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Vox Media design team’s top 19 books to read this year

A roundup of some of our designers’ favorite books about design, writing, technology, and more

Image by: Steven Vuong

Vox Media’s design team is a literate bunch. We’ve shared 19 fantastic books on design, branding, communication, and even cooking to get you inspired in 2018. Dig up that library card and get in touch with your inner nerd.

Design

Take a deep dive into the world of branding, typography, storytelling, and data visualization.

2. Size-specific adjustments to type designs

By Tim Ahrens and Shoko Mugikura

An overview of optical sizes in type design that can help designers gain a better understanding of perception and reading distance. Filled with lots of great examples—it’ll change the way you look at type. — Andrew Johnson

3. Dorfsman & CBS

By Dick Hess

Lou Dorfsman worked at CBS for over 40 years and shaped everything about the media company’s public (and private) facing materials. He dictated the design and experience of everything down to the exit signs in their corporate headquarters. He’s shamefully under-represented in design history books—perhaps because he worked in-house—but for designers like us, he represents the pinnacle of what a designer can accomplish at a large company. Must-read for brand and system designers as well as designers working in advertising.  —Bethany Heck

4. Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic’s History of the 20th Century

by Art Chantry,‎ edited by Monica René Rochester

Art Chantry is a legendary designer from Washington State. He basically defined the poster of the “grunge era” to the point where had to move from Seattle to Tacoma because his style was hijacked. This book has a great perspective on design/design history for anyone who doesn’t want to read Steven Heller.  —Keith Rowland

5. Design is Storytelling

By Ellen Lupton

Good design, like good storytelling, brings ideas to life. The latest book from award-winning writer Ellen Lupton is a playbook for creative thinking, showing designers how to use storytelling techniques to create satisfying graphics, products, services and experiences. Whether crafting a digital app or a data-rich publication, designers invite people to enter a scene and explore what’s there. An intriguing logo, page layout or retail space uses line, shape and form to lead users on dynamic journeys. —Courtney Leonard

7. The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics: The Do’s and Don’ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures

By Dona M. Wong

This is one of my favorite books on data design. It's super consumable and concise and gives very clear best practices/rules of thumb. It presents not only examples of how to best present data, but also how to deal with common edge cases and avoid common mistakes. I only wish that this was updated for interactions and screens, as it's geared toward print. —John Ratajczak

Art director Jen Lindberg’s design book recommendations

Technology, architecture, and related miscellany

Examine about how our design decisions impact the world around us, and see your environment in a new way.

8. Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech

By Sara Wachter-Boettcher

This book takes a critical look at how tech influences real life, with real people, in real scenarios. It helped to open my eyes to all of the ways that user experience can fail a user, and reveals a new way to look at digital products and make them work for everyone. This book is extremely relevant for anyone who designs digital experiences, helping to analyze why they are making certain design decisions. It’s a newly published book and I already find myself referencing it. —Katie Kovalcin

10. How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built

By Stewart Brand

In one of the most fascinating coffee table books you will ever buy for a friend and end up keeping for yourself, Brand takes a deep look at how living and working spaces evolve over time to meet changing human needs, often in ways that are add odds with modern trends toward architecture-as-sculpture. Filled with hundreds of photographs and dozens of case studies, it’s light but critical reading for anyone choosing an office space, building a home, or longing for a richer understanding of how people both affect and respond to their environments.

It’s also a kind of proto-bible for the field that would come to be known as User Experience. A photograph of a building doesn’t nearly tell the whole story of an interactive space, and neither does a screenshot of a website. Just as our physical spaces deserve to be designed with flexibility and adaptation in mind, we should deliberately plan our digital environments and experiences to evolve over time. Impressively, when Jesse James Garrett conceived of his Elements of User Experience matrix as a way to understand the layered systems at play in digital products, he was unaware that Steward Brand had mapped out a perfectly analogous grid to understand how the SITE, STRUCTURE, SERVICES, SKIN, and STUFF of a building can guide, limit, or empower the humans within. —Ryan Gantz

11. Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

By Lawrence Wechsler

This book chronicles the life and work of light and space minimalist Robert Irwin. What it’s really about is awareness: training your brain to see the world in new ways, exploring the limits of perception, and sharing and communicating that vision with others through form and teaching. It’s also a fascinating look inside the art world and landscape of 1960’s–1970’s Los Angeles. If you’re looking for some creative juice, read this. —Holly Gressley

12. B Magazine

This magazine dives in depth into brands, franchises and even cities to suss out what makes them special. Lego, Star Wars, Leica and Patagonia are just a few of the brands they’ve covered so far. Each issue features interviews with leaders in the brands and fans themselves, and it’s all lushly designed and illustrated. A great way to learn what creates emotional connections between companies and their audiences. Definitely worth hunting down back-issues on Amazon or Ebay. —Bethany Heck

13. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual …

By Michael Pollan

Food Rules is not-so-much a diet book as it is a kind of instruction manual for your stomach. It’s written as a bunch short food-related maxims without being too preachy (it is a little bit preachy). Nice little rules of thumb ranging from “It's not food if it's called by the same name in every language (Think Big Mac, Cheetos, or Pringles),” to “Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it,” to “Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.” —John Ratajczak

... and 14. Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation

By Michael Pollan

I also really, really recommend Cooked, which is a fascinating mix of both anecdotal tribulations about learning to cook and historical dives into how and why we cook the way we do. It’s split into four sections: Fire (cooking over flame), Water (cooking in pots), Air (bread), and Earth (fermentation). Cooked really got me pumped on cooking when I really wasn’t doing much of it. It was also adapted into a sublime Netflix series that makes me get a little misty every time I watch it, because as I mentioned, I really love food. —John Ratajczak

Design director Yesenia Perez-Cruz’s book recommendations

Writing and communication

Even though we’re typically known as visual thinkers, designers must write and speak clearly to express their ideas and build relationships with collaborators. Level up your word game.

15. Articulating Design Decisions

By Tom Greever

This is a practical and useful guide to talking about your design decisions to non-designers. Tom offers strategies on how to present designs in an articulate and compelling way with the goal of fostering agreement and getting buy-in from stakeholders. It’s a valuable reference guide that I always keep on my desk.—Yesenia Perez-Cruz

16. The Art and Craft of Feature Writing: Based on The Wall Street Journal Guide

By William E. Blundell

I worked as a reporter before turning to design, and anyone who knows me is well aware that I believe both the reporting and design processes are more alike than they are different. The Art and Craft of Feature Writing has earned its spot on many journalists’ reading lists and with good reason. At its surface, it’s a wonderful and practical guide on how to craft a compelling story. But it’s also a love story to feature writing, and provides a glimpse into the creative process—the uncertain thoughts, the harrowing moments, and finally the satisfaction when your labor yields something of value. It was written in 1988 but the lessons endure. I adore this book and find myself picking it up once every few years whenever I need a shot of perspective—in writing, design, or otherwise.—Sanette Tanaka

17. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss without Losing your Humanity

By Kim Scott

This should be a mandatory read by anyone in the design field. It explains how to give effective  feedback without being dishonest but without being an ass. It is really a book about being a decent human even in awkward/uncomfortable situations, and the lessons in it extend past design.—Jen Lindberg

19. Demystifying Public Speaking

By Lara Hogan

I sought out lots of advice when I got started with public speaking, but none of the common advice felt like it was written with me in mind. In Demystifying Public Speaking, Lara packs practical advice and reassuring stories alike to give you the confidence to share your unique voice and expertise in front of a crowd. If you think you don’t belong on a stage, if you’ve felt discouraged by one-size-fits-all public-speaking rules, read this book.—Yesenia Perez-Cruz

Designer Dayna Lee’s design magazines

Thank you to Ryan Gantz and Sanette Tanaka for all of their thoughtful edits.