Date
May 14, 2021
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A compact list of product design books that will inspire you to think deeper in design.

There are hundreds of product design books out there that can tell you how to design great stuff but fewer offer a deep understanding of the theory behind them all. From design thinking as a philosophy to the expert approach behind the success of some of the world’s most iconic products, these 10 books below will give you a strong base, helping you think differently about design, and providing inspiration for your next project…

Product design books - Design Thinking - process
Design thinking approach follows a path which diverges and converges alternatively, across the three macro-steps of Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation – ©IDEO

The Design of Everyday Things – Don Norman

Bad design ignores the needs of users and the principles of cognitive psychology. That’s the premise behind ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by Don Norman, a world-famous psychologist and pioneer in the science of how we think. 

The book presents plenty of examples, among them, the VCR and an office telephone, all models of how not to design for people. Whether it’s ambiguous controls or arbitrary relationships between controls and functions, Norman interrogates a multitude of design sins, proposing design principles and good solutions instead.

Product design books - The Design of Every Day Things
Written by the world-famous psychologist Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things counterposes bad and good design solutions

The Laws of Simplicity – John Maeda

Any book that champions simplicity should be championed in return. Starting with “reduce”, John Maeda outlines 10 life lessons for sanity in ‘The Laws of Simplicity’ teach us how to need less but get more in business, technology and design. 

Think of it as a kind of precursor to a Marie Kondo state-of-mind. But Maeda goes beyond simplicity and organisation, covering saving of time, the importance of knowledge in making things simpler and even the importance of complexity to understand simplicity.

What do complex ecosystems and systems thinking exactly mean? Service design & innovation consultant Andy Polaine walks us through complexity, which every designer should embrace.

Product design books - The Laws of Simplicity
The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda actually goes beyond simplicity and organisation, covering even the importance of complexity

Universal Principles of Design – William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler

Armed with 150 principles, The Pocket Universal Principles of Design is a compact, portable and extensive anthology of design knowledge. If you want a book that strikes a perfect balance between critical design knowledge and rich illustrations of principles applied in practice, here is your bible. 

From the “80/20 Rule” to “Chunking,” from “Baby-Face Bias” to “Ockham’s Razor”, Universal Principles is an indispensable field guide for designers of all types. It promises to sharpen design thinking, provide invaluable reference guidelines, and expand your sense of what is possible.

Product design books - Universal Principles of Design
In The Pocket Universal Principles of Design the authors William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler propose 150 principles in a compact, extensive anthology of design knowledge

Cradle to Cradle – William McDonough and Michael Braungart

Cradle to cradle tackles the impending doom often associated with design and overproduction head on. Eliminating the concept of waste altogether, the authors, an architect and a chemist, are on a mission to preserve commerce and allow for human nature. 

Described as “required reading for business hotshots and environmental activists”, the book presents a manifesto calling for a new industrial revolution. Reduce, reuse and recycle are just three points in a detailed exploration of how designers could and should create products that don’t damage the Earth.

Product design books - Cradle to Cradle
William McDonough and Michael, an architect and a chemist, wrote Cradle to Cradle on a mission to preserve commerce and allow for human nature

Design for the real world – Victor Papanek

Twenty-five years ago Victor Papanek explored how design could reduce pollution, overcrowding, starvation, obsolescence and other modern ills. Tackling the industry’s biggest issues, it’s no surprise it became a seminal work and one of the most read books on design.

As well as laying foundations for the green architecture and humanitarian design movements, the book reads as an impatient and jargon-free analysis of the impact design has on the planet. It helps that it tackles everyday examples too – early in the book, Papanek savages the “Kleenex culture”.

Product design books - Design for the Real World
One of the most read design books, Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek tackles the industry’s biggest issues while making everyday examples

Designing Design – Kenya Hara

In Designing Design the renowned Japanese designer Kenya Hara impresses upon the reader the importance of “emptiness” in both the visual and philosophical traditions of Japan. It presents a discourse on design history with Hara’s reflections on topics, including white as a design concept, nothingness and the meaning of design.

Hara devotes a huge portion of the book to examining the projects of others through exhibitions, contests, and even the works of his students. It also examines his thought process through his own iconic work including the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, Swatch and MUJI.

Product design books - Designing Design
Designing Design presents a discourse on design history with Kenya Hara’s reflections on both his and others’ work

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People – Susan M. Weinschenk

It’s true google might have an answer for everything but sometimes you might not have the question. Whether you want to know more practical stuff like the best line length for text, or go deep to understand how memories work, ‘100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People’ does a deep-dive into what makes people tick. 

Don’t mistake this book as a jolly read on the human psyche, it is but it’s also a practical guide to increasing the effectiveness, conversion rates, and usability of your own design projects.

Product design books - 100 Things
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People was written by Susan M. Weinschenk as a practical guide for design projects

Thinking: Objects: Contemporary Approaches to Product Design – Tim Parsons

Thinking: Objects: Contemporary Approaches to Product Design discusses influences on modern product design such as globalization, technology, the media and the need for a sustainable future. It also demonstrates how readers can incorporate these influences into their own work.

This book also dedicates a significant part to discussing how readers can learn to read the signals an object sends. What does that mean exactly? The answer unfolds during a detailed exploration of value, perception, collective memory and behaviour, just to name a few areas.

Product design books - Thinking - Objects - Contemporary approaches to Product Design
In Thinking: Objects: Contemporary Approaches to Product Design, Tim Parsons focuses on what influences modern product design

The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm – Tom Kelley

Tom Kelley, a partner at global design company IDEO, takes readers behind the scenes of the iconic company responsible for the Apple mouse, Polaroid’s I-Zone instant camera, the Palm V, and hundreds of other cutting-edge products.

As well as the secrets behind IDEO’s winning strategies, Kelley dissects innovations in its many facets, from the importance of breaking the rules to the positive effects when you free people to design their own work environments.

Product design books - The Art of Innovation
The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO unveils the secrets behind the leading design firm’s winning strategies and analyzes innovation through the pen of Tom Kelley

Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspire Innovation – Tim Brown

Design is anything that changes: this is something that Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, understands unequivocally. Centred around the concept of “design thinking”, he explores the collaborative process by which a designer’s unique approach meets the needs of the people. 

Interestingly, this book evaluates the value of design thinking beyond the creative industries. Instead, it seeks to infuse design thinking into every level of an organization‚ product‚ or service to drive innovation across business and society.

Looking for sources about Inclusive Design? Don’t miss Hacking is caring, an e-book helping to design a dementia-friendly home!

Product design books - Change by Design
Seeking to infuse design thinking into every level of an organization‚ product‚ or service to drive innovation across business and society, Change by Design was written by Tim Brown
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