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Design Inspiration | Books for Creatives

Design Inspiration | Books for Creatives

For the last few months, I've been sharing some of the books I've been reading on Instagram. 

This isn't just another list of books recycled from another book lovers list. They don't cover business, creative thinking, marketing & design. (As it happens, I generally find those books rather hard to read from cover to cover.) But these books have inspired my creative process and shaped the work that I create. 

This is a list of books that have broadened my mind and given me a new way of perceiving the world; sparking new ways of creating, living & relating. Sometimes obtusely; and sometimes with poetic finesse. This list of books includes both fiction and non-fiction and are my picks for your book list when you need inspiration but don't want to engage with a text book or another list of 'How to'. 

Prepare yourself to read between the lines, to be transported to another place or time, to mull over ideas and concepts and allow the ideas presented to be explored & translated in the work that you produce. 

1 | Monogamy by Sue Miller

This book brought all manner of things to the forefront for me; ideas I'd held about relationships and how they work, about justice and what it means to be a worthy citizen, and being a creative. It explores relationships in such a dynamic way; the complexities, the joys, the idiosyncrasies and the way that we present relationships we exist in to ourselves. How we hide or fixate on parts of our relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have been inspired to have many frank and exploratory conversations with friends and families since. 

2 | The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday by Rob Walker

This book is about as close as I tread to reading a design book. Its pages are filled with little ideas to help you notice more in your daily life; ideas that you can take on day by day or read and stores away for times when you're feel flat. Some of the ideas are as simple as picking out a feature or design element that you're interested in and taking note of them on your afternoon walk. As simple as the ideas are, I found implementing these strategies into my daily life game-changing. It made me notice my shallow breathing when working (which was disastrous might I say! I think I was hyperventilating on the daily without noticing), to explore the textures and tones that my eyes are most drawn to and what overarching themes and concepts I'm interested in most and continuously lead to. It has led to a new way of looking at my world and inspired new understanding about myself. And that is a gift for life; not just a positive tool for creative business. 

3 | Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers 

Sometimes books are haunting. And this book haunted me long after finishing it. At the time that I read it everyone was raving about 'Eleanor Oliphant' and though I tried to enjoy it, I just found the book difficult to read and the character too obtuse. But I did appreciate that the author had been trying to present someone outside of the norm; different, alienated and excluded from society. The empathy I think I was supposed to have for Eleanor, I found with Clare Chambers' character Jean. This book was a considerate and poetic reminder of what it means to be human and to look out for others. What it is to be loved and to be understood; to be seen and recognised for who we are. It talks about the grey nature of life even though the world wants to scream judgement in black and white. 

4 | Three O' Clock in The Morning by Gianrico Carofiglio

I include this book knowing that it won't have universal appeal; but I do believe that it's good to dive into books that occasionally do nothing other than transport you to another time and place. This book reminded me of a literary version of Tom Ford's 'A Single Man' - a visual feast that captures a moment or mood with little drama. Three O'Clock in The Morning took me back to Italy; to the way I'd observe & perceive the world differently whilst sitting in a piazza, and find myself in laneways and eateries off the beaten track. This book plugged me into a place that inspires me greatly and upon finishing it; threw me into a frenzy of creative thinking and energy. 

5 | The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk

This book should come with a trigger warning and is not for the faint hearted with explicit details of trauma cases. Written by a psychiatrist, this fascinating book changed the way that I thought about my mind & body health. It can be a little scientific in parts but is well worth reading for anyone interested in psychology & how we treat our bodies medically. I'm sure that my interest in this book comes mostly from my hobby-passion for psychology and my background of being raised in a medical family, but it truly changed how I see my life & business too by making me think about how I interact with others, how I speak over myself and how holistically I consider my health. 

6 | Breath by James Nestor

Another non-ficition gem, this book was recommended to me by my physio to help me understand the importance of breathing properly and how to do it; as shallow breathing was causing a riot of issues in my body. I give this book all credit for helping me run; a pursuit I avoided because of how breathless it made me. What does this have to do with creative process? Well changing my breathing, has allowed me to change the way I write. One of the reminders I was constantly stating at calligraphy workshops was 'to breathe'. And as I've since discovered; breathing deeply and calmly, changes my posture throughout the process and the way I write. 

7 | Maybe you should talk to someone by Lori Gottlieb

It would be difficult for me to distill what I learnt from this book in a paragraph. There was just too much; I learnt so much about relationships, humanity, what it means to be human, what it means to develop your craft and what it means to listen and to be heard. I cannot recommend this book more and will most definitely be adding this book to my collection to share with family and friends. 


8 | The Mothers by Brit Bennett

You know when you're reading a book, not sure that you like where it's going but simultaneously gripped by it? That was 'The Mothers' for me. This book delicately explores love, life and race and challenged me constantly, through what its characters did not do. There were many times in this book I just wanted the characters to have a mature, open conversation; one that could have helped them avoid what happened next. But they didn't - and through that I learned. This book also touched on something I have been fascinated with for a while with my own church upbringing; the difference (sometimes varied and vast) between the church & its community and the faith they believe in. 

9 | Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

I'm still in awe that this is Kiley Reid's debut novel; it's beautifully written, engaging and explores the idea of race, racism & privilege in such a multi-faceted and dimensional way. I went into this book thinking I had a pretty good grasp on these topics and ended up knowing I needed a refresher course. This book explores the ideas delicately & sometimes subtly; nudging you to continuously ask questions of yourself about the ideas and perspectives you really hold. I cannot recommend this book enough; it's a must read for all.  

 10 | Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

This book is pure emotion and poetry; and I was utterly transported and moved by it. As the first novel to be written by 26 year old Caleb Azumah Nelson, a talented photographer and writer, this book has to be read to be believed. I made it a full sensory journey by popping the songs that Caleb references on the airwaves around me as I turned pages. It's a fully immersive journey through Black culture, art, thought and experience; and I'm profoundly grateful and changed for having been offered a seat at the table; to listen, to learn and to carry just for a moment the weight of the Black experience. 


11 | Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors

This debut novel by Coco Mellors had me reading feverishly all weekend; Cleo and Frank — though utterly flawed, complex, sometimes frustrating and surprising — had me championing their growth page by page. I found myself frustrated by their plight and empathetic to their positions. Coco beautifully weaves wisdom and redemption through the plot to the point I finished reading the book and felt like I'd explored what it means to be human, to growth, to be in relationship and to be outside of a relationship. Sexually graphic at times (in case anyone isn't into that), the book leaves you feeling like you've truly seen someone; at their best, at their worst and in the endless grey in between. 


12 | The Monocle Book of Gentle Living

This book reflected my soul back to me and sent me a gentle reminder that I'm not always living in accordance with the life I dream and long for. It gently prompted and put back into focus the values that I theoretically subscribe to — eat more consciously & communally, move my body more, explore, be open, slow down — but find myself throwing aside for the busyness of city life.  I've thoroughly enjoyed the pace & cadence of this book too; you can read it in small parts and mull over its contents for a day. And most importantly, it's Monocle. So it's design focussed and not about absolute ideas; it inspires thoughts and conscious consideration without agenda. 


13 | Notes On Heartbreak by Annie Lord

Whether you've just been broken up with, in a long-term relationship or single, this book will find a way to grab your heart and mind and see into your soul. Having just come back from London, the landscape of Annie's narrative felt rich and familiar, and the way she processed her break up sounded eerily familiar. One of the most successful elements of this book for me was how it subtly highlighted behaviours, blind spots or attitudes we all take falling in love - in love - and then falling out of love. If you loved Dolly Alderton's 'Everything I know about love' like I did; this book will feel like you're sitting down with Dolly's best friend and hearing her unique take on her experience. 

We'll update this list from time to time with books that make the cut. Got any book suggestions for me? I'm always keen to hear suggestions and would love to hear what has been making you feel creatively inspired. 


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