10 Non-Design Books that Made Me a Better Designer
Design insights don't have to come from design books
I had to travel yesterday as later this week is expected to be a #snowpocalypse in the northeast US. So, this week’s post is short and sweet; a listicle of books that have made an impact on me and how I think about my work.
These are intentionally books that would not normally show up on a “best of” list for design. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be learned from the classics of design literature, but design insights don't have to come from design books.
In fact, lateral thinking is a design superpower.
Long before I knew anything about the box model, kerning or color theory I was busy making connections and trying to wrangle them into something coherent to share with the world. It just so happened that the design toolkit gave me the final key that I needed to unlock that expression in a routine and systematic way.
These ten books have helped me understand craft, think about my relationship to creative work, consider the broader impact of design and much more. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I owe my career to a few of the insights I came upon in these texts. If one of them catches your eye, consider picking up a copy to keep you company as we finish out the year.
Author: David Epstein | Link: Goodreads
As a designer, there’s an insane amount to learn to round out your skill-set. In an era of 30 under 30 lists, it’s easy to feel like you’re behind when you’re actually making steady progress. Epstein’s book is a reminder that growth in disciplines like design takes time. The novel connections you make as a result of casting a wide net will eventually take you places others are incapable of reaching.
Author: Robert Greene | Link: Goodreads
As a designer, you're a creative person seeking to master a craft. There are many paths to mastery (and yours is unique!) but it’s still useful to have some examples to ground your thinking. Greene's book is helpful for considering your path as it relates to those of so many masters who came before you.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Author: Robert Pirsig | Link: Goodreads
As a designer, you need to get comfortable diving deeply in technical concepts. I once felt I couldn't be "technical". Pirsig's book helped me remove that limiting belief and in doing so fundamentally altered the direction of my career.
Curation is Creation
Author:| Link: Goodreads
As a designer, you might put a lot of pressure on yourself to be "original". It's a noble goal, but often an unrealistic expectation. Wright's succinct book makes a compelling case for broadening your idea of what it means to create.
You Are Not a Gadget
Author: Jaron Lanier | Link: Goodreads
As a designer, your work has massive impact. Don't overlook the ethical implications of designing products for millions, thousands, or even just a few, people. Lanier will take you deep into the philosophy of technology like few else can.
Author: Derek Thompson | Link: Goodreads
As a designer, you strive to push the limits of what's possible. But you also want to make products that people accept and adore. Thompson's book is a must-read guide of principles and tactics for making a hit in modern culture.
Stillness is the Key
Author: Ryan Holiday | Link: Goodreads
As a designer, you seek balance. Not just in your designs, but in most parts of your life. Out of all of Ryan Holiday’s books, this one speaks the most directly to that pursuit. To finding a balance in mind, body and spirit that leads to personal flourishing.
Author: Greg McKeown | Link: Goodreads
As a designer, you've likely heard Dieter Rams' maxim: "Less, but better". Maybe you even apply it to your design work. McKeown's book is a practical reminder to apply that thinking to the rest of your life too.
The War of Art
Author: Steven Pressfield | Link: Goodreads
As a designer, you will face creative Resistance. From your surroundings, your network, and most of all... yourself. Pressfield's book is a classic to prepare yourself for the inevitable creative struggles ahead.
The Artist’s Way
Author: Julia Cameron | Link: Goodreads
As a designer, you have to reconcile the relationship between creative work and art. Do you understand why you’re doing the work you’re doing? Do you feel connected to the creative path you’re carving for yourself? The Artist’s Way is a 12 week program that can help you uncover insights about yourself to guide your creative journey.