Being a Designer 101: Essential Readings For Wannabe Product Designers

Mike Costanzo
4 min readApr 12, 2017

I’ve been meeting with more and more junior UX and Product Designers over the last few months seeking career advice. Generally, they are people who are young and/or have taken some type of bootcamp course in hope of a career change. I’m really interested in giving back to the community and providing honest and useful feedback that I would have loved only a few years back so I thought I’d scale that and write a blog post.

As I was finishing a recent email, about some essential reading to help a someone sharpen their traditional design chops, I realized I had repeated this list many times. So in an effort to be more efficient, and hopefully spread some wisdom, here is a breakdown of what I consider essential reading.


Typography is one of the most important aspects of design. Especially in apps. Most of it is text…for now. Typography, typographic hierarchy and information architecture are essential aspects of a great user experience. You can guide a viewer in interesting ways just by your use of typographic design.


Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Joseph Müller-Brockman: This is THE book on grid systems. That being said there are pros and cons to rigid grids; but you have to know the rules in order to break them! This is ALL the rules and it can be intense. This is a book for life long learning:

…you have to know the rules in order to break them!

And a great resource about applying this to the web:

Composition is another essential skill to master. Maybe even more important than grid systems. There are many tricks that can make your work more effective in communicating your intent by literally guiding the viewers eye where you want it.

I gained most of my insight in effective composition across many hours of art school lectures and studio work. There was no one book that stood out to me but in reviewing a few options this seems like a very good overview and I’m thinking I’ll pick up a copy myself.

Lastly, study from the masters. Here’s a very personal and non-comprehensive list of greats in the design field who’s work and lessons could easily last you years of study. Maybe a lifetime.


Paul Rand

Paul Rand: I personally love Paul Rand. He is legendary and possibly the most important graphic designer of all time. His thinking on design is awesome as well. A wealth of inspiration.

The story of him designing and presenting the NeXT logo for Steve Jobs is awesome and a lesson in selling your designs:

Paul Rand reveals the NeXT logo design

I have personally read this book among others but this was the gateway drug for me and it’s well regarded and comprehensive:

There is so much free content on the web for all of the people listed below and this is by no means exhaustive, so start here and find out who you like then start digging into their process as you see fit:

Saul Bass

Paula Shear

Chipp Kid

Milton Glaser

Lalla & Massimo Vignelli

George Lois

James Victore

Michael Bierut

Last but on least I’d like to draw your attention to David Ogilvy. Maybe not everyone’s first thought when it comes to “Design” proper but this book was really important for me and I recommend it to designers and content people of all types. Ogilvy was one of the early adopters of data informed design and most UX designers should give this a read to gain a sense of humour and a love of good copy. Essential IMO:

David Ogilvy

If you found this useful then please share. If you think I’m missing something essential let me know and I might add it. Thanks for reading…

Be thoughtful. Don’t make shit.