There are a lot of things that you don’t learn in design school and to be honest, the real learning begins once you leave school, especially in regards to running a successful business.
Figuring out things like brand positioning, marketing & promotions, new business, pricing, proposals & contracts, staffing, management and staying on top of trends.
With this said, I want to share the top 8 books on strategy and the business of design, including some personal favourites and others suggested by the community.
Narrowing it down to eight books was an arduous task but these were the ones that bubbled to the top. Have another suggestion? Do let me know!
Also see our top logo design & branding books here.
The Top 8 Books on Strategy and the Business of Design
Do you think an amazing portfolio and a degree from design school is enough? Think again. In Burn Your Portfolio by Michael Janda, owner of the design firm Riser hands out hard-won advice, using humor that he has collected over the years of running a design firm.
Through learning about his success and failures, Janda offers practical advice on teamwork, relationship building, collaboration and many other facets that are a part of any successful design agency.
What Janda’s book does really well is share unwritten rules that are usually learned by designers and creatives in this business only once they’ve put years into their fields.
Why We Recommend It – With its mix of humor and real-world examples, Burn Your Portfolio by Michael Janda is a book that resonates with professionals in the field at any level.
When you start bringing on clients, it can be hard to know exactly how much to charge. With Pricing Creativity from Blair Enns, the author provides you with habits and tactics that can help you charge more for new work and build a more profitable business. Using a type of psychology that looks at the different types of biases that we use cognitively to shape our behavior.
Broken into six “rules” which make up a framework of sorts for being able to price work based on value and not on the time spent doing the work. These rules cover areas such as presenting the client with options in your proposal, keeping the proposal to a single page and learning how to price the client instead of the job. Formatted to be a workbook-style novel, it comes broken down with tabs so you can jump right to the section you need.
Why We Recommend It – With its workbook-style design and the amazing amount of detail and practical advice found in Pricing Creativity by Blair Enns, we highly recommend this book to anyone in a creative profession. You’ll find yourself going back to it time and time again.
His second entry on our list, Blair Enns lays out twelve proclamations in Win Without Pricing Manifesto that helps creative business owners put distance between them and the competition. The book lays out ways owners can succeed in their relationships with clients and also stop writing long proposals or abandoning their way of thinking to win business for their agency.
Written to give owners inspiration, the twelve proclamations touch upon how agencies should start to rethink how they go about buying and selling their services.
Why We Recommend It – written in a way that makes the proclamations feel as though you’re being handed the guidebook to success, the Win Without Pricing Manifesto is full of teachings that anyone who sells ideas will take something out of reading it. Photo by David Airey.
Understanding the language of business can help keep you as a relevant option for clients to go to and as Douglas Davis describes in his book, Creative Strategy & the Business of Design, design school doesn’t teach that.
Learning this language is key to getting jobs done and Davis’ book helps to fill the void as well as teaches left-brain business skills to creatives who are typically more right-brain oriented. Being able to understand the requests from a client from a business point of view as well as many other skills taught in Davis’ book can help you think the way your clients do to put you ahead of your competition.
Why We Recommend It – Creative Strategy & the Business of Design from Douglas Davis teaches you the business and marketing information that you need to succeed with your work. Davis’ pulling back of the curtain helps to translate all of the typical jargon into easy-to-understand material. Photo by Chris Do.
You may even notice a pull quote from me on the sales page…
“This book is what separates good designers, from great designers. It bridges the often neglected gap between business, design and strategy. A must have resource.” – Jacob Cass, Brand Identity Consultant and Founder of Just Creative
For many people who dream of starting a small business, the biggest thing that keeps them from getting started is fear. In the bestseller, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber, takes a look at some commonplace myths about starting a small business and how some common thought and beliefs that easily get in the way of success.
Gerber takes you through the steps of starting and running a small business from the beginnings of entrepreneurship, through the growing pains that all businesses go through and finally to the perspective of a mature entrepreneur. A vital, commonly overlooked distinction between working on or in your business is clearly defined to help you grow your business from day 1.
Why We Recommend It – The E-Myth Revisited from Michael E Gerber is a bestselling novel and its no secret why. With a look at the journey of small business from the beginning to success, anyone on their own journey can easily identify with this book.
The are many companies that feel using the consumer is the solution to their problems. In This is Marketing from Seth Godin, the actuality is that great marketers use marketing to solve other people’s problems. Godin, who has taught millions of entrepreneurs how to take the traditional sense of marketing and look at a different way for better results.
In his book, readers learn how to market their business whether its a Fortune 500 company or a little tech startup and be proud of the work being done. Instead of placing an emphasis on spammy email funnels and attention-stealing ads, Godin puts a focus on creating an empathetic and emotional connection with customers.
Why We Recommend It – You could have the greatest business in the world, but if your market point isn’t at the top of its game, your business will suffer. This is Marketing from Seth Godin, is written to provide you with a guidebook to the best marketing practices to help your business grow without the questionable techniques that others may use.
People want more information than ever and in Building a StoryBrand from Donald Miller, readers can learn the secret that comes from connecting with your customer and help them understand how your product or service can benefit them. By touching upon certain story points which are universally responded to can give you insight into why a customer truly buys a specific product.
Simplifying your businesses’ brand message can help current and potential customers understand who you are better and not only buy from you but also recommend you to others. By giving you the best tips to use your website and social media in the most effective way, you can build that relationship with a customer that can last for years.
Why We Recommend It – Building your brand’s story, no matter the business that you are in can help you connect better with your target audience. With Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller, you can take the tips and advice and transform not only the way you speak to your customers but also how you describe your business.
Exploring the critical business challenges including case studies, pricing, contracts, and industry trends are given an in-depth focus in Brutally Honest by Emily Ruth Cohen. Designed from the outset to be a different type of strategy and business design novel, Brutally Honest is designed for those who benefit from learning visually instead of just the written word, making understanding and retaining the practical points made in the book easier to understand.
Why we recommend it – Flowing with beautiful graphics, impactful sound bites and quick wins as well as colorful, illuminating information, you’ll find yourself coming back to Brutally Honest time and time again. I shared a few of my favorite pages & a video on my Instagram page.
BONUS: Enter coupon code ‘justcreative’ for a FREE pin.
Picking The Best Strategy Books To Read
While our list focused on what we feel are the top 8 books on strategy & the business of design, there are many more valuable books out there that focus on these topics! We recommend looking around and seeing what books interest you so you can keep learning and putting yourself in the best position to help your business flourish.
Have another book to recommend? Leave a comment below and let us know which ones so we can all keep learning.