The Books that Shaped Us

In researching the best design books out there, I found myself unsatisfied with the lists 20+ deep of design books. I wanted a personal perspective on how influential this book was to the author rather than a straight rehashing of the back of the book (if that was even provided).

I talked to the Twitter Design team about the books that helped shape their design careers. Not only did I want to know what influential books were out there, but I was really curious to know, why this book? How did this one book help you get here? I hope this list of our favorites will help inspire or shape other designers’ careers.

Never Sleep: Graduating to Graphic Design by Andre Andreev and Dan Covert

Josh Wilburne
Never Sleep: Graduating to Graphic Design by Andre Andreev and Dan Covert

This book focuses a lot on the process from being in design school to being a professional designer, with lots of the hiccups along the way.

I read a lot of books about being a professional designer when I was in college, but none of them really prepared me for the middle bit of transitioning from design student to full grown designer. This was hugely relatable, and the only book I’ve seen be so transparent about feeling lost and what it’s like to be a designer in modern times. I read this book quite a few times over during the start of my career, and have recommended it many times to young designers.

Zoom by Istvan Banyai

Stephen Fox
Zoom by Istvan Banyai

Wordless illustrations on context and perspective, reaffirming my content strategy definition: Big-picture thinking about every little detail.

It is a constant reminder that content in context is the key to compelling communication.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Josh Williams
Neuromancer by William Gibson

It’s just a sci-fi adventure, but at the core is a prescient vision for how people interact with technology.

What I found most inspiring about Gibson’s vision of technology and cyberspace (a word he coined in the novel) was how data and programs became tangible so that people could interact with as naturally and as easily as everyday objects IRL.

The Best Interface Is No Interface by Golden Krishna

Giles Peyton-Nicoll
The Best Interface Is No Interface by Golden Krishna

This book challenges the relentless creative investment of “addition” to digital interfaces, through feature bloat and our love of building apps “for that”.

As designers many of us are obsessed with creation over removal, and yet, one of the key principles of design is to simplify. I always look for opportunities to remove two things and replace it with one better thing. I now actively look for opportunities to encourage technological product developments that result in the removal of all interface. This I now see as a great design result.

The Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Eleanor Harding
The Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Every single decision can take you a step closer to where you want to be. Life lessons from space, wonderfully relevant for life on earth.

This book helped me find my north star and learn to use it as a tool to make big career decisions in pursuit of doing more of the things I love, more of what makes me happy.

Designing Design by Kenya Hara

Tina Koyama
Designing Design by Kenya Hara

Although written by Kenya Hara, it’s a tribute to the people he looks up to. It’s highly philosophical, but also easy to understand. The designs are breathtaking. The breadth is obvious but the depth of the book is surprising. Every time I pick it up, I discover a new layer.

Hara-san was thinking about simplicity and sustainability of designs before most others did and incorporated Japanese philosophy in a way that simply draws you in without knowing what it really is. The older I get the more I see the many layers of his work and the more I actually understand what his work is all about. He always seems to be three steps ahead of his time and will always be the one person I hope to be able to work with one day.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

Bryan Haggerty
Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

Almost all projects we work on now have some component of machine learning. This book details how machine learning algorithms impact people’s lives.

We are on the cusp of a new era in product design which goes beyond interaction and visual design. We’re working with engineers and now data scientists to craft experiences. This book offers a great primer not on what machine learning is, but how it affects people. Given our roles as designers is to advocate for the user, it is imperative we have the knowledge of how such technology works and how we can better incorporate it into the experiences we are designing.

Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want by Alexander Osterwalder

Ashley Seto
Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want by Alexander Osterwalder

This book is a process book with practical information and exercises to help create value in a product.

In transitioning over into working in more of a product design space, this book gave me some tools to help understand product owners. The exercises in the book allowed everyone on the team to participate in a user-centered approach to creating and shaping the product.

The Humane Interface by Jef Raskin

Dan Saffer
The Humane Interface by Jef Raskin

How computer interfaces could be designed with people in mind.

It was one of the first design books I ever read, and it taught me that how you see the (digital) world isn’t how it could be, that design choices are involved.

The Vignelli Canon by Massimo Vignelli

Sean Thompson
The Vignelli Canon by Massimo Vignelli

Vignelli walks the reader through many of his design projects, which demonstrate his discipline and versatility as a designer.

Vignelli, and other designers like him, have helped me think about design, less as it relates to a particular platform or moment in time, and more as a fluid language and discipline that can be applied to anything I dedicate myself to.

Tony Paves
The Vignelli Canon by Massimo Vignelli

A source of guidance and inspiration, the legendary Italian designer’s handbook on the foundational principles of graphic design and his thoughts and experience of implementing his design principles across different mediums.

It’s a great starting point for any designer, but when designing for screens, I find it useful to look back at Vignelli’s design principles for guidance. His work and his thoughts on design spans the test of time (originally written for print design) and can influence current work in UX and product design today. He also pokes fun at U.S. and our chaotic nature, which is (hilarious and) helpful to identify the importance of systems and standard.

Thanks to all on the design team who contributed to this post. A huge thanks to Josh Wilburne for photographing all the books and Ivy Blaine for pulling it all together.