Classic Books with Inspiring Design Messages Classic Books with Inspiring Design Messages

Classic Books with Inspiring Design Messages

by Adele Peters

September 12, 2013

Here is a list of some remarkable reads that will inspire you to see solutions where others only see problems. 

The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges

How can a World War I spy send a message from London to Germany without a telegraph, the mail, or even a carrier pigeon? The narrator of this short story has minutes to find an answer, and uses creative problem-solving to safely deliver his message using a name in a phone book and a single bullet.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

Despite the fact that he was never elected to any office, Robert Moses was the most powerful man in New York City for decades. This is the story of how he transformed (and many would argue, trashed) the city—building not just physical structures like highways and bridges, but reshaping politics.

The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram

This book reminds us of our rich vocabulary, resources, and instincts from which we can draw to effectively communicate. Abram presents a worldview of human language and symbols that is world-changing for those who dive in.

Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things


For this collection, authors like Jonathan Lethem and Colson Whitehead were asked to invent stories about cheap trinkets, then post both the story and object on eBay to see if the story raised the value. Prices went up a staggering 2,700 percent, demonstrating the power of emotional connection in the things we make.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino


Marco Polo travels the vast empire of the Great Khan, bringing back reports of distant cities—despite the fact that he can’t speak the Khan’s language or the languages of the other places he visits. Instead, he designs new ways of communicating through motions, gestures, and suggestions.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson


This sci-fi novel tells the story of a world in which avatars interact in the Metaverse, a collective virtual space. The book helped inspire the creation of Second Life, and—like other fiction that has led to real-life inventions— illustrates the power of storytelling to create a vision for a future reality.

The Gun by C.J. Chivers


A former infantry officer in the U.S. Marines sets out to show how history has been determined by the merits of various firearms, and by the design of the deadly Soviet assault rifle, the AK-47, in particular.

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Ibee Wilson


From prehistoric cups made from whatever material was readily available to modern ovens that bake soufflés to the nearest 0.01 degree, this book explores how the objects used to prepare and consume food over centuries have determined what people have eaten in different eras, and the resulting impact on their health, well-being, and behavior.

Illustrations by Francesca Ramos

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Classic Books with Inspiring Design Messages