The Never-ending Design Thinking Reading List

Whether you’re just curious about the concept of design thinking or you’ve been involved in the design thinking world for years, there’s always more to explore. We’re often asked about the best resources for learning more about design thinking, so we’re starting a living list of some of our favorite books.

Some of these are old classics and some of them are newer. Some of them are about general theory and some of them relate to specific fields or problems. Some of them aren’t even specifically about design thinking, but address the same kinds of questions and answers we find ourselves facing in this space. All of them are great reads.

Our Top 20 (Design) Thinking Reads

First, we asked around the office to get The Design Gym team’s top 20 recommendations.

  1. Setting the Table – Danny Meyer
  2. Gamestorming – Dave Grey, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo
  3. 101 Design Methods – Vijay Kumar
  4. Scaling up Excellence – Robert Sutton
  5. Creativity Inc – Ed Catmull
  6. Let My People Go Surfing – Yvon Chouinard
  7. Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
  8. Business Model Generation – Alexander Osterwalder
  9. Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande
  10. Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
  11. Research Methods in Anthropology – H. Bernard
  12. The Designful Company – Marty Neumeier
  13. Everything is Obvious: How Common Sense Fails Us – Duncan Watts
  14. The 10 Faces of Innovation – Tom Kelley
  15. Nudge – Richard Thaler
  16. A Whole New Mind – Daniel Pink
  17. The Little Big Things – Tom Peters
  18. Ignore Everybody – Hugh MacLeod
  19. Linchpin – Seth Godin
  20. Brewing Up A Business – Sam Calagione

Additional Readings

Of course, a Top 20 list doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the awesome resources out there. Here are some other great reads:

Design Thinking 101

Creative Confidence – Tom Kelley (IDEO)
Change By Design – Tim Brown
This Is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases – Mark Stickdorn

Design Thinking Resources

Fifteen Things Charles and Ray Teach Us – Keith Yamashita
Myths Of Innovation – Scott Berkun
Made To Stick – Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Rapid Problem Solving With Post-It Notes –  David Straker
The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist – Frederick P. Brooks Jr.
The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage – Roger L. Martin
Design For Dasein: Understanding The Design Of Experiences – Thomas Wendt
Research for Designers: A Guide to Methods and Practice – Gjoko Muratovski

Design Thinking + Strategy

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters – Richard Rummelt
The Laws of Simplicity – John Maeda
Design a Better Business – Patrick Van Der Pijl, Justin Lokitz, Lisa Kay Solomon
Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change – Chris Ertel, Lisa Kay Solomon

Creative Cultures + Teams

The Accidental Creative – Todd Henry
Making Ideas Happen – Scott Belsky
It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be: The World’s Best Selling Book – Paul Arden
Wikinomics – Anthony Williams
inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity – Tina Seelig
Wired to Care – Dev Patnaik with Peter Mortensen

Creative Leadership

Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking – Roger Martin
Give and Take – Adam Grant
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear – Elizabeth Gilbert
The Misfit Economy: Lessons in Creativity from Pirates, Hackers, Gangsters and Other Informal Entrepreneurs – Alexa Clay & Kyra Maya Phillips
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol Dweck
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win – Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Visual Communication

Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures – Dan Rohm
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information – Edward R. Tufte
Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud
The Elements of Style Illustrated – William Strunk Jr., E.B. White, Maira Kalman
Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes & Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity – David Sibbet
Drawing Book of Animals – Ed Emberley

Skill Building

Never Eat Alone – Keith Ferrazzi
The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler
The Universal Traveler – Don Koberg and Jim Bagnall
The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds – Scott Berkun
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
Communicating The New: Methods to Shape and Accelerate Innovation – Kim Erwin
Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making – Sam Kaner


Finite and Infinite Games – James Carse
Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson
How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer – Debbie Millman
What Technology Wants – Kevin Kelly
The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton Christensen
Reality Is Broken: Why Gaming Makes Us Better And How They Can Change The World – Jane McGonigal
ReWork – Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business – Douglas W. Hubbard
Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way To Build A Successful Web Application – Jason Fried
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead – Brené Brown
The Achievement Habit – Bernie Roth
Joyful: The Aesthetics of Joy – Ingrid Fetell Lee

This list is extensive but far from exhaustive. These are the works that we’ve found to be influential and interesting, but there are plenty of others out there. That’s one of the things we love about design thinking—it’s ever-evolving and there are always new questions waiting to be explored.

In order for this list to be never-ending, we’re going to need your help – there’s only so much we can read ourselves! Have a book, article, or other resource that should be included? Let us know!


The Design Gym
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