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6 must‑read books that will shape your product design career

Whether you’re a seasoned product designer or just starting out in your career, the art of design is a life-long learning process. And while there are plenty of design learning resources online, there’s nothing quite like flipping through the pages of a carefully crafted book, in which tons of research and effort have been poured into it.

We asked six product designers in our community to share one book that has helped to shape their careers and design thinking in general. You might be surprised to see that not all of these book recommendations have to do directly with digital product design…

So, grab your favorite beverage, get comfortable, and happy reading!

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1. Mindless Eating

By Brian Wansink, Ph.D

“On the surface, this book is about our awareness of how much, what, and why we’re eating. But, if you look more closely it’s really a book that goes deep into human behavior and psychology in general. It’s a fun read rooted in scientific testing and wild experimentation—like bottomless soup bowls and bad popcorn in movie theaters.

One of my favorite experiments conducted in the book was about a hamburger. Two groups tested with the exact same burger. One was told it was a cheap regular hamburger and the second group was described the hamburger fancy adjectives and a higher price. You’ll have to read the book to learn the results.

As designers, creating products for people, the more we can learn about how humans are wired and how that affects their behavior, the better we can design for them.”

2. Herding Tigers: Be the Leader That Creative People Need

By Todd Henry

“Herding Tigers was the exact book I needed as I started on my design leadership journey. It’s light and easy to read but substantial. We can be fickle as creatives, often pushing back if we’re not handled the right way. But Todd suggests we need two things: Stability and Challenge. He presents strategies that allow creative managers to help their teams execute better, without feeling like you’re telling people what to do. These same strategies have also been helpful for me when talking to higher-level stakeholders, helping better define what I need from them to do my job successfully.

Even if you’re not destined for a management track, the leadership strategies in Herding Tigers will help in all stages of your career.”

3. How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

By Debbie Millman

“As designers, we are our own worst critics. We’re never 100% satisfied with our work, and this only gets worse when you’re surrounded by other great designers that get a lot more attention than you do. Imposter syndrome, or generally not being able to execute your ideas, can lead to being overly self-conscious to a point where it negatively affects your work. By giving an intimate glimpse into the minds of some of the world’s greatest designers, this book helped me see that we all have these fears, thus encouraging me to continue doing the best work that I can.”

4. Discussing Design: Improving Communication and Collaboration through Critique

By Aaron Irizarry

“A large gap I see on product teams, especially amongst designers, is the knowledge, vernacular, and lexicon surrounding the topic of “design critique.” Designers on teams who do this well are like rocket-fuel to their organizations, products, and to the great things their customers/users wish to accomplish. Beyond the design team, critique and feedback from product managers or developers can also get ugly, as we all know. But it doesn’t have to!

I love this book because next to the stories which range from hilarious to just tragic, the authors also provide frameworks, tools, and techniques for fostering feedback and critique from everyone in the organization. If you’re a product designer, you have got to read this book! It will help you elevate the art and science of proper critique to surface actionable work from feedback while avoiding the loss of your soul in the process.”

5. Solving Product Design Exercises: Questions & Answers

By Artiom Dashinsky

“Product Design is not only about the UI output, but about solving business problems using design — a skill that is somehow hard to teach and train. The Solving Product Design Exercises book has identified the knowledge gap and used very clear examples to explain the thought process behind end to end product design.”

6. How to Be a Graphic Designer without Losing Your Soul

By Adrian Shaughnessy

“This was one of the very first books I was recommended as a young designer. It still sits on my desk to this day and was a book I read end-to-end multiple times, learning and gaining new perspective with every new read.

I also think another book that pairs well with this one is “How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World” By by Michael Bierut. This book has a lot of great project examples and insights from other industry professionals.”

There you have it! A handful of the best book recommendations straight from product designers themselves. We hope you get the chance to grab at least one of these design books off the shelf and further your learning. For more book recommendations from designers, check out 8 books our design community loves!

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