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18 books every designer should have in their library

As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” As designers, we see problems from all facets of life and try to come up with solutions to make the world a better place, so what better way to broaden and expand your thoughts than a good lesson from a great book. Here are our top picks for your library!

1. Don’t Make Me Think – Steve Krug

A practical and funny guide to understanding web usability and user experience. Steve Krug´s book highlights the main problems that designers face in the world of today; what we as designers think about our products, is most often than not perceived very differently by the user. Krug explains the difference between how we think people use a web site versus how they actually use them, through three facts of life. 

Fact 1: We don’t read pages. We scan them.

Fact 2: We don’t make optimal choices. We “satisfice”.  A concept uniquely created by Krug, unifying satisfy and suffice, but you´ll have to read the book to find out more!

Fact 3: We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.

The book is a fun read and easy to remember, it keeps you engaged throughout with illustrations to visually reinforce the concepts. 

2. Change by Design – Tim Brown

From Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, who advocates that “Change by Design” is not a book by designers for designers, rather it is a book for creative leaders who desire to infuse design thinking into their whole modus operandum, from organization levels to products and services, in order to create new business alternatives and a good future for society. This book demonstrates how strategies and techniques of design thinking can be applied to every level of your business and debunks the myth that innovation is a huge brilliant leap forward. Instead, Brown shows us how innovation is a rigorous, examinational process of ideas, that are developed internally before they are shown to the world. 

3. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People – Susan Weinschenk

This book is a classic textbook, an easy and practical read, on the way design can influence people. The book is unique in its structure (which we love!). Facts are given to you at the start of every new chapter, then they are clarified before they delve into science- which ultimately ends in direct implications to design – and typically the applications in web design. It is full of visual examples and each chapter is summarized with a “take-away” section, making it a smooth read and easy to memorize all of the topics, and truly conveys how subtle design changes influence people’s behavior.

4. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days – Jake Knapp

In this book by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz (all google adventurers) the topics explored are how to combine imagination, design thinking and our most limited resource: time. This book shows us that there is a method to control all of the ideas, information and challenges – a wonderful mix of processing geniuses and design thinkers who have mastered shrinking schedules down to a minimum and speed up innovation. The stories in the book are intensely entertaining and have lessons for all of us; entrepreneurs – even those in more traditional industries; marketing teams – for process efficiency from ideation to delivery, all in one big lesson of speed. This book is highly recommended for those who are sick of endless meetings, and tired of delays due to lengthy deliberation processes.

5. Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products – Nir Eyal

A wonderful piece of work in the field of psychological marketing as applied to the consumer experience. This book dives deep into what is a habit – and how it relates to the field of coercion; how familiar products actually manipulate us in ways which we don’t yet understand. Those products which we ultimately become acquainted with, have the power to test, nurture, and create habits – even interfere with our emotional wellbeing. Hooked is described by Eyal as “ guide to building habit-forming technology, written for product managers, designers, marketers, and startup founders to provide: Practical insights to create habits that stick…and actionable steps for building products people love and can’t put down.”

6. The Design of Everyday Things – Don  Norman

Don Norman from the NN group wrote this “bible” on the cognitive aspects of design. This book contains examples of both good and bad design, as well as the simple rules designers should use to improve the usability of products. Norman knows that even the smartest one of us can feel completely inept when failing to figure out the use of a light switch, or which way to open doors, and he uncovers that the fault lies in the product design. A good product takes the needs of users, as well as the principles of cognitive psychology into account. Norman demonstrates throughout the book that good, usable design is possible. The rules are simple: make things that get seen, exploit natural relationships that couple function and control, and make intelligent use of limitations as well as resources. The goal should be to effortlessly guide the user into the right action and right control at the ideal time. 

7. The Laws of Simplicity – John Maeda

How to need less but get more? This book gives us the ten laws of simplicity for business, technology and design to achieve exactly that. We learn in this book that simplicity = sanity, and this can be seen in our actions as consumers. We are rebelling against complicated technology like a multi-menu DVD player, long user manuals, and opting towards simpler solutions like the perfectly simplistic solutions offered by Apple products. Yet somehow we find ourselves in the simplicity paradox, where we expect products to do all the complex things we probably will never use, but need them to be as simple and easy to use as can be. Maeda offers his ten laws for balancing simplicity and complexity in business, technology and design – and his insights in how “improved” does not always mean something added.

8. Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman, author and soul of this novel, is a modern-day genius. As a renowned psychologist, he became an economics Nobel Prize Winner, and this book gives us insights into the ways he thinks, as well as takes us on a tour of the two systems that drive the way we think. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” spans all three phases of the author’s career, and recounts his collaboration and efforts to win the Nobel prize. Kahneman throughout his life has explored the theme of human irrationality, and these have been the three essential phases in his career. The first was a quest for cognitive biases, the unconscious errors of reasoning that distort our judgement of the world. The second demonstrates that people under certain conditions do not behave the way economic models assumed traditionally. Ultimately leading to the development of the prospect theory (for which Kahneman was awarded the Nobel prize). The third phase focuses on the science of happiness or as Kahneman calls it “hedonic psychology,” what is the nature of,  and what causes happiness.

9. Made to Stick – Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Why do some ideas die? Why do others thrive? This is the notion that is explained by Chip and Dan Heath in their novel. Made to stick reveals the anatomy of those ideas that stick, and explains the ways we can make our ideas stickier in the larger scale of humanity. The book explores the Velcro Theory of Memory and creates curiosity gaps to spike intrigue. Throughout the book, we discover that all sticky messages have 6 common traits – and it will change the way you see modern communication, especially in the “fake news” era. It is a provocative and eye-opening read that can always be expected by this duo: giving us fast-paced, business cases- like stories of both success and failure to show us how we can apply the simple rules of stickiness into our own messaging. 

10. Lean UX – Jeff Gothelf

An insightful book that is tailored to today’s web-driven consumer reality. The Lean UX approach to interaction design teaches valuable principles, tactics, techniques, to rapidly build and experiment design ideas in order to validate them with users and create a continuous flow of information to adjust the design based on the most applicable and recent learnings. Lean UX is inspired by Agile (or Lean) development theories and allows you to focus on the experience being designed rather than the actual product or deliverables. This book essentially guides you through the collaboration of members on various teams and gives direct steps on how to get feedback early and often.

11. This is Service Design Thinking – Mark Stickdorn

A set of 23 international authors and even more online contributors from the global service design community invested their knowledge, experience and passion together to create this book. It’s an interdisciplinary approach to designing services, as well as an insight into the field of service design. Introducing service design thinking in a manner that is accessible to beginners and students, as well as broadens the knowledge and can act as a resource for experienced design professionals. This book helps us see the blurred boundaries between products and services, and how this allows for a new frame of thinking.

12. Hacking Growth – Morgan Brown and Sean Ellis

Some have called this piece a playbook by the Pioneers of Growth Hacking – and we have to agree. How have some of the hottest companies of today (Airbnb, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Uber, Facebook) grown from their humble beginnings into the consumer powerhouses they represent today? The methodology that each of these companies used in their journey from idea to success is explored, and this is exactly what the term Growth Hacking stands for. The  Growth Hacking methodology involves cross-functional teams and rapid-tempo testing and iteration that focuses customers attaining them, retaining them, engaging them, and motivating them to come back and buy more. This book offers a practical and accessible toolkit that can be implemented industrywide, company-wide, and even team-wide. It is a must-read for anyone looking to replace wasteful big bets and “spaghetti-on-the-wall” approaches with more consistent, replicable, cost-effective, and data-driven results.

13. Designing for Growth – Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie

Design Thinking – the hottest new trend in business – the ability to turn abstract ideas into practical applications for maximized business growth. Liedka and Oglivie unpack the mindset, techniques, vocabulary, and the connection between design and growth. This book is a guide on how to exploit the potential of design. The book takes examples from apple, IDEO and unlocks a creative capacity towards problem-solving in business. This approach has become a necessary component of successful business practice, helping managers turn abstract concepts into everyday tools that grow business while minimizing risk.

14. Well Designed – Jon Kolko

The aim of Kolko is to shed a light on understanding the crucial component of design: empathy, emotional connection. It is crucial for companies to understand how critical emotional connection is to product development. Innovators today are told to run loose and think lean, succeed soon or fail fast, but in this world constantly pressing for something new we find ourselves, and our users overwhelmed by the products and their offerings. Kolko maps out the process and demonstrates how it can help teams conceive and build emotionally resonant products time and time again. Whether you’re a designer, a product developer, or a marketer thinking about your company’s next offering, this book will forever change the way you think about—and create—successful products.

15. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Between Us All – David M. Kelly and Tom Kelly

 A powerful, and compelling book from the creators of IDEO, that teaches each of us how to unleash the creativity that lies within each and every one of us.  Companies and individuals in modern society assume that creativity and innovation are in the domain of those who fall under the “creative type” persona. This limits the influx of ideas that could essentially drive change, and the goal of brothers David and Tom in their incredibly entertaining narrative is to show us that each and every one of us can, and should be creative. By identifying the principles and strategies that will allow us to tap into our creative potential in our work lives, in our personal lives, and allow us to innovate in terms of how we approach and solve problems, this book is a guide on how to be more productive and live with less stress in our everyday lives.

16. The Design of Business – Roger L. Martin

Game-changing innovations, like Apple’s iPod, or the creation of a whole new market like Facebook are not only admired by other companies but are also envied – this drives businesses to make a genuine effort to be innovative, by investing heavily into R&D or bringing on external creatives and innovation consultants. Usually, these efforts are met with disappointing results…why is that? Roger Martin offers a provocative answer to this question, we rely too much on analytical thinking, and in order to innovate to win we need to start design thinking. Martin uses examples from industry leaders such as Procter & Gamble, Cirque du Soleil, RIM and many others to illustrate how these giants use design thinking to produce breakthrough ideas and gain competitive advantage.  

17. Designing for People – Henry Dreyfuss

A timeless, and masterful guide for today´s designers, from the man whose creations built the cultural landscape of the 20thcentury, the book offers an inviting mix of professional advice, case studies, and design history along with historical black-and-white photos and the author’s whimsical drawings, all written in an easy-to-handle way. Henry Dreyfuss´s uncompromising commitment to public service, ethics, and responsible design can be seen in his multifaceted achievements (Hoover Vacuum, Bell telephone among others) thus making this a timely read for any designer. 

18. The Culture Code – Dr. Clotaire Rapaille

Last on this list: a personal favorite of mine, as well as an iconic read for all of those who want to understand, communicate, and sell cross-culturally. It is an imperative read in order to understand why people around the world are so different; to answer the questions of what drives us to live, buy or love as we do? Cultural anthropologist and marketing expert Clotaire Rapaille divulges in this book his secrets and techniques used to improve the profitability and practice for multinational fortune 500 companies. The revelations in this book shed light on not just the way businesses operate, but also on the way individual human beings act around the world. Dr. Rapaille decodes two dozen fundamental archetypes—ranging from sex to money to health to America itself—to give us “a new set of glasses” with which to view our actions and motivations. Understanding the Codes gives us unprecedented freedom over our lives. It lets us do business in dramatically new ways. And it finally explains why people around the world really are different, and reveals the hidden clues to understanding us all.

Laura Brazay

Laura Brazay

Digital branding specialist with experience in social media strategy, and a background in Business Administration, who sees life in the full spectrum of colours. I spend my free time taking long walks exploring the city with my pup.

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