Our favorite product design books

Without the hours spent piloting our vehicles to the design studio, our podcast consumption has dropped considerably and we’ve been missing the voices of other design thought leaders. On the bright side, however, we’ve managed to squeeze in more armchair time and have rediscovered the books that first inspired us to pursue careers in design along with some new ones to expand our thinking. Below is a list of what we consider to be the top 10 books for aspiring product designers to read in 2020, whether you’re an industrial designer working to develop physical products or a digital product designer crafting on-screen interactions. This list is far from comprehensive but reading ten books before the end of the year is ambitious enough on its own so we’ll save some additional titles for our 2021 list.

Note: Shape is NOT an affiliate with any of the links below. We’re sharing these strictly because we think they’re awesome reads.

The Art of Innovation

by Tom Kelley

We will always jump at the chance to get an inside look at an inspirational design company like IDEO. Kelley strongly believes that everyone can be creative, and between IDEO and the d.school at Stanford, his work over the past 3 decades has been about making innovation a way of life. This book tells stories directly from IDEO while also drawing upon learnings from other leading companies.

The War of Art

by Steven Pressfield

Do you ever sit down at your desk in front of a blank screen only to realize you’re thirsty or that you need to check your inbox for… anything else? This is what Steven Pressfield calls the resistance. The War of Art is an insightful and entertaining book to keep close to your desk and prompt you to jump into the struggle we all must deal with while trying to produce great creative work.

Tom Peters Essentials: Design

by Tom Peters

Tom Peters is a management thinker most known for his 1982 classic, In Search of Excellence. His own search for excellence has led him to become a very vocal ambassador for design. Design is a short book, or perhaps a rant, about why design must be at the heart of every business, and it’s one we highly recommend.

The Laws of Human Nature

by Robert Greene

In order to develop a deep understanding of our users, it’s insightful to strengthen our understanding of human behavior. The Laws of Human Nature provides profound observations seen through the lens of history, psychology, and philosophy. If the author’s name rings a bell, it’s likely because you’ve heard of his previous bestseller, The 48 Laws of Power.

Purple Cow

by Seth Godin

Like Tom Peters, Seth Godin doesn’t come from a design background. Rather, he’s a management thinker on a pursuit to inspire people to do work that matters. Purple cow is a book about creating products and services that are worth marketing in the first place. If that isn’t enough to perk a designer’s ears up, the cover also features some praise from Tom Kelley.

Creative Confidence

by Tom Kelley, David Kelley

Where The Art of Innovation is more about building innovative teams and organizations, Creative Confidence focuses on how each of us can unleash our own creative powers. While this book has major appeal to those outside of the design industry who are looking to be more creative, it also provides an action plan for designers to boost their ability to innovate. As Tom Peters praised “Don’t just read it. Use it. Now.”

Objects of Desire: Design and Society Since 1750

by Adrian Forty

Objects of Desire is a very consumable book filled with brilliant insights from the past 200 years of design and manufacturing. In his book, Forty shows how much truly goes into the design of objects all around us. Written in 1992, Objects of Desire has retained its relevance as a thought-provoking look at how design and society intertwine.

The Design of Everyday Things

by Don Norman

The Design of Everyday Things is quite possibly the most well known and applicable book on the topic of product design. Whether you’re an industrial designer or UX designer, Don’s six fundamental principles of design likely have vast implications on the work you do. It’s an insightful piece on the psychology behind product interaction and one that should be on every product designer’s bookshelf.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

by Nir Eyal

In Hooked, Nir Eyal draws upon principles of cognitive psychology and decision making to analyze why some products capture our attention while others flop. The result is a how-to guide for building better products and doesn’t require you to pour over hours of abstract theory. This book is geared more towards the UX design community, but delivers valuable insights for industrial designers as well.

Emotional Design

by Don Norman

In his second book on our list, Norman explains how the principles of human psychology inform the invention and design of the new products that surround us. Going beyond his claim that a user’s needs should trump a designer’s aesthetic, Norman argues that human centered design is about creating effective tools that mesh with human emotion.

Reading the way to better design

Rereading some of the older books on this list recently, we were surprised by how relevant they still are despite having been written before the advent of the iPhone. The creative challenges faced by Da Vinci in 1502 as he designed an odometer are not unlike the design challenges we face today. It all comes back to designing experiences that will delight the people who use them. The best way to design better for people is to learn more about them, and we hope that this list serves as a great place to get started.