The phone call that changed my life
And five of the best design books for non-designers
👋 Good morning from Los Angeles! I'm Nate Kadlac, and this is Plan Your Next—a Sunday newsletter that connects design, creativity, and how you prepare for your next thing.
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The phone call that changed my life and the best design books for non-designers
I picked up the phone and called a friend out of anxiety.
"I'm going to drop out of college and I want you to teach me web design."
I was 18 and my feet felt stuck in cement at the local community college, not knowing what direction I wanted to pursue. I couldn't make up my mind, and I overloaded myself with classes, failing at some.
Was it architecture? Graphic design? Something else?
Up until this point, I was playing it as safely as I could. Without any financial help from my parents, I didn’t want to lock myself into debt from school loans. So, I chose a local school just minutes from my parent's home in a suburb of Minneapolis, while working at a local photo studio.
My dad was a graphic designer for a mail-order company local to the Midwest. Watching him place mail-order products like pens and clothes next to labels and prices using a desktop publishing software called Quark was not what I wanted to end up calling a career.
What I didn’t know was knowing how many different flavors of design there were. Print design was the only medium I was familiar with, and taking classes at the local college was like peering into the truth of the past, without any bets being placed on the future. I wanted to be on the cutting edge, just like the Apple IIe my parents owned at the height of personal computing in the 80s.
After that phone call and my soon-to-be mentor took me up on my offer, I spent the next 18 months working as an apprentice, learning how to use Microsoft Frontpage, code HTML and CSS, and more importantly, design for the web.
My path in design led me to learn about design in non-traditional ways. I never studied design formally, but instead, I built my skillset by chasing my next idea.
If you have been curious about wanting to better understand design in a non-traditional way, here's a list of books I'd recommend to close the design knowledge gap.
1. "Thinking with Type" by Ellen Lupton
The most important thing you need to learn about design is how to make your text sing. 95% of the web is made up of text, and there are helpful guidelines to make sure your text is readable and legible.
Have you landed on a website where the text stretched from one side of the browser to the other? It's tiring to read, no matter how great the story is. And that feeling affects the brand equity of the person who wrote it.
"Thinking with Type" is one of the most approachable books on typography. It not only covers some of the technical aspects in a simple way, but this book will level up your thinking after one read.
It's filled with great illustrations, and writers will love this because many of the examples are directed at making sure your writing looks great.
2. "The Non-Designer's Design Book" by Robin Williams
"The Non-Designer's Design Book" is a great introduction to design for non-designers. The book covers the basics of design, including layout, color, and typography. The book is written in a friendly and accessible style, making it easy to understand for anyone.
My only knock is how dated the examples are, as it was originally written in the late 80s when it was cool to have overly designed business cards because desktop publishing was entirely new.
That said, it covers the fundamentals well, and it's a great reference book on the four basic design principles.
3. "GO: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design" by Chip Kidd
Chip Kidd has designed more than 1,500 book covers, including the cover of Michael Crieghton's Jurassic Park, which was later licensed to Universal Studios for the movie.
Personally, I believe you can learn a lot about design from the way books are created to grab our attention. This book by Chip simplifies the basic ideas of design into content, form, typography, and concepts.
The book also includes 10 mini design projects in the back, which make the concepts incredibly easy to apply.
4. "The Design of Everyday Things" by Don Norman
"The Design of Everyday Things" is a classic book on design that explores how everyday objects are designed and used.
Good design should be intuitive and easy to use, and the book provides examples of both good and bad design in everyday life. The book is less about how to apply design, but instead how to cultivate your curiosity of design in the world you live in.
5. "Designing News: Changing the World of Editorial Design and Information Graphics" by Francesco Franchi
Much of the time, I would buy books like this to be inspired by different layouts and ways to design information. Even if you're designing a personal site, looking through newspapers all across the world is such a fascinating way to be inspired.
I have kept this on my shelf for almost 10 years, and whenever I'm feeling uninspired, this is my go-to resource to better understand different ways to combine type, form, and content.
Optionally advanced: "The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst
This book is the definitive manual on typography. It can be a bit dense, and much of what you'll learn is in Ellen Lupton's book above. But, if you want the Bible of typography, this is it.
This covers everything from the history of typography to the basics of typography design. The book is filled with examples of good typography, making it easy to understand the principles of typography design.
This is really only for those who want to dive deeper into typography and master the craft.
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🥃 Surprisingly hilarious read from Marc Andreessen on abstaining from alcohol for the past six months.
“About six months ago, I stopped drinking alcohol. I feel much better, and I’m mad as hell about it.
Wow man really tough to resist the urge to just buy all these books in Amazon now
Microsoft Frontpage ... that’s a blast from the past!