30 Essential Books for Industrial Designers
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As requested and suggested by a few loyal Design Sojourn readers, I have compiled what I think are the essential books that Industrial Designers should either own or read.
Now I have one disclaimer, and that is I have intentionally left out the design yearbooks or the ever popular coffee table picture book collections. Simply put, these books don’t do much for you except provide visual eye candy. In fact I would go as far as advising you to dump them!
The reason is that if you are looking at such books for inspiration, you will likely be recreating the same looks in one form or another. Not only that, because it is a publication, it takes time to get printed and out there. So by the time you are reading it, it is already outdated.
So going forward, I have divided the books into 3 categories, namely Thinking, Process and Designer Skills. So without further adieu here is the list, in no particular order of importance, for you to enjoy!
Edited: I’ve added direct links to Amazon so its easier for you to get more information. Do note it’s an affiliate link that won’t cost you anything more.
1) The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Not only can it be a great source of information on usability and product ergonomics, it is also a fantastic source of learning how to be sensitive to the product’s user experience. If it is not a textbook or required reading for your design school, make it so!
Celebrated former MIT Media Labs professor and now Head of the Rode Island Institute of Design, shares his principles of design in this book. However most of it can be found in his equally beautifully simple website: Laws of Simplicity.
3) Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop–from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication by Neil Gershenfeld
Also an MIT professor, Neil spends most of his time as The Director of The Center for Bits and Atoms. While not really about Industrial Design, Gershenfeld’s vision of the future in manufacturing, will change the way we design and make things. The impact to our future of our careers is so important that I recommend that all Industrial Designers read this book as soon as possible.
4) Designing Design – Kenya Hara
Part design theory, part philosophy and part culture, Japanese designer Kenya Hara shares in this book his thoughts and unique approach to design. A beautiful book design that is a reflection of his theories and is on my must read list. Unfortunately, to date, I can’t seem to get my hands on one as it is sold out every where, including Amazon.
5) Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler.
This great book contains a collection of design principles that makes it an essential “cheat sheet” for designers wanting to look at a design problem from different angles.
6) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.
I can’t emphasis enough the importance of sustainable design and this book will get you ahead of the majority of designers already out there. If not, it will at least encourage you to start taking baby steps in that direction.
Well it might not be the self proclaimed “World’s best selling book” it does have plenty of insights on how Designers can compete in today’s over saturated creative industry. It is a nice and quick read that you could chew through in 2 train rides. However I do suggest you take twice as long and spend a few minutes in between to digest Paul’s thoughts.
8) The Lovemarks Effect: Winning in the Consumer Revolution by Kevin Roberts
There are quite a number of books about branding or how to go about it, unfortunately most of it tell the same story. What I believe is more important is the future of branding in today’s market of consumers suffering from information overload. Personally, I prefer the second book, which describes creating the Lovemark effect, as it has a greater gelling with Industrial Designers trying to create equally positive experiences with their products. For more information check out the official Love Marks Website.
Written in a “bite size” format this book, from Marketing guru Seth Godin, explores how our marketing environment has changed with the influence of the internet. I’m about half way, and looking to finish it.
10) Design (Tom Peters Essentials) by Tom Peters.
While Tom is not a designer and often seems to come across ranting to many people, this book is a neat little design guide targeted to Business leaders or owners. While much of it might not be new to a designer, it does give a huge insight on how to pitch your design work in a language that the business people can understand. That itself is worth its weight in gold.
11) Journals from the Design Management Institute by DMI members.
While not technically a book, I encourage designers to channel some of their library funds into a DMI membership so that they can get access into some of the best and latest Design Management thinking out there. I cannot begin to articulate how much I have learned through their Journals.
12) The Creative Priority : Putting Innovation to Work in Your Business by Jerry Hirshberg
A great read for Industrial Designers and Auto fans. The Creative Priority, written by the founder of Nissan Design International, was one of the first books I read about managing the innovation and creative process with in an organization. I particularly found how he managed hyper-creative design professionals very insightful and the basis of my designer management practices today.
13) Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge.
These days Industrial Designers will find it hard press to find any product they work on that does not have an interface. Furthermore as a result of digital technology, interaction design via either the hard keys and that of the graphic interfaces is becoming an integral part of the design process. This book shares the work of many designers and how they made a difference.
14) Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step by Edward De Bono.
The classic and often a tough read due to the very academic language he uses. But regardless the exercises he advices are just priceless! I just now need to get into my copy a little more!
15) What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School: Notes From A Street-Smart Executive by Mark H. McCormack.
Probably one of my favorite business books, especially the part on business negotiation. No, I did not need to go to business school with this book and neither should you. Check this book out, if you have problems convincing management why they should go with your design.
16) The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.
This book is good in a scary way, especially in a corporate environment where you need to get things done. It can be applied for good or bad, but I leave that decision to you. If it is too big, you can get the concise edition, which focuses more on the Laws rather than the historical context they were derived from.
I have to admit that while this book does sometimes comes across as a sales pitch, the depth of coverage of IDEO’s culture and design process can be a great source of learning. Also some designers might not find any of the information to be groundbreaking as it is targeted to buyers of design, but it does hammer home that these processes are what makes IDEO one of the world’s best design consultancies.
A great resource that shows you how products are developed from a sketch idea all the way to the final product, however there seems to be a little more emphasis on the Industrial Design phases and how they turned an idea in to a final product, rather than the down stream development work.
19) Process: 50 Product Designs from Concept to Manufacture by Jennifer Hudson.
A fantastic resource and in my opinion another “must buy”. Unlike Design Secrets which focus on the creation process, this book is all about getting to the finishing line, something many design stories miss out. I find that innovation and inspiration can be found in every aspect of the product development process, this book shows you how these 50 products found theirs during the manufacturing stage.
20) Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals by Rob Thompson.
Suitably inspired by the last book? Well this book gets you into more detail. By the clever use of pictures, technical illustrations and descriptions, design opportunities and considerations, over seventy manufacturing processes are explained. This book intends to give designers a greater understanding of what actually happens during a manufacturing process.
21) Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus
What better way to get sustainable design into the core of your product, be getting your design inspired by nature, and making sure it is also is able to replenish itself. For more details on Biomimicry, check out our extensive article on this revolutionary design process.
22) Product Design and Development by Karl T. Ulrich and Steven D. Eppinger.
Now into its 4th edition, this is one of the few supplemental books that I bought that focused on Industrial Design as part of a bigger process. This is something that you don’t get to see much of at design school even the more multi-disciplinary focused ones. The tendency at school is to focus on the design and creation process, and this book’s coverage of the entire product development process plugs in a lot of the gaps. While a little textbook-ish at times, it still is a great reference guide for designers finding that they have to wear many hats.
23) Managing the Design Factory by Donald G. Reinertsen.
Do you need more good stuff on product and project management? Take a look at this book’s collection of successful of design process models. This is on my books to read, and will get to it as soon as I finish my other 5 that I’m juggling!
24) Presentation Techniques by Dick Powell.
Yep, it’s that Dick Powell. I believe this became an instant classic as it was probably the first of its kind in the sketching or presentation category. This all-rounder book covers all presentation techniques in general starting from sketch, to marker rendering, and finally to the presentation boards. I actually got a chance to speak to Dick about his iconic book, and after his long groan, he told me that every Industrial Designers he has met has read it. You should too.
25) Creative Marker Techniques: In Combination With Mixed Media by Yoshiharu Shimizu
While Dick Powell’s book is an all rounder, this book specifically focuses on marker rendering and illustration techniques. If I recall, it also brings into the equation techniques using computer programs. The reality is rendering in Photoshop or Illustrator is no different from old schools markers.
26) Sketching: Drawing Techniques for Product Designers by Koos Eissen and Roselien Steur.
This book houses a great collection of sketching and drawings contributed by Industrial Design professionals from all over the world. Not only that, there is a great collection of drawing tutorials like varying the line widths, vanishing points, and shading etc. at the beginning of the book.
If you are interested in more recommendations for sketching books, check out our earlier post that covered Good books on Design Sketching.
27) Architecture: Form, Space, & Order by Francis D. K. Ching.
Something slightly off the beaten track, but I think also equally important. Already into the third edition, Francis Ching’s beautifully hand lettered book for his Architecture students, remains one of the best examples of teaching the principles of design. My first edition copy, completely yellow with age, is one of my all time favorite books. I got it as a gift from my parents when I told them that I wanted to be an Architect when I grew up.
28) Elements of Design: Rowena Reed Kostellow and the Structure of Visual Relationships by Gail Greet Hannah.
A must buy for all Industrial Designers as it is the reproduction of Rowena’s Form theory class at the Pratt institute of design, which I actually got accepted to but never went. (Long story that one) Basically it teaches designers how to be sensitive to the manipulation and control of forms so that they can solve complex design problems.
29) Basic Visual Concepts And Principles For Artists, Architects And Designers by Charles Wallschlaeger and Cynthia Busic-Snyder.
This fantastic resource that covers Visual principles in general and a great reference guide for all designers.
30) Digital Lighting and Rendering (2nd Edition) by Jeremy Birn.
This is probably one of the best books on Lightning and Rendering I have read as it does not focus on any program in general but instead on fundamental techniques of lightning. With techniques similar to what photographers or movie makers use, you will never have to wonder why your CAD rendering looks so odd.
I hope you enjoy this list as much as I did compiling it! I’m sure some of my suggestions would be familiar to you, but I hope you would have uncovered some gems here as well. Also if I have missed out any of your favorite’s books, please do not hesitate to let me know what they are by leaving a comment?
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Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
Brian is a multidisciplinary Design Leader with more than 18 years of experience leading strategic design programs that drives successful Brands and Fortune 500 businesses such as GE, Philips, Nakamichi, Flextronics, Ericsson, Hannspree, and HP. His passion is in helping organisations leverage on Design Driven Innovation to make people’s lives better.