Summer Reading List: Great Books About Design

Written by Kelsey

The long, hot, lazy days of summer beg for low-key entertainment. And reading a book? How very analog. If you’re keen to expand your knowledge of all things design, try one (or more) of the design books on this list to bone up on the essentials of modern design while you’re trying to beat the heat.

The Design of Everyday Things (2013)

With design in mind from a cognitive scientist’s perspective, The Design of Everyday Things explores what makes product design effective, engaging and elemental in day-to-day situations. It’s about simplifying the user’s experience in an intuitive and meaningful way, and the book gets into why some products succeed while others only frustrate. Available for purchase here.

Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art (2016 edition)

Considered a master of modern graphic design, Paul Rand’s influence is undeniable and his work is still seen all over the world. His 1985 “manifesto” not only comprises many of his designs, it also serves as a dissection and explanation of graphic design is the form of his many essays. This book was considered groundbreaking, and was the first of its kind that really examined the process of graphic design rather than merely appreciating the results. Available for purchase here.

Logo Modernism (2015)

Showcasing master graphic design by Paul Rand and others, this interesting read digs into modernism in design from a branding or persuasive marketing angle. The relationship of modernism as a movement and the birth of modern corporate culture makes for a fascinating read for anyone interested in advertising (yes, having watched Mad Men counts). Available for purchase here.

Domino: The Book of Decorating (2008)

Tips, tricks and ideas for decorating your home room by room, all in one place. The editors of domino magazine have gathered together the best helpful hints, insider info and personal insight to offer room-by-room inspiration in a light, fun and approachable way. No snobbery here. Available for purchase here.

Atlas of Furniture Design (2017)

Perhaps best left at home for those days when it’s too hot to go outside, the Atlas is a huge tome anthologizing beautiful furniture designs from Vitra Design Museum. I can’t imagine they’ve left much out, with 2,500 photographs and hundreds of texts that cover the social, design and cultural histories of the iconic designs you’ll find inside. Not exactly a light read, but an indispensable resource for furniture aficionados. Available for pre-order (release date: 11/21/17) here.

RE-USA: 20 American Stories of Adaptive Reuse (2017)

A study of post-industrial society as it continues to unfold, this book is both guide and inspiration to navigating the urban landscape after the recent economic collapses have left huge blights on modern cities. Dubbed “adaptive reuse,” the book’s architect author examines cities where redefining abandoned industrial sites has worked with the collaboration of individuals and businesses. It’s a primer on repurposing communities that recent history had left behind. Available for pre-order (release date: 10/24/17) here.

The Design Encyclopedia (2004)

Another doorstop of a book, The Design Encyclopedia is probably best enjoyed at home, not poolside. It covers thousands of designs from the mid-1800s to 2004 (when it was published), with oh-so-many details on each. Very important designs are given a bit more explanation, and you’ll find this encyclopedia takes you all over the world (so you’ll feel better about sitting at home reading it). Available for purchase here.

The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings (2015)

Easily the dreamiest book on this list, to be explored only by those with a thirst for adventure and innovation. The 100 buildings represented here comprise some awe-inspiring designs by forward-thinking architects. Futuristic and fun, these buildings hold all kinds of secrets and surprises that invite the reader to ask themselves just what is impossible, anyway? Available for purchase here.

Emotional Design (2003)

If you’re the type of person who thinks about your things, you might have found that you get more enjoyment out of stuff that’s been designed well. Beyond something merely working or not, is it a pleasure to use? Does it make an impact on your psyche? Norman’s second book on my list delves into what makes good (and bad) design have such an emotional impact. Available for purchase here.

Bonus: Check out Norman’s TED Talk on the subject: 3 ways good design makes you happy.

101 Danish Design Icons (2017)

Finally, whether you’re into design icons, mid-century modern or are just a Danish-loving soul, this anthology of 101 Danish Designs is a must-read. It doesn’t matter if you already know each product by name, there are gems of information to discover–the collection is presented by the head of library and research at Copenhagen’s Designmuseum Danmark. From PH lamps to LEGO and everything in between, these well-known and well-loved designs will have a place on your shelf for many summers to come. Available for purchase here.

With such a selection of great design books, you will never want for ways to revel in modern design. So tell us, what did you learn on your summer vacation?

About the author



When she’s not polishing up promotions as a web content specialist for Lumens, Kelsey is practicing how to properly pronounce Danish, if only to be able to say “home is where the ‘hygge’ is.” Aside from Scandinavian design, she spends a lot of time thinking about organic gardening, mini farms, honey bees and England.

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