40 books to maximize your creative potential and level-up in design

A list for designers who feel stuck, need inspiration or hungry for knowledge.

Simon Pan
4 min readSep 15, 2017


These books have been the most impactful books in my work+life. They have helped me stay inspired, learn from the experts and motivate my best work.

Use these books to examine your beliefs, attitudes, habits and skills. You’ll learn how to invest in yourself, build a remarkable career and live a fulfilling creative life.

If you’re looking specifically for UX/Product Design book recommendations, see my experimentally hyperbolic The Only UX Reading List Ever

Build your dream career and fly higher

Can you step outside your comfort zone? Bounce back from failure? Build new skills? Tapping your true potential does not just happen. It demands dedication, creativity, and a whole lot of self-awareness. Learn the why’s and how’s with these reads.

  1. So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
  2. Linchpin and The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin
  3. Maximize Your Potential, by 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei
  4. How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, Karen Dillon
  5. Mastery by Robert Greene

Tame your inner grouch and elevate your mindset

Keeping a positive mindset is incredibly difficult to do when the pressure to succeed is high and the world feels like it’s going to shit. Most of us think that our biggest barriers are external, however the truth is, negativity is in our own heads and is our biggest enemy. Change what you can do, by changing how you think. (I’ve also written about this, see Taming your inner grouch)

  1. Mindset, by Carol S. Dweck
  2. Banish Your Inner Critic, by Denise Jacobs
  3. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
  4. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
  5. Liminal Thinking, by Dave Gray

Unleash and sharpen your creativity

When you’re feeling stuck, sometimes it’s best to ditch your go-to thinking patterns and try something different. These books list concrete strategies for generating ideas, while also explaining how creativity works. You’ll build an arsenal of tools to help unleash the possibilities hidden within your mind.

  1. The 46 Rules of Genius, by Marty Neumeier
  2. Creative Workshop, by David Sherwin
  3. Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belsky
  4. The Dance of the Possible, by Scott Berkun
  5. Creative Confidence, by Tom Kelley

Work smarter and be more productive

Being able to stay focused is an increasingly valuable skill in our connected age. Packed with insights and practical strategies, these reads have been an invaluable resource in the way I spend my hours. Learn how to minimize distractions, stay focussed and produce better results in less time.

  1. Manage Your Day-to-Day, by 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei
  2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
  3. Unsubscribe, by Jocelyn K. Glei
  4. Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  5. Essentialism, by Greg McKeown

Tell more captivating stories

Stoytelling is a foundational skill for designers, whether to sell yourself, or to sell your work. But, great stories, don’t just happen randomly; they are designed.
Read these books to master the art of storytelling, create and deliver better presentations and captivate your audience.

  1. Resonate, by Nancy Duarte
  2. The Story Factor, by Annette Simmons, Doug Lipman
  3. Blah Blah Blah, by Dan Roam
  4. Storytelling for User Experience, by Whitney Quesenbery, Kevin Brooks
  5. Made to Stick, by Chip Heath, Dan Heath

Collaborate and build stronger relationships

While conflict is inevitable, constructive conflict relies so much on communication and conversations. Conversations move things forward and stop things from moving forward. These books will help you better empathize and effectively communicate with yourself and your colleagues.

  1. Practical Empathy, by Indi Young
  2. Designing Together, by Dan Brown
  3. Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
  4. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
  5. Radical Candor, by Kim Scott

Stay inspired

The best design books have the power to spark new thoughts, theories, ideas, and opinions. Offering practical advice, facts, anecdotes and inspiration, at least one of these should be in the house of a designer.

  1. Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull
  2. Damn Good Advice, by George Lois
  3. The Art of Looking Sideways, by Alan Fletcher
  4. Design As Art, by Bruno Munari
  5. The Graphic Design Idea Book, by Steven Heller

Healthy habits to live wiser

It’s impossible to separate our work from our life. Tap into the collective advice on health, wealth, and wisdom distilled into super actionable tools and tactics.

  1. Reinvent Yourself, by James Altucher
  2. The Sleep Revolution, by Arianna Huffington
  3. Nudge, by Richard H. Thaler
  4. The Daily Stoic, by Ryan Holiday, Stephen Hanselman
  5. Tools of the Titans, by Timothy Ferriss

Happy reading!

If you’ve found this list helpful, I would love to hear about it. Clap, comment or tweet at me.

Also, I’m writing a book on UX careers. If you’re interested in hearing more about it, Subscribe to my mailing list.



Simon Pan

The way out is through. Designing the future of news at Google. Ex lives: Medium, Uber and Amazon.