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November 22, 2009 7:19 AM   Subscribe

What are the essential books on the topic of the objective qualities of effective graphic design?

I am particularly interested in web design, but anything that pertains to the underlying principles of design and the interplay of aesthetics and content would, I think, benefit me.

I'm not so much after a gallery of "wow, look how easy this is for the masters" but more of a manual that bears re-reading and referencing.

I don't have a mint to spend, but if I could maybe have at least one each regarding layout, color, and typography, I think I would benefit hugely.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Ok, I found this thread (why does search always work better after you post?) but it isn't specific to books, and is pretty 101.

I have been an amateur designer all my life, have seen Helvetica and Objectified, subscribe to design blogs, and have a couple years of community college art classes under my belt, but I'm at the point where I know enough to worry too much about what is "best."

I want the bible(s) of the field. I want to learn it right, from the best.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 7:27 AM on November 22, 2009

The works of Edward Tufte immediately come to mind, especially The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.
posted by carmicha at 7:34 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

George David Birkhoff (21 March 1884, Overisel, Michigan – 12 November 1944, Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American mathematician, best known for what is now called the ergodic theorem. Birkhoff was one of the most important leaders in American mathematics in his generation, and during his prime he was considered by many to be the preeminent American mathematician.

In his later years, Birkhoff published two curious speculative works. His 1933 Aesthetic Measure proposed a mathematical theory of aesthetics. While writing this book, he spent a year studying the art, music and poetry of various cultures around the world.
– Wikipedia.

A bit of discussion.

The book is out of print and really hard to find. Haven't read it, but have heard interesting things about it. My source said it was probably in the public domain by now.
posted by krilli at 7:54 AM on November 22, 2009

Tags on MetaFilter are compound words, so this might work better.
posted by CharlesV42 at 8:41 AM on November 22, 2009

Graphic design as a field doesn't really lend itself to a "bible," as its one of those things where if you're following all the rules you're kinda doing it wrong (no such thing as objective good-with-a-capital-G). Not that the above books won't be awesome and incredibly useful (I love Tufte), but I just wanted to suggest that you might get more out of them if you approach them as sources of inspiration rather than prescriptive how-to's.

And looking at the work of those who do it well and make it look easy is one of the best ways to learn. If you see something you like, figure out what elements are making it effective for that context, and add that to your mental repertoire. For web stuff, keep a folder of bookmarks or screenshots of things you like so that they're easy to refer to later.

Here's an example of someone else's online inspiration collection, and this site collects all sorts of bits and pieces of websites, so it can be useful to browse if you're stuck on an idea for a particular element. And books like this or this might be useful to page through as a start.
posted by Fifi Firefox at 8:44 AM on November 22, 2009

Here's the best design resource list that I've seen.
posted by ericc at 10:04 AM on November 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't own too many, but I've flipped through loads at the book store, and I really enjoy Rockport Publisher's books.

I've also seen Thinking With Type recommended by quite a few designers. I've flipped through it, too, but I think it probably warrants a more thoughtful reading.

As mentioned above, Pattern Type is good for inspiration. There are also some UX design books out there that look promising.
posted by backwards guitar at 11:08 AM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I really liked The Art of Looking Sideways [YouTube] by Alan Fletcher in this aspect. Simply because it isn't a Bible with clear answers, but that he shows there are always will be completely different approaches possible to any design problem.

Apart from that, it is a really beautiful book.
posted by ijsbrand at 12:48 PM on November 22, 2009

Robin Williams's Non-Designer's Design Book is a pretty good starting point.
posted by neuron at 3:05 PM on November 22, 2009

Universal Principles of Design might be just the kind of book you're looking for - it's a marvellous reference book of concepts and conventions pertaining to design. It describes, cites and illustrates 100 useful concepts such as the "80/20 Rule", "Constraint", "Feedback Loop", "Form Follows Function", "Performance Vs. Preference", and so on. An excellent resource for any sort of creative work, and a good book to flip through if you're stuck or need a fresh way of looking at things. I'm sure I'll keep it close to my desk for years to come.
posted by oulipian at 4:34 PM on November 22, 2009

Typography is a big part of design and the bible in typography is Robert Bringhursts' The Elements of Typographic Style.

Seconding Tufte for information design.

Don't make me think for usability. Further reading: Jakob Nielsen books (but don't believe everything they say).

Seconding the SVA interaction design book list although these books are obviously mostly about interaction design, which is what most web design is.

There are no good web design books that focus on website design only (as in: the visual part). The webdesign classics are mostly about code and trying-to-get-things-to-work-in-the-browser-landscape. The most design oriented webdesign book I know of is The Zen of CSS Design but it's mostly an explanation of how to achieve certain things (e.g. image replacement).
posted by wolfr at 3:56 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am slowly reading every design book in the library and have read many dozens over the years, writing reviews of several. I don’t really understand the question. What outcome would you like after you read these books?
posted by joeclark at 5:00 PM on November 23, 2009

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