A Designer’s Favorite Books

by Caitlyn Marsh

Building the industry bookshelf one recommended read at a time.

Each of these books provides a great pick-me-up when I’m starting to feel burnt out or just stuck in a creative rut — they provide a short escape from my day-to-day work and remind me that creativity comes in all forms and inspiration can be found anywhere.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Honestly, I chose this one on impulse at an airport bookstore because the cover is pretty, but ended up not being able to put it down. It speaks to the core idea that making something — anything — is what’s most important at the end of the day. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be done. Everyone is living their own creative lives so you don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself.

“But to yell at your creativity, saying, ‘You must earn money for me!’ is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.”

Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

It’s a lovely, slightly irreverent source of actionable advice to go out, right now, and start being creative. It’s a kick in the ass when you’re stuck in a rut.

“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”

In Progress, by Jessica Hische

Jessica Hische is probably my favorite designer ever, and I initially chose this book simply because it’s beautiful. But beyond that, it’s an awesome look at the behind the scenes work of the work. It’s a nice reminder that stuff isn’t supposed to look pretty and perfect from the beginning, but that shouldn’t prevent you from making progress.

“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”

Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer

It’s what you would expect from a motivational book about creativity, but that doesn’t make it any less motivating. The author does a good job of bringing a very intangible thing down to earth; it makes “being creative” feel like a less amorphous goal.

“…the imagination is unleashed by constraints. You break out of the box by stepping into shackles.”

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