10 of My Favorite Books for Design Inspiration
One of the best parts about being a designer is how many places we can find inspiration. One of the biggest misconceptions about our workflow is that it all takes place digitally – beginning to end.
Quite the contrary.
Sure, Pinterest is a thing. But so is sketching with shitty pens on napkins, filling up sketchbooks with nonsense, countless post-its notes, and printing things out just to cut them up. And there’s something about a book – a well-designed, sexy-covered, beautifully composed, “next-page-better-than-the-last” kind of book. Other designers will know what I’m talking about with this, and it’s just unlike any kind of source to have in our methods of madness.
I’ve accumulated some interesting and staple finds over the years, and wanted to share some of the ones I tend to grab the most for a variety of projects... also just to remind myself of how great other artists are at what they do. People are freaking crazy.
Here are some of my favorite spreads & pieces from said books!
The Book of Ornamental Alphabets | Ancient & Medieval – $14
This was one of those "OH MY GOD I HAVE TO HAVE IT" finds in a local bookstore in Asheville, NC. My love for blackletter & Celtic typography has no bounds, and speaks to the German-Irish side of my heritage.
It's a perfect book for referencing historical & medieval typography, as well as drop caps and decorative ornaments. I'm thinking about creating my own blackletter typeface soon as well – and this will probably be the first thing I reference.
(Also, say hi to our foster dog, Rocky 👋🏼)
In Progress – $23
This is one of those books that any designer who is interested in typography and especially hand-lettering will most likely have in their personal library. I got this as a sophomore in college – more out of curiosity for the process and how Jessica Hische perfects those bezier curves in Illustrator. Still baffles me.
This book is becoming more relevant to me now after creating a typeface, and if there's anything I learned from it is that vectorizing letterforms is much harder than it seems. All the more kudos to the craft. 👏🏻
It's also great to see how simple the sketching phase needs to be. I know thumbnails are usually part of the process, but how detailed do they have to be? How many should we be doing per concept? Does it actually need to be the size of my thumb (nail?)
Cool thy jets, fellow heathen. The simpler, usually the better.
Star Wars Return of the Jedi Sketchbook – $28
This was actually found in the same bookstore as the medieval typography one – and even funnier, my boyfriend Justin found this and pointed it out to me :) Does he know me, or what.
I would consider this one of my prized-possession books, to be honest. There's something so beautiful and admirable about the process and the grittiness of what ideas looked like before they were actually a real thing. I treasure the process more than the product itself, I would go as far to say. And this book is an all-encompassing collection of my favorite things: sketches, iterations, scenes, concept art, and pure sci-fi.
P.S.: If you're an interior/industrial designer, I'm sure this Copic marker style resonates with you deeply ;)
Spacecraft 2000–2100 AD Terran Trade Authority Handbook – $40
Full disclaimer – I did not buy this for $40... I think I spent about $7 in an old miscellaneous bookstore (also in Asheville, NC.)
BUT – This is unlike anything I've ever seen, especially for it's time being printed in 1979 – Right in the wake of Star Wars coming out and sci-fi as a genre was taking off and taking names.
This is a pretty thick & bulky magazine that's centered around one of those "what will the century of 2000-2100 look like?" themes, and has some incredibly unexpected (what I consider) concept art in this vintage-painterly style that I drool over any time I see it. I hope to create some projects based around this style, because I think it's just breathtaking. (End of nerdy designer-schpeel.)
I also love that they included technical drawings of these fictional spacecrafts – it really adds that layer of believability & immersion
Art Nouveau: The Complete Masters of the Poster – $28
I bought this semi-recently at Columbus' local bookstore, The Book Loft, mostly out of pure admiration for the art nouveau style. I've always admired its use of typography & illustration. It's funny how they mostly turned out to be used as advertisements (why can't we make ads like these nowadays?)
The compositions are great, color usage is fantastic, Alphonse Mucha is the bomb dot com, and some of these ads really give you a craving for hard liquor. (That's right, I'm looking at you, absinthe.)
The Later Works of Aubrey Beardsley – $20
I remember learning about Beardsley back in art history, freshman year. I've always been a fan of his simplistic line work, vision on drawing the human form, and elaborate ornamental designs scattered throughout his pieces. I mean, the amount of damage you can do when you master negative space in black and white is uncanny.
Book of Bock – $23
The year was 2016... sophomore at ole CCAD in the basement of the Canzani Center – Packard Library. I was doing some kind of assignment that required some research; something illustration-related. I grabbed some random books in the illustration section that looked relatively interesting (because let's be honest, the covers really do make a difference sometimes.)
Little did I know that this illustrator, Frank Höhne, would blow me out of the water with his chaotic, intensely-detailed, random as hell illustration style.
The best part about this book is that even among all of the illustrated chaos, he tells a story. What "bock" is, and how to obtain it. If I remember right, the jist of "bock" is to obtain the reason for doing what you do, and to obtain the pure happiness that comes from it :)
Irish Fairytales – $20
This lovely, lovely gem is from Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon. My friend Abbey and I spent a good 3 hours in the world's largest independent bookstore, and I'm still surprised I was able to come across this.
Not only does this touch the heritage part of me, but my love for European folklore, fairytales, and the beautiful illustrations that come from the years of tradition & legacy.
Another personal project idea I have is to create individual concept art pieces (scenes, weapons, etc.) based off of these stories :)
Parks – $57
The most recent addition to the household. This was a gift to my boyfriend Justin for this birthday this year, which I happened to give him while we were on our amazing camping trip out west, visiting four different national parks.
We both have a deep love for our nation's untouched lands and the history that unfolded within them years ago. What better way to explore a part of that history while admiring the design trends that occurred at the time, than to get this awesome coffee table book?
Starting in the 1910's, Parks goes through the various park map designs that evolved over time. It's amazing to see the evolution in trends with specific elements like typography, color, graphics, photography, negative space, minimalism, etc.
For any design &/or nature nerd (which, in a lot of cases are both,) this is a must-have.
Star Wars Propaganda – $40
Merry Christmas to me 😎 My ole pa gave me this a couple years ago for the holidays, and to this day it's one of the coolest things I've ever received. (There's also free posters in this book! 5 for The Republic, and 5 for The Empire ;)
Not only is this another layer of the Star Wars universe, but the stories and backgrounds behind the pieces are inspiring as well.
It's a great mixture of graphic design, illustration, science fiction, and a nod to the history of propaganda that unfolded during the world wars. I've always had a soft spot for history, and its always inspiring to me to see how design and marketing were tackled then.
Have any books that give you great design inspiration? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me in on your secrets :)