Visual communication is a very broad topic. The number of sources that influence my thinking in visual communication is always on the rise, so the list below certainly isn’t comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination. But I wanted to list the sources that seem to be seminal (or at least widely read) in the field, sources that you might want to pick up if you are interested in improving your own visual literacy or if you just want some pointers for better design practices. This list will continue to grow, so check back often!
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, By Susan Weinschenk. Written by a web design scholar and brain research enthusiast, this book covers many interesting research studies that show how people react to design. While much of the design tips refer to website design, the principles can be applied across visual communication disciplines. In this book, you’ll read about how people see, read, remember, think, focus, feel, make decisions, and so forth. Weinschenk includes a “Takeaways” section after each principle to clarify how the research applies directly to communication and design. After reading this book, you’ll have a better understanding of how people react to their environments and what you can do to adapt your communications to accommodate people.
Envisioning Information, by Edward Tufte. A must-read for any burgeoning designer or someone interested in information and design studies, this book is a seminal work by one of the most well-respected design theorists and researchers out there today. Tufte’s book explores information design as a universal principle and delves into the ideas about what makes complex information understandable across cultures. Some of his more popular topics include “chartjunk,” design elements that detract from meaning, “micro” and “macro” readings of design, complexity as a virtue in design, and the credibility of well-designed information. After reading this book, you’ll have a foundational understanding of the roots of information design studies and a better theoretical approach to designing complex information (like infographics). Plus, you’ll have a really pretty book to add to your collection or coffee table—this really is a book you can display and have conversations about because it is filled with wonderful examples of information design from different countries, continents, and millennia.
The Non-Designer’s Design Book, by Robin Williams. This is a great foundation book if you are new to visual communication and design. Williams addresses the four main principles of design—Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity—in a very memorable acronym (CRAP). If you can master the four principles that Williams puts forth, you will automatically be a much better visual communicator. There are a lot of examples of how to improve bad design. This book is widely used in many intro to design courses in college.
The Non-Designer’s Type Book, by Robin Williams. The publisher of this book has combined it with the book I listed right above, so you may have to buy these together. In this book, Williams addresses all the basics for using typography. This is a great resource book for applying design design principles related to text. After reading this book, you’ll better understand the anatomy of type (all the letters’ “body parts”); how to use leading, kerning, and tracking; when to use small caps; what the ideal line length is; what swash characters, ligatures, and oldstyle figures are; the different types of fonts (like serifs, sans serifs, decorative, script, and so forth); and much more. The book is an excellent introduction into how to use type.
Universal Principles of Deisgn, by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. An excellent resource book for any visual communicator, this book addresses 125 tried-and-true principles related to design. Each of the principles are well-known in design fields and have been researched to the point that they are considered “universally” accepted. In this book, you’ll have a handy guide to understanding principles such as the Rule of Thirds, Highlighting, Color, the Red Effect, the Face-ism Ratio, the Aesthetic Usability Effect, Stickiness, the Picture Superiority Effect, and many others. I like the book because it provides the seminal research articles that have been used to define each principle. It is organized well (each principle uses two pages, in a single spread) and there are many examples to clarify how each principle is applied. After reading this book you can expect to have a comfortable, if not strong (especially if you read the research articles cited) understanding of some of the most foundational theories in visual communication and design.