So You Want to Know More about Graphic Design?

Type Tells TalesSteven Heller’s wide ranging, longstanding career in graphic design includes more than 30 years as art director at The New York Times. With Lita Talarico, he co-founded the Designer as Author graduate program at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and he is the author of many books on the graphic arts. The most recent of these, Type Tells Tales, written with Gail Anderson, was published by Yale University Press in May 2017.

At the request of the Amazon Book Review, Heller compiled a list of eleven essential books on the graphic arts and typography, with notes on each book. As you’ll see, he has written introductions to a number of these, or is otherwise personally connected to the authors. But this is not nepotism at work: It’s a reflection of Heller’s intense engagement with the field of graphic design, which he has so long championed.

Heller divides his book recommendations into sections, saying, “Books on graphic design fit into three categories: The practical. The theoretical. The historical. Often, over time, one morphs into another category with time as the arbiter.”

Here is his list of recommended reading, with his notes on each volume.

Historical:

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Meggs' History of Graphic Design 5th Edition by Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis - The first major and continuous history of the subject, this current and posthumous volume is the standard against all others are measured.
 

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Milton Glaser: Graphic Design by Milton Glaser - This is but one of many books by and about the leading late-20th-century American designer/illustrator. While it is a monograph of his own work, it serves as a model of practice and a document of history.
 

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Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art by Paul Rand - Another monograph that serves as a history of Modernism of the mid-to-late 20th century of graphic design and the interaction between art and design as well as the connection of artist and designer.
 

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Nine Pioneers in American Graphic Design by R. Roger Remington and Barbara J. Hodik - An essential look at the leading Modernist designers of the mid-century period. Short biographies provide introductions to well-known designers of a lesser-known field.
 

Practical:

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The Elements of Typographic Style: Version 4.0 by Robert Bringhurst - While this does not teach the reader how to draw letters, it provides a clear and concise understanding about how letters and type are made.
 

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Thinking with Type, 2nd revised and expanded edition: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students by Ellen Lupton - For any student in need of an overview that covers practice type use and conception, this is the go-to volume.
 

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Elegantissima: The Design and Typography of Louise Fili by Louise Fili - While this book is more monograph than how-to, it offers the reader a cogent reason for why the work is made, therefore it serves as an inspirational and aspirational guide.
 

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Make It Bigger by Paula Scher - The title ironically addresses the common trope of the unwitting client. Bigger is not always better and this book shows how subtlety, as well as size, works wonders.
 

Theoretical:

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Abbott Miller: Design and Content by Abbott Miller - Another monograph that is as much about the conception of design from a theoretical perspective as the actual making of form.
 

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Design: The Invention of Desire by Jessica Helfand - Musings on the widespread and broadsheet notions of what makes design into a discipline and art.
 

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Designing Pornotopia: Travels in Visual Culture by Rick Poynor - This collection of essays by one of design’s leading critics encourages the designer to think about the social and cultural factors that underpin the practice.
 

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