Reading List

Reading List

Celebrated design writers Charlotte and Peter Fiell talk us through their carefully curated reading list, essential texts for design book lovers everywhere…


Internationally renowned authorities on the history, theory and criticism of design, Charlotte and Peter Field have written over 50 books on the subject, many of which have gone on to become bestsellers. They have also lectured widely, guest taught courses and consulted to manufacturing companies, museums, salerooms and major private collectors around the world. Look out for their latest book, 100 Ideas that Changed Design, published by Laurence King in January 2019.


Bayley, S., Taste, Faber & Faber, London 1991 



The cultural commentator and polemicist Stephen Bayley at his best, drawing on a huge and varied range of sources to come up with a witty and fascinating synopsis of a subject which is both notoriously elusive and naggingly present.


Fiell, C. and P. Fiell, The Story of Design – From The Paleolithic to the Present, The Monacelli Press, New York, 2016



“The Story of Design: the title says it all and yet, in its straightforward simplicity, it does not even begin to convey the complexity of this book’s scope. With this ambitious work, Charlotte and Peter Fiell continue their passionate and meticulous construction of a comprehensive history. It will stand as a paragon and help us all build a deeper understanding and appreciation of design in the world.” – Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Architecture & Design, Museum of Modern Art, New York


Korn, P., Why We Make Things and Why it Matters – the Education of a Craftsman, Square Peg, London 2015



The flipside of industrial design yet increasingly essential to understand. This is a book about the process of creation and what it means to be a craftsman in a mass-produced world. The woodworker Peter Korn writes eloquently about how craftsmanship as an activity connects us to others, and affirms what is best in ourselves.


Margolin, V., Design Discourse – History, Theory, Criticism, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1989



This book is a collection of essays penned by some of the most illuminating writers on design, for instance Dieter Rams’ entitled “Omit the Unimportant” is key reading, while Richard Buchanan’s piece on design rhetoric is possibly one of the best pieces of design writing ever penned and makes you realise that when you get right down to it design is fundamentally a potent form of cultural communication.


Margolin, V. and R. Buchanan, The Idea of Design, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1995



Another anthology of essays by distinguished scholars, historians, designers, and design educators that address the nature and practice of both product design and communication design in the contemporary world. The essays focus on three themes: reflection on the nature of design, the meaning of products, and the place of design in world culture.


McDonough, W. and M. Braungart, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance, North Point Press, New York 2013



A follow on from the authors of the acclaimed Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We Make Things, this book provides a compelling new call to reimagine human society and to think beyond sustainability, where design can be used as a tool for positive impact and continuous improvement.


Papanek, V., Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, Thames & Hudson, London 2000



Translated into twenty-three languages since it first appeared in 1971, Design for the Real World is the world’s most widely read book on design. It is essential reading for anyone interested in design and architecture. This completely revised second edition offers a blueprint for survival in the third millennium.


Trentmann, F., Empire of Things – How We Became a World of Consumers, from the 15th century to the 21st, Penguin, London 2017



A fascinating and ambitious account of global consumption spanning five centuries, this highly readable book offers an encyclopedic account of how people have bought ever-increasing amounts of designed stuff, so that now the typical German owns 10,000 objects, while the average Briton has around 100 pieces of clothing stuffed in their drawers and closets. It also explains how this unrelenting acquisitiveness has ultimately changed not only states and societies, but our everyday lives as well.


Walker, J., Design History and the History of Design, Pluto Press, London 1989



This is an academic book about the historiography of the relatively new subject of design history. As design writers we found this text extremely useful as the first-ever explicitly theoretical examination of the subject that provides a systematic critique of the discipline’s basic concepts and methods.


Dyson, J., James Dyson: Against the Odds – An Autobiography, Texere, London 2001



One of the best books we’ve read on the industry of design, Against the Odds is an inspiring autobiography that demonstrates unequivocally why the adoption of good design practice makes good business sense. First published in 1997, it is a superb David-and-Goliath story of personal struggle, financial risk, dogged tenacity, absolute dedication and sheer bloody mindedness, which details how to bring a groundbreaking product to market – in this case James Dyson’s revolutionary bag-less vacuum cleaner.


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