2x2x2: Six Books You Deserve As a Designer

Do designers still read books?

Despite the proliferation of short-form web content, books are still a thing. The former is very good at keeping us well informed, while the latter still best at delivering elaborated, accumulated, and well-organized collection of knowledge.

Here are six books that helped and are still helping me. I hope they can help you too.

Two Thinking Books for This or Any Year

Book #1


Notes on Design: How Creative Practice Works

by Kees Dorst

Why Read It

This is the best introduction to the broadest concept of design in such a concise form. The rumination and, at times, surprising insights in the book help you establish a much less biased and much more solid foundation to truly understand design and designers.

By the way, it’s a collection of one-page articles, so it’s pretty much stress-free to read in any minute you can spare.

The book is an updated version of the author’s Understanding Design. Most of the content comes from the latter. Additional updates come from the author’s recent works such as Frame Innovation, which you actually should also read it.

There are other books on the broader notion of design, such as The Design Way, Designerly Ways of Knowing, Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work, What Designers Know, How Designers Think, just to mention a few. Great or even iconic, they’re no small treat and I doubt you’d survive some of them without great courage.

Compared to those, Notes on Design is like a shortcut to deeper albeit brief understanding – like a glimpse that makes you want to explore further.

Kees Dorst’s books are a gold mine. Read them all if you can. If not, start with this one and see where it takes you.

How to Read It

Although each one-page article is supposedly stand-alone, I’d say it’s probably better to read it through, while you can jump to certain topics you’re interested in.

Book #2


Strategic Design: 8 Essential Practices Every Strategic Designer Must Master

by Giulia Calabretta,‎ Gerda Gemser,‎ Ingo Karpen

Why Read It

Find useful thinking tools you may not even know you need. The diagrams are especially fascinating. Those are the thinking tools you’d want to use in every real-world scenario.

How to Read It

Choose the topics you’re interested in. Take notes of the fascinating diagrams.

Two Doing Books for Here and Now

Book #3


This Is Service Design Doing: Applying Service Design Thinking in the Real World

by Marc Stickdorn,‎ Markus Hormess,‎ Adam Lawrence,‎ Jakob Schneider

Why Read It

This is, to my knowledge, the best reference ever created on the practice of designing for services. Service design may seem a broad/narrow term, depending on your vantage point. Whatever it is, its philosophies, principles, methods, and techniques are strategically common to all other related fields like product design, experience design, design thinking, etc.

How to Read It

If you haven’t read This is Service Design Thinking by the same authors, then it’s better to read through the first few chapters. The rest is the absolute reference you want to keep constantly at hand. You’ll eventually grow out of it and internalize those techniques and methods, but for the long dog days before then, this is it.

Book #4


Creative Clarity: A practical guide for bringing creative thinking into your company

by Jon Kolko

Why Read It

Let’s forget about design thinking. Design and creativity are very different things. Creativity is the basis to whatever you happen to call it, design thinking or otherwise. To survive in a world of unprecedented, exponential business challenges, you better work on evolving both the mindset and the practice, both are of a creative nature.

Creative Clarity is one of the rare books that shed light for people in a managerial/leading position on how to evolve creatively as a team.

You might ask, wait a minute, if this is a book meant for management, why a designer should read it. Okay: where’s all that chanting designers should/need to have a sit at the table? Fellow designers, we’re all responsible for shifting the mindset, evolving the culture, and establishing the practice. This is the book both for your boss and for a future you.

Forget about design thinking. Read this book instead.

How to Read It

It’s a quick read, so be sure to read some other books by Jon Kolko, such as Well Designed, Exposing the Magic of Design, or, if you’re really at it, Thoughts on Interaction Design.

Two Career Books for Yourself

Book #5


Why We Work

by Barry Schwartz

Why Read It

The best part of a job is often not in the job description. That’s definitely the case for designers. Designers are as responsible as anyone else to the impact of the designed. You need to know why you work and you need to know if it’s for the reason you think it’s for. If you’re not so sure, the book will enlighten and/or challenge you.

You’re waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you don’t know for sure. But it doesn’t matter. How can it not matter to you where that train will take you?


How to Read It

Read it once. Maybe twice. Or three times a genius. Tweet some quotes. Remember some facts and truths.

Book #6


How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business

by Douglas W. Hubbard

Why Read It

If this book can’t transcend your understanding about measurement, nothing can (well, nothing if we exclude Measurement, Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe, and The Elegant Universe).

Design has a creative side and a scientific; an analytical side and a synthetic side. It’s incredibly important that you know how to measure things, as many things in design are often deemed as immeasurable or intangible. Read it and prove them bustards wrong.

How is that a “career book”? Because it can be career-changing.

Your design voice in any organization needs to be humane, creative, and logical.

How to Read It

Thoroughly and slowly. Then try to measure anything in design that you think to be immeasurable or intangible. You’ll be surprised.


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