I have a confession. Some of these FAQ’s are not actually “frequently” asked. The frequency runs the gamut from frequently to seldom asked. The proper title would more accurately be stated as IQTSFTA. Interesting questions that seem fun to answer. This next question is less FAQ and more IQTSFTA. So infrequently asked that I did not have a good answer, but I did some research and reading and came up with something.
FAQ #32: What graphic design books are good for kids?
After poking around a bit, maybe the answer is none. The books to choose from is surprisingly(?) limited. Few books usually implies not much demand. Which leads to the assumption that maybe children don’t need to learn about graphic design. Maybe only the most precocious and unusually focused children should be taught anything about graphic design. Perhaps making and drawing and exploring and asking questions and finding answers is a better foundation for young minds than notions about picas, points, and process.
But what do I know? Some books do exists, and some of them are good. Perhaps the market is wrong and we are top-filled with the precocious and unusually focused. Then the next question would be who specifically are the books for, how old are these presumptuous progeny? When they reach that age plenty of adult resources are suitable for teenagers. At the other end of the spectrum, graphic concepts are probably too much for wee ones. That narrows the prospective pool to those between 9 and 13 give or take in either direction. I think most of the books below are suitable for that age range.
I am sure I have overlooked other excellent graphic design books written for children. I will continue to keep an eye out and amend this list as necessary.
A small side note. Books are only one part of any attempt to teach, interest or engage children on any topic. Websites, apps, software, movies, television et al. all have a part to play. Perhaps I will investigate a more holistic strategy later. As a quick peek in that direction I have included two children’s books by graphic designers. One book is exceptionally well designed and the other is a super early and basic introduction to the notion of typography.
First Published 1991
Revised and Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition
I love this book. It is with not a little embarrassment, I say I was not aware of this book before I began researching this topic. It is now on my short list of must-have design books. It is not really a “graphic design” book. Picture This tackles the question of how books work and more precisely how picture structure affects emotional response. It sounds like heady stuff but is present in such a simple and efficient way that it is accessible to any age.
The book has a basic and consistent layout. Each spread consists of text on one page with a simple full-page illustration opposite. The illustrations are most often cut colored paper on a white background.
Three main sections of the book:
1. Constructing the story of Little Red Riding Hood with basic shapes. Ms Bang explains each choice, scale, proximity, etc. along the way.
2. In the second section elaborates on 12 principles that govern how pictures work.
3. The third section contains case studies of four new illustrations and the ways they convey specific emotions.
The last few pages of the book contain a few exercises and advocacy of using cut paper.
This book is a great foundation for understanding composition and basic meaning-making. Picture This is useful for anyone interested in graphic design, art or any creative endeavor but its style and presentation are easily accessible for a younger audience. It could be used independently, but it would not be ideal. Again I love this book. I can’t recommend it enough.
GO: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design
Workman Publishing Company
I have been aware of Chip Kidd and his work. I have read and enjoyed his novel The Cheese Monkeys. I have seen this book online and in bookstores. I didn’t know it was for children. I was unaware that “Kidd’s” was a pun. I find the ambiguity a fascinating choice. Was I the only one fooled and unaware of the true purpose of the book?
The book has an introduction and 5 chapters. The layout is colorful and almost too busy. There are many images. Lots of Chip Kidd images. Go is a bit uneven in that it glosses over some topics and then deep dives on others.
Introduction: A definition of what graphic design is, why it matters and then a quick history of.
Chapter 1: Form
Form making is defined and addressed through 19 strategies with examples. Strategies include things like “Big and Small,” symmetry/asymmetry, and abstract/literal. This is a nice way to introduce form making. My only concern is that they are isolated and never used in combination, but this is a minor issue.
Also, the “Color Theory” section feels superficial and shoehorned into the “Form” chapter.
Chapter 2: Typography
This chapter starts with the History of the Written Word. A few pages are devoted to “What Font Feels Like You?” and then basic typographic concepts are covered; type styles, points, and picas kerning, etc. The chapter ends with a quick comment on typographic color, proportion, and texture.
Chapter 3: Content
A short chapter addressing content, emphasizing that graphic design is content+form+type and that graphic design has a purpose. “What are you trying to communicate?” Also, an introduction to the concept “Form follows Function.”
Chapter 4: Concept
This chapter follows the same format as Chapter 2, introducing concept through specific strategies/examples. 8 strategies are discussed including Illusion, Metaphor and Sincerity/Irony. Again this is a fine tactic for introducing the notion of Concept to a younger audience, but it needs to be supplemented outside of the text. As with color in the previous chapter some strategies feel shoehorned, photo/illustration/cartoon/pictogram, for example, may not belong here. Why is it not in the form section?
Chapter 5: Design Projects
The last chapter presents 10 projects. These prompts are short, but most of them are pretty good. Projects like “Start a Graphic Design Collection” and “Redesign Something You Love” are two standouts. A couple of turkeys can be found, but more good than bad.
This book covers many topics, a ton of info. It is a little disjointed. Not a book for a young person to work through independently, supervision/guidance is recommended. A good “intro to” book for young people. I might have made some different choices, but certainly a useful resource
A History of Graphic Design for Rainy Days
190 text pages + 15 pages of cardstock (cutouts/paper dolls)
The production choices of this book often overshadow the content. The tome is relatively small (6.5″x8.5″) and subsequently the typefaces are often small (8-10pt. or smaller sometimes) causing legibility issues which are exacerbated by color choices. The text is often printed in challenging colors, magenta or cyan for example. It makes it difficult for old eyes to navigate. Perhaps this is less of an issue for the wee ones.
The book has no formal introduction or explanation. The conceit is introduced as a narrative through the text. A curious and intrepid young boy is introduced to the history of graphic design through time travel. In a string of vignettes, he and his grandfather meet significant personalities and watch important moments. The tone is loose, casual and often funny.
Besides history content, the book contains many activities and is meant to be written in and cut apart. To that end, the back section contains paper dolls and cut-outs including both the Futurist and First Things First Manifestos. This is not a how-to book, but a lot of information and ground are covered. People, technology, movements all are introduced. It follows fairly closely to traditional Western graphic design history canon.
The book is probably best digested a bit at a time. It can be difficult to see how it all fits together or what it all means. A short conclusion attempts to tie it all together but it feels tacked on. Outside explanation and guidance are highly recommended. I can imagine this could be useful for adults looking for a refresher or as a quick intro to graphic design history.
Hyperactivity Typography: From A-Z
This book is weird. Hyperactive is an accurate descriptor. An overabundance of enthusiasm, care, and creativity are hampered by an intentional lack of focus and structure. I like the book. I struggle with imagining who it is for and how it might be used. It also suffers from the same production choices as Studio 3’s other tome “Graphic Design History for Rainy Days.” A small format means making difficult choices which invariably lead to legibility issues.
Hyperactivity Typography is full of activities. In fact, the book is only activities. The structure is ostensibly built around the alphabet meaning 26 chapters. In practice, the content often has no relationship to the corresponding letters.
Here is a representative sample of one of the 26 chapters: L is for Ligature
An uppercase vs. capitals quiz
Just Kidding: Typography “joke”
Which Typographer multiple choice
Ornament Matching: Match the ornament to the typeface
A train illustration on which to practice “Calligraffiti”
Meet the Family: fill in the missing font portrait
Ligature Math: make ligatures from samples ex: f+f=
Typolitics: A Benjamin Franklin type sum sheet for type uses/ liberal or conservative
Movie Madness: name and complete the logos
Layout meets Era: match layouts to eras
Within one section the tasks range from rudimentary to advanced and any connections between activities are beyond me. As stated previously this is more of a quiz and activity book than actual information presentation. It feels like a book you might carry around for a year and write in and fill in and process bits and pieces as you learned new things.
There is a dearth of typography books for kids. This is the only one I found. It’s fun and schizophrenic. With lots of guidance and as part of a larger plan this could be useful, though not for independent study. I think its value may be for older students or adults. I can imagine a creative instructor using this book in a typography course as an evaluation of sorts. If you only buy one design book for kids, don’t buy this one. If you are going to buy every decent design book you can find, then this should be on the list.
Design Dossier: Graphic Design for Kids
Forward by Michael Bierut
Of all the books reviewed Graphic Design for Kid is structured most like a textbook. It is comprised of 7 chapters and is spiral bound. The chapters are divided by tabs. It is well designed. I don’t love this book. I don’t hate it either. It feels entirely adequate.
Chapter 1: What is graphic design?
2 pages devoted to this topic. One page of visual examples and a page of text, half of which is the introduction, not a definition. I can imagine a more robust definition and description of what graphic design is.
Chapter 2: How designers create
A quick overview of graphic design ideas: concept, media, layout, typography, black, white &color, working with images and how to become a graphic designer. Most topics are covered in a single page. It is sufficient to get a general idea. The inclusive of the grid is notable and nice. Pages dedicated to design education and finding a mentor. The authors have made some curious choices. In the image, section Vector is defined but while pixels and resolution are mentioned raster is left out. Short sweet and with some interesting choices.
Chapter 3: Portfolio: 10 graphic designers you’d like to meet
This chapter contains 2 pockets with 10 2-sided inserts. It is admirably curated. A nice cross-section of eras, specialties, individuals, and studios including, Massimo Vignelli, Gail Anderson, Lubo Lukova.
Chapter 4: Graphic design milestones by decade
This chapter is a brief survey of graphic design history from 1900- 2010. Lots of good examples. It sticks closely to tradition GD canon. A nice brief intro to design history.
Chapter 5: The creative process step-by-step
I love this section. It is a pull-out that describes a six-step design process: concept, design brief, brainstorm, sketch, plan, build & prototype, & critique& revise. I don’t agree with all the names, the order or the steps themselves. It doesn’t matter. At this point just introducing the notion of a process is enough. The only glaring omission is a lack of a research step.
Chapter 6: Studio Project: Create your own design identity
A cute, quick project describing what a logo is and an envelope with directions and stencils to make your own identity. It’s fine.
Chapter 7: Glossary: the language of graphic design.
A short glossary of 29 graphic design related words. I would have liked this section to be longer and cover more ideas. Like most of the book, it is short and sweet.
This book could be used unsupervised and without supporting materials. Also, interestingly it has almost no appeal or uses beyond its target audience. I recommend this book for aspiring young designers.
The Big Book of Color
Lisa Martin, Damien Barlow, Diana Fisher & Stephanie Meissner
Walter Foster Jr. Publishing
Published in 2015
The Big Book of Color is a larger format book at 9×12 inches. It looks and feels like a children’s book. It has two main sections. The first is 26 pages contains tools and terms. The remainder of the book is multipage descriptions of the primary and secondary colors.
The first section is a surprisingly robust explanation of color theory basics including the color wheel, primary & secondary, tertiary, complementary & analogous colors as well as value, tint, hue, monochromatic, warm & cool & color mood. It is all very basic, only as much as necessary, but entirely adequate and useful.
The color exploration sections elaborate on individual colors. The information includes what the compliment is, whether it is warm or cool,objects and things that are that color, hues with examples, fun facts and popular uses. These explorations end with a step-by-step drawing guide.
It is hard to judge this book. It does what it sets out to do. The information is great. I can see using this at any teaching level. (Older kids and young adults might balk, but its a great basic intro) My apprehension comes from it being just OK. It doesn’t knock my socks off. Dozens of color books are available for kids. I imagine many of them are just as good. It is fine.
A few other notable titles that were close but did not quite fit:
The Alphabeasties: And Othe Amazing Types /2009 Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss
The Clothes Letters Wear /2014 Jeremy Dooley
The Serif Fairy /2007 Rene Siegfried
Children’s Books by Graphic Designers
Shirley Glaser and Milton Glaser
This is a children’s book about a group of characters collectively called the Alphazeds. The Alphazeds are comprised of the 26 letters of the English alphabet. They each have their own attitude or affinity as well as their own typeface. They gather in a previously empty room one by one until space becomes limited and tensions high. The resolution of the conflict is cute.
This a nice little book and a neat introduction to typefaces for even the youngest children. The back of the book contains a key to the typeface names as well as a short biography for each of the Alphazeds. It’s a worthwhile read, despite perhaps fleeting charms.
Henri’s Walk to Paris
Saul Bass and Leonore Klein
This is a children’s book about a little French boy. Henri, who dreams of leaving his small town and exploring Paris. He imagines Paris as bigger and better than his quaint surroundings. When he can wait no longer, Henri packs some things and leaves his friends and family behind to head off for Paris.
This book is adorable. The story is sweet, but the draw for the aspiring designer here is the illustrations by Saul Bass. All kinds of graphic design principles are exquisitely executed. Scale, repetition, typography, color et al. Both young and old can learn from this masterful work. Recommended for anyone. This book is a keeper.
These books have much in common. The majority are good but not exceptional. In general they are too broad and not very deep, which is probably spot on for books aimed at children. Trying to distill all of graphic design into a single book and make it accessible for children is a terribly difficult job. It is no surprise that the most successful book is also the most focused. What also became clear is that the most valuable and enduring books for children also have some value for adults. In the end, exposing children to all kinds of topics is great. Despite my hestitaion, I can think of worse ways children could spend their time than with graphic design.