These 10 books will make you a better designer

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You can learn good design through these books. Most of which is avoiding bad design.

  • Like chess, Formula 1, and making ravioli... design has rules.
  • The rules are flexible. But the main point of these rules is to avoid bad design.
  • The best part? It's achievable.

Design is all around us in a myriad of forms. From the screen interfaces on your phones and devices to the handles on your shower faucets. We often know instinctively what constitutes great design, there's an almost ephemeral quality to it. Great design offers comfort, ease of use and a feeling of being in the know and in control.

Bad design on the other hand hits us like an ill-shaped rock – hard to navigate websites, Rube Goldberg machines and a general sense of annoyance and confusion. Design is both a science and an art and everybody is affected by it in some way. Whether you're a designer or just appreciate design and want to know more, here are the 10 best books on design.

The Design of Everyday Things

In a clear and concise matter, Don Norman writes about the flaws that plague the design of everyday objects, which makes our lives more trouble than they need to be, more inconvenient and sometimes downright dangerous. This was a book written in the late 1980s, but is still relevant today, as it has been updated a few times.

The book isn't just an exposé of horrid design, but also a tale of how designers in all industries can become better apt to customers' and end-users' needs. It's a must read for any type of designer, as Norman goes into great detail about design methodologies, ideals and psychology. He has many thoughts about how if you can't figure something out, it's not always your fault but often the designer's. His philosophy of design is proper communication and usability, Norman states:

"Eliminate the term human error. Instead talk about communication and interaction. When people collaborate with one another the word error is never used to characterize another person's utterance."

About Face: The Essentials of Interaction

Let's face it, the majority of design today is within the digital field: software design, websites, applications and other mediums of online & digital expression. Alan Cooper & Co.'s About Face is the premier book for interaction design. It covers project processes, goal directed design and everything you could ever need to know about user feedback, controls and comprehensive overview of interaction.

The book is sprawling and deep dives into just about any common UI widget in existence. It's considered a pillar of learning material for UI/UX designers. While some may get turned off by its length and pedantic explanations, it also serves as an excellent reference book for UX designers.

A Designer's Art 

Paul Rand's book was published in 1985 and was one of the first of its kind. The renowned graphic designer wanted to create a book that would explain the art of a growing discipline, rather than just show it visually. The book is packed with personal views on design, peppered with his expansive portfolio and also cites a number of renowned academics.

Rand was another designer who felt that communication is absolutely key when it comes to design. He states:

"Graphic design which evokes the symmetria of Vitruvius, the dynamic symmetry of Hambidge, the asymmetry of Mondrian; which is a good gestalt, generated by intuition or by computer, by invention or by a system of coordinates is not good design if it does not communicate."

Beauty and symmetrical supremacy doesn't mean a whole lot if it can't communicate its intended message. For students of design, teachers and professionals, this is a book that is great for explaining and expressing the creative communication of ideals.

A Product Guide to UX Design

Business and design often coalesce together in an alliance of production. A professional designer is going to be required to interact with other aspects of running a business. Ensuring that a user interaction is running smoothly and the design assets are glowing in perfect fidelity and union with the product are all well and good and the meat of a UX designer's job; but working this into an overall business perspective is also an important skill to have.

This book by Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler covers a breadth of topics for those who might have minimal experience in UX design, but are interested in applying their newfound skills in a business setting.

Elements of User Experience

Jesse James Garrett exposes in a very clear way the essence of user experience for the web. He breaks down the ux for the web into five different planes going deep into the vocabulary and strategy for designing better experiences for our digital world.

He sets out some simple rules for consistency and great design:


"Presenting a style on your Web site that's inconsistent with your style in other media doesn't just affect the audience's impression of that product; it affects their impression of your company as a whole. People respond positively to companies with clearly defined identities. Inconsistent visual styles undermine the clarity of your corporate image and leave the audience with the impression that this is a company that hasn't quite figured out who it is."

Geometry of Design: Studies in Proportion and Composition

Kimberly Elam's Geometry of Design brings out the mathematical guns in analyzing and postulating about the inherent symmetrical nature of great design. She explores the relationships between visual representations and their foundations in geometry. It's a great book that focuses on the golden ratio and root rectangles.

Elam utilizes overlays and grids in order to identify designs in different works of design and art. She looks at the underlying geometric structures in architecture, compositions and even furniture. The author has a great ability to distill these high level math concepts and distill them in an understandable and relatable way with insight into the design process.

Universal Principles of Design 

This landmark book is the ultimate reference and cross-disciplinary design book. With richly illustrated and fantastic design elements, this book clearly displays a wide range of visual and design concepts. From anthropomorphic form to the Golden ratio, these over 100 design concepts are well-defined and thought out for readers to expand their principal knowledge.

It's a great book for skimming and also using a reference. There's also a few mind-benders in there as well, for example:

"The 80/20 rule asserts that approximately 80 percent of the effects generated by any large system are caused by 20 percent of the variables in that system."

Apply this same concept to an app and you'll find that this is also true. These principles are a great starting off point to delve deeper into the fundamentals of design in all types of mediums.

Don’t make me Think! 

Written and first published in 2000, Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think has served as a bible for a countless number of web designers and businesspeople. With an updated version for mobile usability, Krug presents his ideas in an understandable way for web designers to learn more about navigation and information design.

It's an excellent introduction to creating websites with some just plain common sense advice. As the title states, a website should be first and foremost functional and something people barely need to think about when using it.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

This classic book on statistics, graphs, charts and tables puts together both theory and practice in the visualization of data graphics. The text has some 250 plus of some the best and worst graphics for review. The book takes into account a number of highly sophisticated graphical design aspects, including:

  • High resolution displays
  • Editing graphics
  • Data-ink ratio
  • Time Series
  • Relational graphics
  • Data maps
  • Design variations versus data variations
  • & more!

Many people don't understand the importance of graphical competence as it requires a number of skills, both statistical and even artistic. Edward R. Tufte does a great job pointing out that while graphical representation is usually lacking in media publications, journals and general reading materials – graphical representation and comprehensive is a necessary in many fields for experts.

The One Device: the Secret History of the iPhone

While this book doesn't necessarily tout the fundamentals of design, it's an exciting historical view of what some people consider to be one of the greatest designed devices within the past few decades. There is no doubt that the iPhone has revolutionized the world, smartphone industry and changed our modern way of life. A mastery of design and functionality, the iPhone is the holy grail of devices.

Packed within this slab of computational glass is a story that needed to be told. Brian Merchant's book does just that. The history of the phone, electronics, early start of the secretive project within the Apple headquarters – all of this tells a tale of an exceptionally well-designed product.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.

Imagine that a health emergency strikes and you need an organ transplant – say, a heart. You get your name on a transplant list, but you find out there's a waiting period of six months. Tens of thousands of people find themselves in this dire situation every year. But 3D printing has the potential to change that forever.

The technology could usher in a future where transplantable organs can be printed not only cheaply, but also to the exact anatomical specifications of each individual patient.

What other innovations could 3D printing bring to medicine and health care? The sky is the limit, according to Dr. Todd Goldstein, a researcher with the corporate venturing arm of Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider and an industry leader in 3D-printing research and development.

"It comes down to what people can think up and dream up what they want to use 3D printing for," Goldstein says. "Ideally, you would hope that 50 years from now you'd have on-demand, 3D printing of organs."

While that's still on the horizon for researchers, 3D printing is already improving lives by revolutionizing medicine in three key areas.

​Printing realistic, customized organ models

3D printers can take images from MRI, PET, sonography or other technologies and convert them into life-size, three-dimensional models of patients' organs. These models serve as hands-on visualization tools that help surgeons plan the best approaches for complex procedures.

They also allow doctors to customize patient-specific models prior to surgery. For example, Northwell employs 3D printing in several clinical applications:

  • Tumor resection models clearly highlight the tumor and surrounding tissue
  • Orthopedic models are useful for pre-surgery measuring and medical device adjustments
  • Vascular models identify malformations in organs, tumors, sliced chambers, blood flow, valves, muscle tissue, and calcifications
  • Dentistry oral implants and appliances can be created in just one day, significantly reducing wait periods for Northwell dentists and their patients

Using realistic models not only delivers better health results but also shortens operating times. That gives patients less time under anesthesia, and hospitals potential savings of millions of dollars over just a few years.

Being able to visualize procedures before they occur also helps to comfort patients and their families. Take, for instance, the case of Barnaby Goberdhan, a man who discovered that his young son, Isaiah, had an aggressive tumor in his palate. Goberdhan met with Neha A. Patel, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Cohen Children's Medical Center, a Northwell Health hospital, to discuss the procedure and learn about it with help from a 3D-printed model.

"Having a 3D printed depiction of my son was really helpful when talking with the doctor about his surgery," said Mr. Goberdhan. "The doctor was able to do more than talk me through what they were going to do – Dr. Patel showed me. There is almost nothing more frightening and stressful than having your child go through surgery. There were several options Dr. Patel walked us through for the best way to preserve Isaiah's teeth and prevent additional cuts within his mouth. I wanted all of my questions answered so I could be less fearful and more prepared to talk my son through what he was about to face. I wanted Isaiah to feel prepared. With the 3D model, we both felt more at ease."

For years, 3D printing surgical models was prohibitively expensive. Now, more affordable systems such as Formlabs' Form Cell give more hospitals across the country access to the technology in order to produce realistic, patient-specific models, usually within one day.

3D-printed prosthetics

Credit: Northwell Health

While 3D-printed organs are a long way in the future, today's technology is well suited for manufacturing prosthetics. 3D-printed prosthetics are often remarkably more affordable and personalized than their traditional counterparts. That's a big deal for many families, especially those with children who outgrow prosthetics and are forced to buy new ones.

One recent breakthrough in 3D-printed prosthetics came when Dan Lasko, a former Marine who lost the lower part of his left leg in Afghanistan, wanted the ability to swim with his prosthetic leg. Wearing prosthetics in water has been possible for years, but they typically slow swimmers down. No device had been able to go seamlessly from land to water or to help propel its wearer through the water.

To fix that, Northwell Health recently funded a project that developed The Fin – the world's first truly amphibious prosthetic. With The Fin, Lasko and his family can go straight into the pool from the locker room – or the diving board.

"I got back in the pool with my two young sons and for the first time was able to dive into the pool with them," Lasko said.

3D-printed prosthetics will help improve the daily lives of the nearly 2 million Americans who've lost a limb. That's promising because the increasing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is expected to greatly increase the number of amputees in the U.S., according to a study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

​3D bioprinting

For years, 3D printers have manufactured various products: phone cases, toys, and even operational guns. To produce these objects, the machines heat a raw material, typically plastic, and build the object layer-by-layer according to a particular design.

3D bioprinting, a young field developed by researchers with Northwell Health, may someday perform the same process but instead with living cells in a raw material called bioink.

Daniel A. Grande, director at the Orthopedic Research Laboratory in the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, an arm of Northwell Health, said he and his team first pursued 3D bioprinting by modifying 3D printers so they'd accept living cells.

"My initial concept of 3D printing was early studies that looked at modifying ink-jet printers, where we incorporate a bioink that includes cells within a delivery vehicle," Grande says. "That hydrogel can then be polymerized, or hardened, upon heat or UV-light stimulation, so that we can actually make a complex structure, three-dimensionally, that incorporates living cells. The hardened hydro-gel is then able to keep the cells alive and viable. It's also biocompatible, so it can be safely implanted in humans."

It's a promising enterprise, and it can radically change how we experience medical care.

"3D bioprinting's potential is almost limitless and has the potential to replace many different parts of the human body," says Michael J. Dowling, president, and chief executive officer at Northwell Health. "Researchers envision a future with 3D printers in every emergency room, where doctors are able to print emergency implants of organs and bones on demand and revolutionize the way medicine is practiced."

Dr. Todd Goldstein explains more about 3D bioprinting below:

Health care: Information tech must catch up to medical marvels

Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's CEO, believes we're entering the age of smart medicine.

Photo: Tom Werner / Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The United States health care system has much room for improvement, and big tech may be laying the foundation for those improvements.
  • Technological progress in medicine is coming from two fronts: medical technology and information technology.
  • As information technology develops, patients will become active participants in their health care, and value-based care may become a reality.


In his book Health Care Reboot, Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's CEO, argues that "[the United States] is constructing a solid foundation upon which the new American health care is being erected." To those steeped in news of health care's administrative bloat, under-performing primary care, and low levels of insurance coverage, such a thesis may seem bold, wishful, or downright delusional.

But Dowling does not ignore the health care system's need for improvement. Rather, he believes that contemporary trends can foster such improvement if we recognize their value. He cites advances and disruptions in areas such as consolidation, education, payment reform, and mental health to support his progressive view that "better, safer, and more accessible care" is coming.

Among those trends is big tech's move into health care, or as Dowling puts it, technology may soon move us into the age of smart medicine.

Medical tech marvels

Dowling sees big tech's stride into health care as coming from two fronts: medical technology and information technology. On the medical technology front, the technology available to doctors has accelerated at an unprecedented pace, resulting in tools and techniques that are "the stuff of Star Wars."

"Some of the most advanced technology tools ever developed in any field are in use to care for patients. Look at any modern operating room or intensive care unit, and the technology to treat patients and keep them alive is remarkable," writes Dowling.

To pick one of many examples, Northwell Health's Cohen Children's Medical Center was the first pediatric program on Long Island to institute ROSA, a "robotic operating surgical assistant." Before ROSA, children suffering epilepsy would have to undergo a full craniotomy to target and monitor areas of seizure activity. With ROSA's assistance, surgeons can get the same results through a minimally invasive procedure, reducing the risk of infection and strain on the patient.

Even technology not designed for therapy has been co-opted to play small, yet supportive, roles in quotidian treatment. A study out of the Children's Hospital Los Angeles found that virtual reality can help reduce a child's anxiety and stress during basic procedures such as a blood draw.

Information tech plays catch up

Photo: Sisacorn / Shutterstock

Dowling characterizes the information technology front as "less impressive," pointing to the well-known difficulties of onboarding electronic health records. Beyond concerns of cybersecurity and interoperability, such systems have caused widespread burnout and dissatisfaction among practitioners thanks to their time consumption and complicated workflows.

But progress is being made. Apple recently added a Health Records app to its iPhone, giving patients from 39 health systems access to their medical records.

"This existing new reality is that a fat file, that until recently was stored away unavailable to the patient, now sits in its entirety on the patient's phone," writes Dowling. "For patients with chronic conditions who make frequent use of medical services, this leap forward enables them, whether a mile from their doctor's office or a thousand miles, to track and share with their doctor essential data on blood pressure, heart rate, glucose levels, and scores of other important clinical markers."

But to succeed, this information must be gatherable, accessible, and understandable to any patient. Big tech will need to streamline such systems for maximum user-friendliness, all while keeping operations on a device with which patients and practitioners are intimately familiar.

That device will be the smartphone and tablet. 77 percent of Americans own smartphones. Among Americans over 65 years of age — the demographic most in need of such advancements — 46 percent own a smartphone, a number that is likely to climb.

Big tech's vision of integrating information technology with health care is some ways off. Much experimenting must be done, and big tech needs to better collaborate with traditional health care stakeholders. Even so, these incipient steps may lead to a framework where practitioners can gather more data more quickly and with greater ease, while patients become partners, not passive recipients, of their health care team.

Accelerating value-based care

In the United States, value-based health care exists today as a should-we, could-we debate topic. Big tech's entry into the field could push value-based care closer to practice. As noted on the health care blog Tech Prescribed, integrating improved data acquisition with AI-powered platforms could turn value-based care into a manageable venture.

"As a result, we will see the move to VBC accelerate even further as more firms turn a profit through this business model. Good news for docs — this will make you the primary customer for provider technology and really improve your user experience as a side effect," writes Colton Ortolf of Tech Prescribed.

The Northwell Health entity Pharma Ventures was created both in response to collaborating with big pharma and as a means to promote value-based care. Pharma Ventures was designed "to link drug prices to drug performance" and "to serve as a super-site for clinical trials." The goal is to drive down costs while simultaneously improving patient experience. Such an initiative is only possible due to Northwell's integrated systems and system-wide electronic health records.

Entering the smart age of medicine

For Dowling, health care in the United States is laying an important foundation for the medicine of tomorrow. We're moving away from the view that health care is something the patient receives at a medical facility. Soon, health care will see the patient take an active role alongside a team of health care providers.

"The new American medicine is proactive and has physicians working in teams with nurses and other caregivers to reach out to patients and guide them along a pathway to health and wellbeing," writes Dowling.

By creating new machines, proliferating information, and making that information easier to obtain, big tech's dive into health care will be a fundamental element in this upcoming paradigm shift.