A collection of must-read design books — arranged in order for building better mental models for product designers.
When I started reading books on design there were too many of them and I never had a guided path to consume them. To solve this pain I have curated an ordered list of books. I might have missed many important books as I tried to keep the number low and definite.
Check out my reading tips — how to get the most out of books — at the end of this article
Learn how design impacts our daily lives and why it is important. These books describe how design has evolved so far and how it is shaping the future. After reading these, you will begin to observe things and think about their design differently.
A designer’s job is to create something new every day. How do they do it? Which mindsets do they possess? Starting from believing in one’s creative abilities to generating great ideas, these books explain required mindsets in a more concrete way.
Product thinking is the skill of knowing what makes a product useful — and loved — by people. It involves understanding why something works and something doesn’t in the real world? What are the market trends? Why did the Clubhouse app become so popular, what’s their strategy? In many design interviews, you’ll be assessed on this skill.
As you develop your knowledge of general topics in design, you will need to gain expertise in a variety of design areas. First and foremost, any designer should become familiar with the way humans see, think, speak, do, and act, along with the various methods of crafting solutions to them during different stages of the design process.
We should thank author Artiom Dashinsky for giving us this gift. Interviewers and interviewees alike will find this book helpful. A book filled with numerous practical examples and tips to help you land your next job.
By creating an efficient design process, your team would be able to focus more on inventiveness and creativity. Jake Knap’s book, Sprint, is one of my all-time favorites; it’s one of the most practical books I’ve ever read.
Developing as a design leader/manager will require you to learn more about business and managing creative teams. Do you want to learn how to build a creative culture? What is the best way to present design to business leaders? When and how should you hire? These books will help you with such cases.
Speed reading – I am a slow reader; I experimented with many ways to improve my reading speed. In this quest, I understood that reading the book and listening to its audio together gives me more productivity. Most of the nonfiction books have a similar structure — In every chapter, the author claims a hypothesis, and he or she tries to prove it through case studies, some scientific evidence, or historic events. Listening to these case studies can be a better way to understand them quickly. When we use our visual and hearing senses to consume content, it sticks well in our minds. Now, I am able to read 3-5 books a month with 1.5 hrs of daily reading/ listening time.
Reading a book isn’t a race. The better the book the more slowly it should be absorbed.
Contextual learning – When I am doing user research, I read books and articles on user research. This is what I meant by contextual learning. In my experience, this is the most effective way; as this approach adds both theory and practice to our learning. It’s thrilling when you apply your learnings from yesterday to today’s work.
Make visual notes – It’s not just about reading a bunch of books but it’s reflecting on the learnings from them. After reading, I create a mindmap or presentation from the key topics covered in that book. This would help me in getting the overview and a bigger picture of the book whenever I wanted to revise. I draw doodles that help in making more sense through visuals of complex topics.
Write a review – Write a summary/ review of the book online through social media. Make sure the review is crisp and short, this would enforce you to write the most important learnings and impact you have experienced. On the other hand, this would help other people in your network to discover good books.
Revise often – Non-fiction books are different from fiction — They are not “read and throw” kind of material. To get the most out of them, They have to be revised multiple times every once in a while. I use highlighters to skim through the content for the second time. I do my revisions in three ways: revise while reading, revise after reading, revise when the real context arrives.
As a result of reading, I learned how to articulate design better, and I developed mental models that were unknown to me. A book is the most convenient way to gain access to the minds of great designers since it distills their lifelong learning into 200-300 pages. In contrast to content consumption, books should be considered as thinking tools. What book are you reading next?