A bookcase full of fantastical book recommendations from inspirational to business-focused to references, education and many, many more! ×

“I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere!” – Belle

Ah, Belle. The origin story of many of our book-love beginnings. I have a plethora of books, not nearly as many as I’d like to have, of course. And, over the past several years of my design career, I’ve collected many that inspire, teach, add a bit of humor, and boost confidence.

From books on business to how-twos to inspiration—both motivational inspiration as well as great reference inspiration–there’s nearly a book for everything. Some of super packed with info and text, other’s are a quick, but impactful read.

And, the best part? They are gorgeous physical, tangible glorious design in your hands* (*yes, they can also be digital ebooks, too).

Right now I’m in the middle of reading A Pocket Full of Do, and just took Do the F*cking Work out from my mailbox… so, yes, another post of ton books on my to-do list to read, and a bunch that I’ve read recently or many years ago. Somewhat organized, though some can be in multi-categories, check out these dozen or so great books! (And, as always, have a great recommendation? Send me a note! I’d love to add more!)


With so many inspirational and motivational social media accounts out there—mainly filled with short quotes–it sometimes feels like it’s less genuine. Getting ‘content’ out there. Engagement. Algorithm. (I mean, I follow my fair share, too) But, to me, a motivational or inspirational book/story has so much more impact. The author, whether they are telling their own stories or multiple, goes beyond the ‘keywords, hashtags, engagement’, and hands out honesty and vulnerability in its truest form. These five books below aren’t only filled quotes or stories – some have their work, process, interviews, and more that may help bring you out of your funk and show you a fresh perspective.

1. Pocket Full of Do

By Chris Do / Could I have put this in Business? Yes. Did I? No. This one gave a lot of inspiration and motivation to me, so it’s here now 😁

I’ve followed The Futur and Chris Do for years now, and finally bought Pocket Full of Do this past year. I had it on top of my books to read stack, and figured the perfect place to read it was on my road trip with my mother this past October. Lots of Driving, lots of time. I joked to her, as we were making the long drive towards Boston, that I would read it to her aloud, but she was all for it. And, what a great book to read! We didn’t make it all the way through, but each chapter is an easy read, with great tips, inspiration, and insight that we both loved. She’s even got her own copy now, too – so it’s not only Nina-Approved but Mama-Approved. You can buy a signed copy, a paperback copy, or a digital version!

About: The business book for creatives. Pocket Full of Do encapsulates over two decades of reflections and observations on entrepreneurship, creativity, philosophy, and more. You’ll get a retrospective glimpse into the life of a creative business owner, and the lessons learned along the way.

Buy Pocket Full of Do

2. Do the F*cking Work: Lowbrow Advice for High-Level Creativity

By Brian Buirge, Jason Bacher, Jason Richburg of Good F*cking Design Advice (GFDA) / Another great Instagram follows that turned into a book purchase, GFDA is true motivation and inspiration at its swear-y-est peak. My own computer has the “Strive for F*cking Excellence” on its screensaver, plus I now have the Advice.Mug, for an additional boost, so the book was a no-brainer to get. I just grabbed it out of my mailbox, so as far as the read itself, I don’t have a review on it yet, but from what I’ve seen on-site, Amazon, and their stories, it’s great. (Though, maybe not the Kindle version 😅 sounds like that’s f*cked up 😉)

About: A source of inspiration for anyone who needs a gentle kick in the ass to start the journey or finish the job, while celebrating the process of trying, learning, and failing.

Buy Do the F*cking Work

3. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

By Austin Kleon / This one was big right when I graduated college. Saw it all over the place in my design groups, and jumped on getting it. While it’s been almost 10 years since I read it, it’s definitely still on my top shelf and I recommended it over the years.

About: An inspiring guide to creativity in the digital age, Steal Like an Artist presents ten transformative principles that will help readers discover their artistic side and build a more creative life.

Nothing is original, so embrace influence, school yourself through the work of others, remix, and reimagine to discover your own path. Follow interests wherever they take you—what feels like a hobby may turn into your life’s work. Forget the old cliché about writing what you know: Instead, write the book you want to read, make the movie you want to watch.

And finally, stay Smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring in the everyday world so that you have the space to be wild and daring in your imagination and your work.

Buy Steal Like an Artist

4. Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic

By Lisa Congdon / Back in September 2019, I went to FULLTIME PGH’s Find Your Artistic Voice, an Evening with Lisa Congdon event at the Ace Hotel. I had seen Lisa’s work before this and was so excited to hear from her on her story, her book, and more. Any time you’re able to hear directly from the author/designer/illustrator themself, it adds a punch of authenticity, plus value to the information you’ll end up reading in the book, too! A great event, and a great book!

About: Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic. An artist’s unique voice is their calling card. It’s what makes each of their works vital and particular. But developing such singular artistry requires effort and persistence. Bestselling author, artist, and illustrator Lisa Congdon brings her expertise to this guide to the process of artistic self-discovery. Featuring advice from Congdon herself and interviews with a roster of established artists, illustrators, and creatives, this one-of-a-kind book will show readers how to identify and nurture their own visual identity, navigate the influence of artists they admire, push through fear and insecurity, and appreciate the value of their personal journey.

Buy Find Your Artistic Voice

5. The Process is the Inspiration Book

By House Industries / A book on my to-buy list this time. I’ve loved House Industries and their amazing work—specifically their gorgeous fonts—since college. Hugely recommend checking them out, and maybe you’ll get the book before I do!

About: Where do you find inspiration? It seems like a simple question, but like most things we do, we overthought it then overdesigned some 400 pages in an attempt to provide an answer. With topics ranging from fonts and fashion to ceramics and space technology, this beautifully-useful volume offers a personal perspective on the origin of ideas for creative people in any field. Presented in the honest, authentic, and often irreverent style that you’ve come to expect from House Industries, The Process is the Inspiration is a collection of helpful lessons, stories and case studies that demonstrate how you can transform obsessive curiosity into personally satisfying and successful work. If that’s not enough, there’s also plenty of over-intellectualized post-rationalization supported by hundreds of new images, our signature top-secret printing tricks, and thousands of Oxford commas. Most importantly, this book shows that there’s no sense in waiting for inspiration because inspiration is already waiting for you.

Buy The Process…


Let’s Get Down to Business! Good ol’ business-focused books! Freelance, full-time, agency, all that stuff. While some of the ones in the previous section could technically be included here, too, these three books have Business in their title, so their totally Business Focused.

6. Freelance, and Business, and Stuff

By Amy Hood and Jennifer hood of Hoodzpah / Maybe this is an Instagram love post? Many of these, like a lot, have been found through following designers and agencies on there, including this book! I’m making my way through it, but I don’t definitely don’t have to finish before I’d recommend. So many five-stars and love for it, that it’s totally a book to get. Hoodzpah also has a course on it, and have done many conferences and talks (sadly, missed them at a couple of axed conferences last year…)

About: This freelance book is a crash course made for creatives by creatives. Freelancing can feel overwhelming. But it’s not as hard as you think! In this down-to-earth, no fluff, easy-to-read book, you’ll learn exactly what steps to take to start and run your own creative studio without selling out or starving. Written by the founders of Hoodzpah based on what they’ve learned across 10 years running their own studio.


7. Brutally Honest

By Emily Ruth Cohen

About: No Bullshit Strategies to Evolve Your Creative Business. I call myself a “brutally honest” business consultant. I speak it, or in this case, I write it as I see it and experience it. As an individual, a consultant, and a speaker, I have a style and personality that people either love or hate. My book, appropriately titled Brutally Honest: No Bullshit Strategies To Evolve Your Creative Business, is going to make you feel the same way. It is a reflection of my own personality and approach, which is straightforward, concise, and honest. So, be prepared… (About continued on Emily’s site)

Buy Brutally Honest

8. Mind Your Business

By Ilana Griffo

About: Mind Your Business is the ONLY book that teaches you everything you need to know about how to build a successful business from scratch. From developing your brand to designing products to identifying your legal and tax needs, this comprehensive guide will take you through every step of the process and help you create a unique and customized roadmap for your business. Mind Your Business is for aspiring entrepreneurs who are driven, ambitious, creative, and determined to build a business and life they love.

Author Ilana Griffo shares the formula that turned her creative hobby into a six-figure design studio. From initial planning to long-term business strategy, Mind Your Business includes… (About continued on Amazon)

Buy Mind Your Business


With so many inspirational and motivational social media accounts out there—mainly filled with short quotes–it sometimes feels like it’s less genuine. Getting ‘content’ out there. Engagement. Algorithm. (I mean, I follow my fair share, too) But, to me, a motivational or inspirational book/story has so much more impact. The author, whether they are telling their own stories or multiple, goes beyond the ‘keywords, hashtags, engagement’, and hands out honesty and vulnerability in its truest form. These five books below aren’t only filled quotes or stories – some have their work, process, interviews, and more that may help bring you out of your funk and show you a fresh perspective.

9. Flaunt: Designing effective, compelling, and memorable portfolios of creative work 

By Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit of Under Consideration / From one of my favorite blogs – which I’ve professed my love for on my own blog, a blog post and a conference post.

About: Through 41 portfolio case studies, 18 self-promo examples, 25 interviews with experienced professionals, industry surveys, and tips on how to photograph design work, Flaunt is a resource for design students as well as young, experienced, freelance, and independent designers. It explains how one can find a way to cohesively, succinctly, and creatively showcase their work through an accessible, effective, and creative portfolio. Flaunt showcases a variety of portfolio alternatives that represent both the most common approaches as well as some offbeat executions. Hopefully, this book will help ease the anxiety and burden of creating a portfolio, demystify the process of putting it together, and establish expectations of presenting it. [Read the Full Introduction]

Buy Flaunt

10. First Round Case Studies

from Under Consideration / Hey now, another one?! From Under Consideration? I swear they’re not paying me or telling me to post about them. I’ve just followed their blogs for like decades now. So this isn’t *technically* a book-book, but it’s still something to read and see. Because of the cancellation of their First Round events, they decided to put up the Case Study PDFs! Great to see the process of other designers and agencies.

About: First Round case studies are online PDFs that reproduce, with accompanying narratives, the original presentations made to clients showing initial design explorations for logo, identity, and branding projects.

Buy First Round Case Studies

11. Brand by Hand

By Jon Contino / Grabbed this one directly in-store at Barnes & Noble! Big ol’ book, and excited to see all of the great work from Jon Contino!

About: Jon is a born-and-bred New Yorker. He talks like one, he acts like one, and most importantly, he designs like one. He is the founder and creative director of Jon Contino Studio, and over the past two decades, he has built a massive collection of award-winning graphic-design work for high-profile clients such as Nike, 20th Century Fox, and Sports Illustrated. Throughout all of this, he has gone to design hell and back, facing obstacles like fear, self-doubt, and bad luck. Brand by Hand documents the work and career of Jon Contino, exploring his lifelong devotion to the guts and grime of New York and cementing his biggest artistic inspirations, from hardcore music to America’s favorite pastime. A graphic-design retrospective showcasing his minimalist illustrations and unmistakable hand-lettering, Brand by Hand shares how Contino has taken a passion for pen and ink and turned it into an expanding empire of clients, merchandise, and artwork.

Buy Brand by Hand

12. The Package Design Book

by Pentawards / Another quick pick up at Barnes & Nobles, love how many amazing packaging designs are in here – especially how creative, too. Definitely great if you’re into packaging design.

About: Good Design Stands Out. Great Design is Transparent. Published by TASCHEN, The Package Design Book is the ultimate packaging design book, featuring over 500 winning works from the world’s leading packaging design competition. Now in its sixth edition, this exclusive book showcases all winning works from the 2019 and 2020 Pentawards competition, which includes designs from agencies, students, freelancers and brands from more than 45 countries.

Buy The Package Design Book


Now you can say all books are educational, which is true. But these books have education and tutorials at the forefront. With Art Direction Explained, At Last!, it’s a look at what Art Direction is to all sorts of different people. And Designing Brand Identity was literally a book I had for a class in college.

13. Art Direction Explained, At Last!

By Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne

About: This book is a highly informative, highly entertaining introduction to what art direction is and what art directors do. Written by two of the world’s leading experts on the subject, it covers the role of art director in numerous environments, including magazines and newspapers, advertising, corporate identity, museums, and publishing. It also provides an insight into what makes a successful art director, what an art director actually does all day, what makes things go right, and what makes things go wrong.

Alongside perspectives on typography, illustration, and photography, there are case studies of successful art direction in different spheres, from McSweeney’s to Vier5’s web design. The authors have also invited pre-eminent international art directors to interpret their roles in special sections of the book that they have art directed themselves. The result is an impressive, enlightening, and often very funny diversity of perspectives and approaches.

Clearly written, including a glossary of handy art director sayings, an “art director test,” and more, Art Direction Explained, At Last! will provide students with insights into the world of art direction and professionals with a perceptive overview of their profession.

Buy Art Direction Explained

14. Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team

by Alina Wheeler

About: A revised new edition of the bestselling toolkit for creating, building, and maintaining a strong brand. From research and analysis through brand strategy, design development through application design, and identity standards through launch and governance, Designing Brand Identity, Fourth Edition offers brand managers, marketers, and designers a proven, universal five-phase process for creating and implementing effective brand identity. Enriched by new case studies showcasing successful world-class brands, this Fourth Edition brings readers up to date with a detailed look at the latest trends in branding, including social networks, mobile devices, global markets, apps, video, and virtual brands.

  • Features more than 30 all-new case studies showing best practices and world-class
  • Updated to include more than 35 percent new material
  • Offers a proven, universal five-phase process and methodology for creating and implementing effective brand identity


Buy Designing Brand Identity

15. D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself (Design Handbooks)

By Ellen Lupton

About: Not satisfied with the new T-shirts on sale at the local mall? Maybe you’d like a wedding invitation that expresses your own vision, not your party planner’s? How about some personalized stationery? An upgrade to your website? A business card? A poster for your political campaign? A CD package for your band? Sound good? Then get up off your couch and Design It Yourself! Avoid graphic identity theft: build your own. Ellen Lupton, bestselling author of Thinking with Type, will show you how.

DIY: Design It Yourself, provides you with all the tools you’ll need to create your own projects, from conception through production. Here you will find:
– simple ideas on how you can “think like a designer”
– clear and coherent explanations of design technologies, from silk-screening to web development
– (Read the Full About on Amazon)


16. Graphic Design That Works: Secrets for Successful Logo, Magazine, Brochure, Promotion, and Identity Design

By Rockport Publishers

About: Consumers are blitzed with millions of images every day. Companies hoping to grab a consumer’s attention need a memorable, eye-catching design-whether for a logo, an identity system, an in-depth promotional campaign, or a magazine that needs to stay fresh and strong month after month.

Now as a competitively priced paperback, Graphic Design That Works looks at examples of logos, identities, promotions, brochures, and magazine design that have proven, successful track records. Quick-hit copy explores these designs from early conceptual stages to initial drafts and final execution, so whether you’re a seasoned designer or a newcomer to the field, you can understand how and why the design came to be.

Also included are tips from the experts who put these designs on the map. They tell what succeeded and what failed in their attempts to create designs that really work.

Buy Graphic Design That Works

Have a Great Book Recommendation?

I’d love to add it to the list or create a volume two! The more, the merrier, and not only happy to share, but I’m also happy to read, too! Send me a note and I’ll be sure to check it out! 

Curious what Fonts I used? Check out my very first blog post for the rundown. 

This post is not sponsored or an advertisement. these are just genuine recommendations, or/and thoughts.