in the form of trees and fuel crops, it is possible to convert one measure into the other…”. These calculations produce some interesting recommendations. For example, apparently dragon boat racing is the most sustainable sport because it uses sustainable materials and doesn’t use dedicated spaces. An interesting book for provoking discussion.
  • Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek is probably the granddaddy of books about responsible design. First published in 1974 and, while dated, still relevant.


Understand Comics, awesome choice. After teaching for 20 years I finally have a legitimate reason to have my entire class focused on Comics. Woohoo

From your friendly neighbourhood,



I’m currently getting a lot out of “Sketching the User Experience” by Bill Buxton.

The bit that I really recommend for teaching the Design subject is the workbook, this one:

It is basically a whole collection of exercises that would fit well with the curriculum, things like:

  • students using photo sampling of designs in the real world (good, bad, inspiring) as a jumping off point of discussions
  • detailed sketching exercises including warm-ups that will work well for beginners
  • making hybrid sketches with photos
  • combining foam-core and sketching


Here is a link to some good design books that are free to download.

I thought this one on prototyping was particularly relevant although their definition of prototyping is so broad that it includes sketching. The unpacking of the purpose and levels of fidelity was useful and also gives a few tips and resources on digital prototyping that I didn’t know about.


Chapter ten from moggridge “designing interactions” has some great quotes about what design is, the role of constraints, etc.


“Brisbane Art Deco”
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