As the winter apocalypse approaches in Michigan, I’ve began making a booklist for the upcoming months. Cold winter days have always been my favorite time to grab a blanket, brew a cup of coffee and curl up with a great book. I must admit, I mostly read fiction – but I always try to include a few creative books that will strengthen my skillset and benefit my career.
I’ve read dozens of writing, design and communication books. Some are interactive and have you doing much more than reading words on a page. In this list, I tried to select a few that are unique and have inspired me more than others. Below are my 5 favorite creative industry books I’ve read so far.
Contagious: Why Things Catch On: Jonah Berger
The first book on this list might be my favorite – it’s fascinating, educational and often hilarious. In “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” University of Pennsylvania Marketing Professor Jonah Berger reveals the science behind how ideas spread, catch on, and ultimately, shape the way we think. He even developed his own set of principles that drive things to become contagious.
Each page is full of detailed examples of why certain videos go viral, how small bars and restaurants are able to become hotspots using word-of-mouth, when commercials will click with audiences and much more. One my favorite examples is his explanation of the science behind the success of Rebecca Black’s negatively received song, “Friday.” Berger explains how the song became a raging success based on search volumes spiking every Friday in 2011. According to Berger, “while the song was equally bad every day of the week, each Friday it received a strong trigger that contributed to its success.” I highly recommend this book based on the examples alone.
Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills: David Sherwin
Looking to strengthen your design skills and practice working against tight deadlines? If so, I recommend giving “Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills” a try. This isn’t your typical read – it’s made entirely of unique, diverse design challenges. Each challenge contains a title, time limit, area of focus, description and final product examples from world-class designers.
Even with 80 challenges, none of them are similar or ever feel repetitive. Some of my favorites include:
- Easy as ABC – Design a 26-letter typeface using only found objects or environments.
- It Sounds Better on Vinyl – Turn on the radio and write down the name of the first artist you hear. You must then design the cover of their greatest hits collection
- Totally Cereal – Create a new type of breakfast cereal that is different from the rest. Then, sketch at least two package designs.
The challenges range from 30 to 120 minutes, so you can pick and choose based on your schedule and desired challenge level.
Advertising Copy and Concepts: George Felton
This is the only college textbook in my list, I promise. I learned so much from this book during my time at GVSU that I couldn’t leave it out. “Advertising Copy and Concepts” goes into great detail about the conceptual process for advertising creativity. The book is divided in three parts: Strategy, execution and the toolbox. Strategy includes how to research products and audience behavior, write creative briefs and develop objectives. Execution focuses on using stories, voice and language to develop strategic messaging that works. The toolbox gives readers techniques on how to be creative and overcome blocks.
My favorite features of this book are the visual examples – most of which are vintage print ads that I would have never been exposed to. The copy is well written (as expected) and gives readers a diverse set of tools for writing copy, many of which I use almost every day.
The Graphic Design Exercise Book: Creative Briefs to Enhance Your Skills and Develop Your Portfolio: Carolyn Knight and Jessica Glaser
I was first attracted to this book because of its beautiful layout. After flipping through the pages, I knew I had to give it a read. After completing a few challenges, I quickly realized this was one of the most realistic simulations of how agencies work that I’ve come across so far.
This book features dozens of creative briefs that are meant to simulate restrictions and challenges that small agencies face in the real world. The book has five sections: packaging, branding, visual identity, promotion, page layout, music graphics and screen-based design. Each brief contains a target market, requirements, research, development. You must perform all of these tasks before beginning the various designs – much like you would before beginning a project with a client.
The challenges require more time dedication than the previous book on my list, but you will come out of them with some seriously impressive portfolio pieces.
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable: Seth Godin
My final pick is all about making businesses and products remarkable. Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable” is all about the importance of businesses standing out and being less boring. Godin goes into detail about how the checklists that marketers have used for decades to get brands noticed aren’t working anymore. Instead, he describes how and why brands need to become purple cows to avoid becoming invisible to the world. This book is full of inspirational stories and clear steps on how to help brands elevate above the rest.
I hope you are able to check out some of my favorite picks to stay inside and warm up with this winter. What are some of your favorite creative books?