[d-Zen] Startup bookshelf: 12 design books every entrepreneur must read


Design is a key skill for startup success, but many founders come from tech or business backgrounds. Here are some great books to help increase your design quotient.

Insights from a range of entrepreneur events over the years reveal that a significant talent need in the startup ecosystem is in the area of design. To address this need, YourStory is launching a series of articles and resources called d-Zen (‘design Zen’).

We begin with 12 books that give valuable design insights to “non-designers” as well. To be fair, everyone has innate artistic capacity and design potential, but these books help beginners better appreciate the power and beauty of applied design (see also our extensive book review section with takeaways from over 150 books for innovators).

We have deliberately chosen a mix of “look books” and “cook books” – some books illustrate award-winning products and explain why they have been so successful; other books give you methodologies and frameworks to design your own great products.

Just reading these books won’t make you a great designer, of course. But as a startup founder, they will help sensitise you to what design could mean and do for your organisation, make you conversant with the language of design, and help you hire the right design talent.

Large companies may have adequate resources to hire “expensive” designers from elite schools, but startups should realise that they too need to be able to afford good designers. Hiring is just the first part – you also need to create a conducive environment in your organisation for designers to thrive, excel and co-create.

Design means different things to different people. Its disciplines span products, digital interfaces, animation, multi-sensory interaction, services, urban architecture, apparel, interiors, food, packaging, media, and much more. The books in this compilation of 12 titles span some of this diversity.

Other design resources such as websites, podcasts, videos, newsletters, online courses, conferences, and meetups will be reviewed in future d-Zen articles. See also YourStory’s coverage of design events such as NASSCOM Design Summit, Product Conclave, DesignUp, and UX India (2015, 2014).

So here are 12 terrific books to start you off on your exciting design journey. Happy reading and happy designing!

  1. Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman

This is a design classic and one that made design popular (and relevant) for people in any field, industry or role. Don is an engineer, designer, psychologist, and an excellent story teller. He helps us understand the value and principles behind design by just closely looking at everyday things like tea kettles and door knobs. This a good first book into your world of design.

  1. Simple and Usable: Web, Mobile and Interaction Design, by Giles Colborne

If you are into digital design, this book is a neat compilation of examples and strategies you can use immediately to heighten the user experience of your software. It is a visual treat that you can browse between meetings, or take a page for discussion during coffee with your colleagues.

  1. Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions, by Bella Martin and Bruce Hanington

How can you understand your customer needs and pain-points, and derive insights into what they actually want in the products you are building? Every page in this book has a neat anthropological or research technique your team can apply to understand the unsaid needs of your consumers.

  1. Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, by David Sherwin

This book has 80 exercises for design teams. It covers different types of challenges in various media and formats. You can use this book as a resource to fire up the creative energy in your team. The chapters are classified into categories like expressive design, responsive design, affordable design, and integrated design.

  1. Design Revolution: 100 Products that are Changing Lives, by Emily Pilloton

Wondering how design can play a role in creating social impact sustainably? This book is a great curation of products and services from around the world: safer baby bottles, waterless washing machines, low-cost prosthetics for landmine victims, and much more. A must-read for all those in the field of frugal and inclusive design.

  1. Iconic Designs: 50 Stories about 50 Things, by Grace Lees-Maffei

If you want to know which objects, furniture, electronic devices are considered to be iconic and path-breaking in the design world, this is a neat compilation. From the Sydney Opera House and Rubik’s Cube to eBay and iMac, this book has it all. So grab it for your own library!

  1. What Makes Great Design: 80 Masterpieces Explained, by Susie Hodge

This compact book presents another great compilation of successful design, neatly categorised into different principles such as ergonomics, grace, minimalism, versatility, and endurance. From guitars and flatware to iPhone and Swatch, this book gives you a great taxonomy and mind map of desirable product qualities.

  1. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, by Tom and David Kelley

If you think design and creativity are only for professional designers and artists, think again. The founders of IDEO, the legendary company that designed Apple's first mouse, have done much to evangelise the value of design in the industry. The book shows all readers how to cultivate a growth mindset, lifelong learning, curiosity, a bias for action, and collaborative spirit. See YourStory’s book review here.

  1. How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow's World Today, by John Thackara

Economic models and business strategies based only on endless growth are doing irreparable damage to the environment and to future generations of humanity. This book on sustainable and responsible design shows 10 ways to focus on the circular economy via biodiversity and ecology. See YourStory’s book review here.

  1. Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design, by Jenifer Tidwell

This popular book helps designers navigate through the maze of design options across web, apps and social media. It is useful for beginners and experienced designers, and covers topics from visual hierarchy to navigational distance. There are also chapters on navigational models, design conventions, complex data, and visual style. 

  1. Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams, by James Kalbach

If you are into services, you need to master disciplines and methods like service design thinking. This practical book shows how to use alignment diagrams to turn customer observations into actionable insight. The humble diagram can be used to map processes, visualise outcomes, and inform strategy. The book also addresses customer journey maps, experience maps, mental models, and ecosystem linkages.

  1. Designing Interactions, by Bill Moggridge

Bill Moggride is a designer, co-founder of IDEO, curator, writer, educator, and director of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. In this book, he interviews 40 leading designers from various fields, who have played key roles in shaping our interaction with technology. Need we say more? Grab it for a Sunday afternoon!

Once you have gone through these books, we would suggest other worthy titles such as Sar: The Essence of Indian Design; Design Sprint; Lean UX; UX Design for Mobile; Hooked; Sketching User Experiences; Service Design Thinking; Universal Principles of Design; Knowledge is Beautiful; and Design Thinking for the Greater Good.

See also YourStory’s framework of The ‘8 Is’ of design thinking for startups, and reviews of the following books on design thinking: Problem solving with design thinking, 101 Design Methods, and Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation.

Do suggest other titles and online resources for us to review, and stay tuned for announcements on upcoming design events and meetups!


Updates from around the world