I was pondering the books that I’ve enjoyed most this year and realized that they all share a common thread of design and creation. It’s that time of year, and I figured I’d round up the list as a set of gift ideas, eye candy and brain food for the design-obsessed on your holiday list. For your consideration:

Beautiful Evidence

Edward Tufte. Yale prof Edward Tufte is pretty much the guy when it comes to information design and presentation. His books are meticulously designed… rich, gorgeous, dense. Tufte’s fourth and latest title is aptly named, drawing on beautiful examples of data presentation throughout the centuries, artifacts of exceptional aesthetics and clarity of information. As always, Tufte illuminates the links between art and science. Wise and wonderful.

Phaidon Design Classics

This three-volume set is just plain fun for anyone fascinated with design and the process of making beautiful things. The book is a compilation of 999 industrially manufactured products from the last 400 years. It makes for a sprawling history of modern design and a gorgeous collection, too, with over 4000 images. From the humble corkscrew to cars, furniture and airplanes, the book offers the backstory of each item including original drawings, prototypes and advertisements. A creative compendium.

Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture

Speaking of Phaidon, I should also give a nod to the publisher’s excellent collection of 21st-century architecture, published in 2004. Until browsing this weighty tome, I didn’t quite realize how much fresh and inspiring architecture has sprung into the world in the last handful of years. Terrific.


Ryan McGinness. I saw Ryan McGinness’s work for the first time this year at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and it stopped me in my tracks: Funny, clever, fabulous graphic design, with silhouette symbols of the trappings of modern life. The next day, visiting my pals Mer and Brad in Brooklyn, I found this collection of his work on their bookshelf. The reproductions are terrific, but the book itself is well designed, too, including preliminary sketches that give a little window into McGinness’s working process. Fascinating and fun.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott. This book has been a staple on my bookshelf since it was published in 1994. Ostensibly a book about writing, it’s more generally a book about the creative process. Lamott is insightful, constructive, devastating and laugh-out-loud funny (it’s funny because it’s true) in her advice on pulling work out of yourself. Her observations about the interior obstacles to filling a blank page will ring true to any creative, and her advice is spot on. Guaranteed to reduce creative self-loathing.

D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself

Ellen Lupton. A sourcebook of creative project ideas for designers and would-be self publishers. T-shirts, blogs, business cards, stationery, gifts, wedding invitations, you name it, the book offers hip, cool designs and concepts to get the juices flowing. A bit short on nitty-gritty how-to details, but the book is long on inspiration and ideas.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Jane Jacobs. First published nearly 50 years ago, this book is relevant as ever, a must-read for anyone interested in urban life, design and the planning of cities. “Death and Life” examines what makes cities and neighborhoods work and thrive, or wilt and decay. Jacobs covers a lot of ground here, from the purpose of sidewalks to the very nature of urban community. The book is dense, but the late author’s passion comes through, giving warmth to cold fact. Lively, thorough, ambitious.

Read more about...