Books led me to typography and graphic design. Love of reading became love of the medium in which the words are printed, of the type that composes these words, of the substrate that supports them, of the page layouts that give form to narrative and argument, of the covers and bindings that hold these texts and pictures together, of the lettering and imagery that seek to express a book’s essential nature.

Graphic design books are a kind of meta-book. These are the publications in which the art of making books (as well as other graphic media) is discussed. Any graphic designer who read only this kind of book would have a severely limited view of the world. On the other hand, any graphic designer who made a point of avoiding books about graphic design would have a highly circumscribed view of the discipline. For this reason, I have concentrated here on graphic design books and have resisted the temptation to dilute the mixture by including volumes about other aspects of art and visual culture that might also be relevant to graphic designers. To be useful, such a list would need to be three times as long.

Several of these titles are books of particular significance to me, but none has been selected only for that reason. These are contributions that form a vital part of the literature of graphic design, to be consulted wherever the subject is taught, thought about, or discussed. There are other core texts that could have been included in a longer list, and many other monographs, though the five below are all significant. My particular interest is in the history and criticism of graphic design, and I have not included books about design techniques and practice. Many of the titles here would also, I hope, be interesting to non-professional readers.

AGI Annals

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F. H. K. Henrion

This weighty compendium, published in 1989, details the founding and early history of the Alliance Graphique Internationale, a professional organization dedicated to supporting and disseminating the highest standards of graphic design. For anyone fascinated by the practice’s international history during the crucial formative years from the 1950s to the 1980s, this book is an indispensable resource. Henrion’s pages are crammed to the bursting point with inside information, documentary photos of meetings and events, and early examples of work by designers less well known today that can be hard to find elsewhere.