Books for the budding new grad: Design and architecture

Inspiring reads to help you infuse deeper meaning into the work you do

As spring unfolds, so too do the petals of opportunity for a new batch of students. To help guide this graduating class as they venture forth to the next phase of life, we’ve gathered a bouquet of inspiring reads as reminders to embrace growth, do good, and find meaning in whatever path they may take. 

Our first book list below contains valuable knowledge on inclusive, sustainable, and ethical design that empowers designers to leverage their creative power to affect change. 

The New Designer: Rejecting Myths, Embracing Change by Manuel Lima

The choices made by designers have a significant effect on the world. Yet so much of the discourse on design focuses on aesthetics rather than ethics. In The New Designer, acclaimed author Manuel Lima aims to change this by challenging common myths and preconceptions about what comprises good design. He argues that designers must take responsibility for the personal, societal, cultural, and environmental impact of their work, rather than simply following a standard template.

“Truly understanding design requires both an expansive mind and a compassionate heart, qualities Manuel Lima generously brings to this important book and to our imperiled world.”Design Observer

Decolonizing Design: A Cultural Justice Guidebook by Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall

From the excesses of world expositions to myths of better living through technology, modernist design, in its European-based guises, has excluded and oppressed the very people whose lands and lives it reshaped. Decolonizing Design first asks how modernist design has encompassed and advanced the harmful project of colonization—then shows how design might address these harms by recentering its theory and practice in global Indigenous cultures and histories.

“A once-in-a-decade book. An inspiring, informative, and powerful blueprint that can enable any of us to engage with a topic of our time—decolonization.” —Rama Gheerawo, Royal College of Art; author of Creative Leadership: Born from Design

101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick

This is a book that students of architecture will want to keep in the studio and in their backpacks. These 101 concise lessons in design, drawing, the creative process, and presentation—from the basics of “How to Draw a Line” to the complexities of color theory—provide a much-needed primer in architectural literacy, making concrete what too often is left nebulous or open-ended in the architecture curriculum. Written by an architect and instructor who remembers well the fog of his own student days, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School provides valuable guideposts for navigating the design studio and other classes in the architecture curriculum.

“Books like this are brief tutorials in the art of seeing, a skill useful in every aspect of life on the planet.” The LA Times

Graphic Artists Guild Handbook, 16th Edition: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines by the Graphic Artists Guild

For forty-eight years, the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook has been the industry bible for graphic arts professionals. This sixteenth edition represents the most ambitious revision and redesign in over a decade, providing both artists and clients the very latest information on business, ethical, and legal issues. As the graphic art marketplace continues to evolve to meet the needs of both digital and print media, the new Handbook offers professionals an essential guide for keeping up with rapidly changing technology.

Design for a Better World: Meaningful, Sustainable, Humanity Centered by Don Norman

The world is a mess. Our dire predicament, from collapsing social structures to the climate crisis, has been millennia in the making and can be traced back to the erroneous belief that the earth’s resources are infinite. The key to change, says Don Norman, is human behavior, covered in the book’s three major themes: meaning, sustainability, and humanity-centeredness. Emphasize quality of life, not monetary rewards; restructure how we live to better protect the environment; and focus on all of humanity. Design for a Better World presents an eye-opening diagnosis of where we’ve gone wrong and a clear prescription for making things better.

“Norman’s book shifts focus from the human to humanity, cracking the code on what values ought to be at the center when driving sustainable design. The message is loud and clear—the future of humanity is the future of the planet.” —Payal Arora, Erasmus University; author of The Next Billion Users

Meaningful Stuff: Design That Lasts by Jonathan Chapman

Never have we wanted, owned, and wasted so much stuff. Our consumptive path through modern life leaves a wake of social and ecological destruction—sneakers worn only once, bicycles barely even ridden, and forgotten smartphones languishing in drawers. By what perverse alchemy do our newest, coolest things so readily transform into meaningless junk? In Meaningful Stuff, Jonathan Chapman investigates why we throw away things that still work, and shows how we can design products, services, and systems that last.

“In a world of too much, too fast, and too big, Chapman’s book offers an essential collective pause to reflect on the cultivation of a deeper and more meaningful relationship with our stuff.” —Laura Forlano, Illinois Institute of Technology

Forthcoming: Feminist Designer: On the Personal and the Political in Design by Alison Place

Feminist Designer brings together a constellation of voices and perspectives to examine the intersection of design and feminist theory. For decades, the feminist refrain within design has hinged on the representation and inclusion of women in the field. This collection, edited by Alison Place, however, is a call to move beyond this narrow application of a feminist lens. Feminist design is not just about who does design—it is about how we do design and why. Feminist frameworks for design activism are now more relevant than ever, as they emphasize collaborative processes that aim to disrupt and dismantle power hierarchies while centering feminist ways of knowing and doing.

Architectures of Spatial Justice by Dana Cuff

As state violence, the pandemic, and environmental collapse have exposed systemic inequities, architects and urbanists have been pushed to confront how their actions contribute to racism and climate crisis—and how they can effect change. Establishing an ethics of spatial justice to lead architecture forward, Dana Cuff shows why the discipline requires critical examination—in relation to not only buildings and the capital required to realize them but privilege, power, aesthetics, and sociality. That is, it requires a reevaluation of architecture’s fundamental tenets.

“An inspiring and provocative book that shows how architecture can turn away from its proximity to late capitalism and bend toward social justice.” —Ananya Roy, Founding Director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, UCLA

Radical Pedagogies edited by Beatriz Colomina, Ignacio G. Galán, Evangelos Kotsioris and Anna-Maria Meister

In the decades after World War II, new forms of learning transformed architectural education. These radical experiments sought to upend disciplinary foundations and conventional assumptions about the nature of architecture as much as they challenged modernist and colonial norms, decentered building, imagined new roles for the architect, and envisioned participatory forms of practice. Although many of the experimental programs were subsequently abandoned, terminated, or assimilated, they nevertheless helped shape and in some sense define architectural discourse and practice. This book explores and documents these radical pedagogies and efforts to defy architecture’s status quo.

“A history lesson for the present, when pedagogic radicality faces new challenges.” —Giuliana Bruno, Harvard University

Explore more books on design and architecture from the MIT Press