Design tomes that escaped the book bank

One of the more tolerable tasks of moving house has been the opportunity to have a good look at the design books that have been accumulating in a corner of my office over the past few years and assess what's for the book bank and what I'll be taking with me.

I've been quite ruthless by my standards: quite a few worthy volumes have been offloaded. Those I'm keeping have really proved their worth, and I expect to continue to find them useful for some time to come. Over the years I've discovered quite a few good books by scanning similar lists on other designers' sites, so here's a quick run through of the books I'll be keeping, in alphabetical order organised into three rough categories, just in case anyone finds something they might like.

Web design and development

Books specific to web design - covering HTML, CSS and JavaScript - that I continue to refer to:

A Book Apart isn't a single book, but a series of extremely useful quick reads on important aspects of contemporary web design. I've bought them all and will be taking the lot. Particular mentions are due to Ethan Marcotte's introduction to responsive web design, Jeremy Keith on HTML5, Dan Cederholm on CSS3 and Mike Monteiro on the business aspects of web design.

Adaptive Web Design by Aaron Gustafson is an elegant introduction to the theory and practice of progressive enhancement.

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson makes the case for designing website content with as much care as interface and graphical elements.

DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model by Jeremy Keith was published a few years ago but is still the most lucid introduction to JavaScript I've read. I don't find programming easy but this has helped more than anything else.

Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design by Dan Cederholm and Ethan Marcotte is now a little dated but I still refer to some of its CSS tricks, and Ethan's chapter remains a very clear introduction to core responsive web design techniques.

Hardboiled Web Design by Andy Clarke has been on my desk for a good 18 months now, a real workhorse that still serves as an excellent primer on HTML5 and CSS3.

jQuery Novice to Ninja by Earle Castledine and Craig Sharkie is the best introduction to jQuery I've yet come across - I'm aware there some similar titles out there I haven't looked at yet. I like it because it's not too abstract, full of examples that can actually be applied to a working website.

Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design: Grid Principles for Interaction Design by Khoi Vinh is worth keeping because of the excellent introductory chapters providing a good introduction to the theory of grid design. The book is a little dated because it was published just before responsive web design really took off and written with fixed width layouts in mind.

Redesign the Web is a useful Smashing Magazine publication featuring chapters introducing various aspects of contemporary web development. I'm still working through it and thus far have found the chapters by Andy Clarke on design atmosphere and Aral Balkin on mobile and web apps particularly useful.

Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog by Thord Daniel Hedengren is the most thorough introduction to WordPress I've read. I don't use WordPress that often so there could be better books out there. But I've been able to use this to develop a few WordPress themes of my own.

Smashing WordPress Themes: Making WordPress Beautiful is a solid companion to Thord's Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog, discussed above.

Stunning CSS3: A Project-Based Guide to the Latest in CSS by Zoe Mickley Gillenwater is another great resource I refer to on an almost daily basis. A really excellent, thorough overview of CSS3 with good working examples.

The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett is a crystal clear discussion of the stages of planning and implementing websites that I've been referring to for nearly 10 years now. I think it came out in 2003, and it's aged very well.

The Icon Handbook by Jon Hicks is, to my knowledge, the only book providing a thorough guide to the design and appropriate usage of website icons. Just as well then that it's an absolutely fantastic book - see my review for the full eulogy.


I have a stupid number of Photoshop books. I don't buy so many now because there are so many good online tutorials, but I'm keeping these:

Art and Design in Photoshop: How to simulate just about anything from great works of art to urban graffiti is a pretty amazing book by the ingenious Steve Caplin: a library of Photoshop tricks for creating a huge range of clever effects.


How to Cheat in Photoshop CS5: The art of creating realistic photomontages is another great resource from Mr Caplin. Great to dip into when needing to find out how to pull off a visual trick, quickly.


Creative Photoshop CS4: Digital Illustration and Art Techniques by Derek Lea is probably my favourite Photoshop book, a brilliant guide to digital art. Derek explains in painstaking detail exactly how he created some of his most interesting works. I must have worked through each chapter three or four times, and it's taught me more about Photoshop than any other resource.

Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop's Most Powerful Feature by Matt Kloskowski is a solid introduction to the many possible uses of Photoshop layers.

Photoshop Masking & Compositing by Katrin Eismann is another Photoshop classic, covering the art of Photoshop selections in forensic detail. It's a few years old now - published in 2007 I think - but the techniques explained here are still absolutely current. I refer to this one whenever I need to make a complex selection, and I've always found it's suggested a workable solution.

Scott Kelby's 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop has a somewhat misleading title, I think: the image editing system applied to the book's sample images is actually pretty loose: the steps aren't applied too rigourosly. But I've found it a really useful guide to using Camera RAW and Photoshop filters together to produce some radical image adjustments.

The Art of Photoshop by Daniel Giordan is one of comparatively few Photoshop books focused on digital art rather than image adjustment and special effects. In that respect it's quite similar to Derek Lea's Creative Photoshop, discussed above. I've learned quite a bit about image composition from it.

The Art of Photoshop for Digital Photographers is the sequel to Giordan's The Art of Photoshop. The opening chapters have some useful digital photography tips, but I'm primarily interested in the second half which has another selection of the author's digital art tutorials.

The Photoshop CS2 Channels Book is another very handy Scott Kelby book, this one rounding up some really useful channels techniques, particularly for selections and masking.

Window Seat: The Art of Digital Photography and Creative Thinking by Julieanne Kost is primarily a showcase for a series of unusual cloudscapes taken by the author from airplane windows. There are some useful tutorials at the end of the book explaining how she turned the rather hurried snaps she was able to take into really striking images.

General design

I've accumulated quite a few books on wider aspects of graphic design. Quite a few are going to the book bank, to be honest, but these have proved most useful and are coming with me:

Graphic Design Theory: Readings from the Field by Helen Armstrong is an interesting reader in 20th century graphic design theory, from arts and crafts, through Bauhaus and International style through to post-modernism.

Graphic Design: The New Basics by Ellen Lupton usefully runs through basic graphic design theory, defining contemporary concepts and techniques. I can't say I refer to it often, but it's useful when a definition is required.

Grid Systems in Graphic Design: A Handbook for Graphic Artists, Typographers, and Exhibition Designers is Josef Muller-Brockmann's seminal resource for designing grid systems. It was written some years ago (early 1980s) with print design in mind, but the concepts can be equally well applied to digital and web designs. There's nothing earth shattering here, just a really solid grounding in grid design principles.

Instant Graphics: Source and Remix Images for Professional Design by Chris Middleton is a very useful guide to the vexed process of image copyright, advising when it's OK to use third party images in a design. It's helped me when designing digital collages comprised of vintage and scrapbook graphical elements.

InDesign Type: Professional Typography with Adobe InDesign by Nigel French: I don't often use InDesign anymore but I've found this a really good guide to basic typographic principles such as relative typesizes, line height, margins and ligatures, knowledge which can be translated quite straightforwardly to the web.

Logo Design Love by David Airey offers an excellent introduction to the principles of logo design, and some great practical advice on presenting ideas to clients.

The Elements of Typographic Style is Robert Bringhurst's typography classic, covering the essentials of typography in detail. If in doubt about an issue of typographic style this is the first book I turn to. It also provides a useful history of typographic styles through the ages, and wry introductions to Bringhurst's favourite fonts.

The Grid Book by Hannah B Higgins is an interesting history of the application of the concept of the grid to multiple disciplines, encompassing city planning, the accountant's ledger, musical notation, and the web.

The Modernist is a collection of illustrations compiled by Robert Klanten showcasing a recent trend in graphic design that blends 'modernist' design motifs such as vector shapes and geometric patterns with more 'analogue', 'organic' elements such as handwritten text and textures. It's a style I like a lot - see my review for more about the book.

The Shape of Design is a nice reflection on the role of the graphic designer within society by Frank Chimero. I'm still reading this one - review to follow!

White is an unusual mediation on the concept of 'white' by the Japanese designer Kenya Hara. The book discusses the deep meaning of white, it's relationship to concepts of 'emptiness' in contemporary philosophy and Japanese religion. I reviewed the book earlier this year.