Everyone needs a way to get inspired. When it comes to visuals, you can find ideas all around you—in magazine covers, advertisements, design websites and my favorite, books. Here are some of the latter that you might find intriguing. I recommend these books for visual examples and guidelines and for ways to visualize concepts, information and data.
The list is organized into two categories. Books that feature explanatory graphics and those that portray information graphics and visualizations. I think these are ideal for anyone who conceives of or creates visuals.
1. Wordless Diagrams by Nigel Holmes
This small book of wordless illustrations is brilliant and fun. It contains the wonderful explanatory visuals of Nigel Holmes, previous graphic director of Time Magazine. You might be surprised and inspired to see all the things he’s been able to explain visually. For example: How to Conduct; How to Curtsy; How to Carve a Pumpkin; How to Test Wine.
2. Show Me How: 500 Things You Should Know by Lauren Smith and Derek Fagerstrom
Show Me How achieves something that learning professionals are often seeking—an effective visual approach for teaching “how to” skills. It’s brimming with visual ways to portray a seemingly endless number of things (500 to be exact), from decorating eggs to dancing a steamy tango.
3. Visual Aid by Draught Associates
Although I haven’t read this book yet, it came with a great recommendation and it’s on my wish list. Visual Aid illustrates common knowledge gaps using varied graphical explanations. The book isn’t organized as a reference. But it could be useful for anyone seeking ways to expand their repertoire of visual approaches.
4. Making Comics by Scott McCloud
Scott McCloud is the hero of explaining things through the comic art form. If you want to improve your skills at conceiving or creating comic-style stories, he’s the one to read. Making Comics goes beyond illustration techniques, delving into storytelling and communication skills. His book covers all you need in order to “write with pictures.”
Information Graphics and Visualizations
5. Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte
In this classic, Tufte writes eloquently and academically about how to present visual information. The examples are subdued and often historical. A few chapter titles: Escaping Flatland; Layering and Separation; Small Multiples; Color and Information.
6. Show Me The Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten by Stephen Few
Author Stephen Few is an expert in visual business communication. In this book, he provides guidelines for delivering information and data in tables and graphs. After discussing those basic statistical definitions you may have forgotten, he focuses on visualizing for the real world, providing lots of sound design practices.
7. Visual Language For Designers: Principles for Creating Graphics That People Understand by Connie Malamed
I had to include my own book, right? In Visual Language For Designers, I present principles of visual communication design based on cognitive science research, rather than intuition. It was written for all visual communicators, including instructional designers. Designers and illustrators from around the world contributed over 250 graphics to the book.
8. Data Flow: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design by R. Klanten, N. Bourquin, S. Ehmann and F. van Heerden.
Data Flow is a collection of visualizations showing off the many possibilities for depicting data. It focuses more on examples than it does on explanations, providing a rich browsing experience.
9. The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics by Dona M. Wong
The WSJ Guide covers a lot of the basic information that beginners need for getting started conceiving or creating information graphics. Don’t be fooled by the title—Wong takes you way beyond financial graphics into representations of all types of data.
10. The Visual Miscellaneum: A Colorful Guide to the World’s Most Consequential Trivia by David McCandless
The Visual Miscellaneum is an unusual look at our over-saturated world of information. You’ll find a compelling collection of infographics and illustrations that depict the relationships found in all kinds of data. If you think information is beautiful, you’ll enjoy spending time with this book.
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