Recommended reading — 17 books we loved

Many people ask for book suggestions — here are a few selections of books that have shifted our perspective. This list will be perpetually updated with all cool new material, so you can bookmark it.

How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking

This book came late in my life. I thought I was good at note-taking, and then I read this book. It was a quantum leap on how I approached my system – now I read more, I retain more and I write more! This is definitely what took my productivity system from version 2.0 to version 3.0.

The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success

Albert-Laszlo Barabasi has a powerful idea. You can’t go back after being exposed to it, and, to make things worse, it is a pretty depressing idea. Barabasi distinguishes performance and success, and shows us how networks change the effectiveness of one’s performance. This is the opposite of what many internet gurus promise — but there is serious data to support this concept, and the author provides this in spades.

Metaskills: Five Talents for the Robotic Age

Ah, Marty Neumeier. This book stood out so much compared to his branding books. Marty has a refreshing view both on technology and capitalism/corporatism, and he somehow manages to offer some practical advice on tackling very abstract challenges.

It’s one of these books that feel like a conversation — it feels like a stimulating exchange of ideas with a clearly very intelligent person.

Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It

“We are a creative business that helps our clients succeed their goals, not by just making something look good, but by helping them solve their business problems.”

If this is your positioning statement, drop everything you’re doing right now, and read this book. Being conscious of your client’s pain points, and of their audience is not a positioning statement anymore. It is standard practice, it’s the lowest common denominator. You are better than this — and if you’re not, well, this is the opportunity to stop wasting time and get back to the drawing board.

Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out

Personal branding. Starting from zero. Getting the big bucks. Failing multiple times. This book is about all of these and more. If you have read Start With Why and you wish you had something more concrete than that, you need to read Marc Ecko’s book.

Managing The Professional Service Firm

So, say you need some help and advice to plan and manage your service business. Do you want a book that is biased, pandering, tapping you on the back while you’re speeding along its pages with very illustrated stories about how Steve Jobs managed to build his fortune by “just thinking differently”?

Or do you want a book that is well-researched, full of different data points, dense enough to barely go more than one page a day, and will get you opening up your spreadsheets and notes and start calculating what percentage of your time should go to to what task?

If you want the second, you’re gonna love this book. it is actionable, and it delivers.

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It

If you find yourself struggling to prioritize, delegate or just catch a breath in your work day, this is the book for you. It gives you step-by-step instructions to help your business work without your constant presence …eventually. Having a great solo business is a major plus, but even if you’re just starting out, it will help you put one foot in front of the other and get going.

The Win Without Pitching Manifesto

If your relationship with your clients just makes you want to bang your head on the wall, perhaps you need to read Blair Enn’s manifesto. It’s short and to the point. It will give you some much-needed respect to yourself and your offerings that many creatives need nowadays.

If you’re a bit rusty with your reading habit, it’s also the most easily-readable book of this list. Jump on this first.

Red-Hot Cold Call Selling: Prospecting Techniques That Really Pay Off

Have you been spending hundreds of hours writing blog posts and developing content, waiting for the phone to ring from all these people that are supposed to be flocking to your website after you serve the internet your own spin on what people have seen a few hundred times already? Perhaps you need to read this book.

You might have to be sceptical of the “used car salesman” tone. The book shows its age, and not all of its advice is gold. But if you get the spirit of it — the spirit of it is solid gold.

You’re Not Broke, You’re Pre-Rich: How to Streamline Your Finances, Stay in Control of Your Bank Balance and Have More £££

This book is much more helpful if you live in the UK — it was also released in 2019, which means its contents are up-to-date with how money works in Britain right now. It outlined a lot of things I didn’t know as an immigrant, and it helped me put my finances in order, build my credit score and have everything under control.

There’s a ton of mindset stuff in the book as well, and planning help, etc. But I would recommend people living in other parts of the world find a great book that focuses on their local financial system. Doesn’t hurt to have this as a secondary read if you want.

In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People

In various times of our lives, we encounter horrible people, sometimes even proper psychopaths. We are quick to characterise them as “passive aggressive”, but this book outlines the difference between “passive aggression” and “covert aggression”. More often than not, we tend to turn to ourselves, trying to find what we did wrong to the other person — or to think if we are just too narrow-minded to see the good in them. Well, no. Some people are just manipulative.

They might be in your personal life, or your professional life. This book is great in helping you recognise them, and deal with them effectively.

Never split the difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it

It’s one of these books that everybody should read — we don’t notice that we negotiate every day, with clients, colleagues, clients, even family members. Chris Voss, a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI gives an actionable manual to handle these conversations, including some nailbiting stories about his personal experiences with hostage negotiations to illustrate his points.

Absolute joy of a read.

Every Tool's a Hammer: Life Is What You Make It

“Don’t be an order taker – get paid to think, not to make” some people say, and I roll my eyes. Adam Savage, of Mythbusters fame, master craftsman is sharing valuable experience about making stuff. And while he has been famous (and successful) by making things with his hands, his advice is precious for people that make everything, and it spoke to the designer in me. Savage is living proof that making stuff is not some inferior part of the creative process that successful businesspeople should be above, but a mighty skill that can deliver massive value.

Thank you Adam. Always be Knolling.

Signs and Symbols: Their Design and Meaning

If you are a designer, at some point you will have to communicate non-verbally with the people who use your artifact, be this printed or digital or physical! One of the greatest designers of all time, highlights the way we can analyse, use and develop signs and symbols.


Analog Algorithm

If you are a designer that thinks that designing forms, shapes and text is “something that other designers do”, you need to get Analog Algorithm. Cristoph Grunberger is taking you by the hand, showing you how to create and manipulate forms in an aesthetically pleasing way, develop grid systems, and how you can mix order with chaos to create living, breathing designs.

The beauty of the printed book is just the cherry on top.

The Elements of Typographic Style

Ah, well. There are a few dozen books that thrill you with the promise of typographic wisdom, but just deliver platitudes. And there is this gem. This book taught me the typographic skills that my typography professor couldn’t. This is the most advanced typography book I have read so far, and its most important influence is that it made me understand I am an absolute beginner.

I am desperately looking for an Advanced and a Master level equivalent of this. Nothing so far. We’ll have to settle with this and hope for the future.

Graphic Designer's Essential Reference: Visual Elements, Techniques, and Layout Strategies for Busy Designers

This book will show you in a glimpse, which of your design professors knew what they were doing, and which didn’t. If you’re self-taught, you will find the places where you are most lacking.

This is like a dictionary — you won’t be getting anything much by reading it from cover to cover. But it can be a safety net for the times you just want to check yourself and your work.

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