"Graphic design, which evokes the symmetria of Vituvius, the dynamic symmetry of Hambidge, the asymmetry of Mondrian; which is a good gestalt, generated by intuition or by computer, by invention or by a system of coordinates, is not good design if it does not communicate." -
That quote you have just read up there, is a quote from Paul Rand, explaining how he sees good design. Those are the words of a terribly well-read man.
As we’ve pointed out in a previous article about must-read free eBooks for web designers, people might try to bring you down, telling you “you can’t master a subject just by reading a book”. That might be all well and true, but you certainly can’t master a subject without reading, as Paul Rand so obviously illustrates.
Graphic design is an outlet for creativity, but creativity isn’t where it begins and ends. Like all crafts, it needs to be studied, mastered and applied. In “ye olde” days, craftsmen had apprentices which worked for them and, hopefully, learned from them. These days, craftsmen are authors. They write books about their experiences, and some of these books you can get for free.
Based on experience and topics, we’ve made a list of these free, must-read graphic design resources, for you to voraciously study.
This section is for people new to graphic design. Here we recommended some books to get you familiarized with the basics.
1. An Introduction to Adobe Photoshop – Steve Bark (PDF)
Knowing the tools of the trade is pivotal for success. Adobe Photoshop has been the industry standard for 21 years now. It’s a complex program that can requires months, or even years, to master. Steve Bark’s “An Introduction to Adobe Photoshop” helps you get the basics and a head start, assuring you you’ll be on you way to becoming a proficient Photoshop user in no-time at all.
We live in a digital age. Tony Dones’ aka Gyppsy “Pixel Perfect Precision” is a self-titled handbook for the modern graphic designer that guides you to proper digital design, through it’s 165 pages of light text and elegant, yet playful, visual cues. In the author’s own words:
“For this latest release, we wanted to place additional focus on the core principles of digital design, making the PPP handbook a better resource for people wanting to learn more about this exciting field, not just somewhere for Photoshop pros looking to find new tips and techniques (although there’s plenty more of those in there too!).”
3. 27 Page Type Classification – Jacob Cass (PDF)
As a graphic designer, it is vital you know your type. Jacob Cass comes to your aid with this 27 page eBook, covering the 10 broad classifications of type, giving you a brief history and the key characteristics of all of them. These are the basics you need for learning typography.
4. Type, Image, Message: A Graphic Design Layout Workshop – Nancy Skolos, Thomas Wedell (PDF)
Type and image are the “raw materials” of design. The way you blend the two can either make or break your work, so learning how to properly integrate them is essential for creating good graphic design. “Type, Image, Message: A Graphic Design Workshop” seeks to hone your skills and show you what good graphic design looks like, and why it looks the way it does. It exhibits great work of design, then deconstructs them, so that you can get a clear picture of what makes a design work.
Here we have some books that dive deeper. Talking more about concept, beliefs and the personal philosophies of their authors.
This is a book aimed at professionals. The title says it al, really, “A Manifesto for Meaningful Design”, where “meaning” is that which hides behind the “abstract wishes of the client”.
It is a book that teaches you to be more consistently creative, raising the quality and, quite possibly, the quantity of your output.
It’s been a year, now, since Massimo Vignelli gave permission for his seminal work with Peter Laundry to be freely distributed in electronic format. The book tackles design rules for NGOs, but the sound advice it gives can be applied in almost all of the areas of graphic design. From grids to formats to colour, “Graphic Design for Non-Profit Organizations” has it all, and is a must-read for any graphic designer.
We’ve mentioned craftsmen earlier, and Massimo Vignelli is truly one of the great craftsmen of design, therefore making anyone who reads his books a very lucky apprentice. His second entry on our list, “The Vignelli Canon” offers us a glimpse into his design principles and beliefs. Touching on subjects such as typography, visual power and timelesness, Massimo Vignelli sheds a light on how to make graphic design with impact and personality.
Sometimes you break rules you didn’t even know existed. Erik Spiekermann’s “Typo Tips” is simple 9 page booklet that helps you evade typography faux-pas such as using ALL-CAPS.
9. A Designer’s Art – Paul Rand (PDF)
Some people call Paul Rand the most influential graphic designer there ever was, so you would really be missing out if you’d ignore his 1985 work, called “A Designer’s Art”. The book is a stunning insight into the mind of one of the great modernists, taking is through such chapters as “Politics of Design” or “The Symbol in Visual Communication”, and helping you unlock the artist behind the graphic designer.
General advice books
Now, some books that will help you, not only as a graphic designer, but as a professional and, ultimately, a person.
What is my work worth? It’s a question that many graphic designers struggle with, every time they take on a new project. Mike McDermet shares his experience with correct pricing in his book, “Breaking the Time Barrier”. It’s a short read, only about an hour, that uses a semi-fictional scenario to highlight just how important pricing your work right is.
The author says: “I completely revamped how I ran my design firm to the point where I worked 19 days in one year and generated over $200,000 to fund my side project. How did I dot hat? This book will show you – and help you do it too.“
Surely a must-read for any freelancer.
Hugh MacLeod is a celebrated blogger, an advertising executive, and an all-around successful person. He owes much of his success to his creativity, creativity that, as he states in his lovely manifesto, we are all born with. So how do you go about actually being creative? The answer to that lies in his 26 tried-and-true tips for expressing the artist you got locked away deep inside you.
12. Time Management for Creative People – Mark McGuiness (PDF)
You’re a graphic designer. That makes you a creative person. Member of that most illustrious group of people, called “Creative People”. As such, time management is something widely considered that you just cannot do. This book has been written so you can prove the world wrong.
Mark McGuiness writes: “Delivering time management training and coaching for hundreds of creative people has taught me a lot about what it takes to get original work done in the midst of the demands and distractions of the 21st century workplace.” So, with the help of this eBook, you’ll be benefiting from the advice of someone who knows what he’s doing. A definite must-read if you have more than 5 deadlines tomorrow.
That about wraps up our free eBook for graphic designers list. If you’ve found any of these books useful, or think we should know about any others, please let us know in the comment section.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2013 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.