Maybe you're an engineer, or maybe you work with a designer. Maybe you think that design is what you do in Photoshop. Or maybe you just care about design.
If any of these are true, then there's a lot you can learn by reading and understanding these books. They'll help you understand how to solve problems for people out there in the real world.
These books cover the basics — the foundations of designing for people. There's no fancy Photoshop stuff. There's not much strictly on visual design. Instead these books are about understanding what people need when they interact with the things you make.
Of course, there are many other great books on design. Some that go much deeper. Some that give great high level summaries. I choose these 5 books because they are the ones that I've learnt the most from personally. Either way, there is a lifetime of learning here, so get to it. If you're making an app, creating a new website, or designing a chair, these books might help you to design and make better things.
The best book about designing for people. If you've ever been frustrated by a confusing parking meter, or a door that opens the wrong way then this book explains why. This book explains how the design of the things we use everyday can be improved.
Simple, clear, comprehensive. This is a solid foundation for problem solving across all areas of design.
From hierarchy and Hick's law to mental models and mapping, this text covers many of the major design principles. The book itself is laid out with one principle per page, with an accompanying page of examples. A great practical reference.
A wonderful, lyrical book about the art and science of typography. If you had to choose a single book on typography, this is it.
This is from a man who loves letters and language. Incredible treatments on type. Sections on rhythm & proportion, structural forms. Harmony, shaping the page, and combining and choosing type. Phi for layouts, type as a music scale. History of typography. Type foundries and type designers. Specimens. And more. A beautiful book. You'll learn more every time you go back. New version (4) just came out Jan 2013.
This book is here because it is about using form and structure as a system to help you solve problems. It's more a practical framework for solving problems than just a book about grids.
That said, this is also the definitive early work on grid design. Muller-Brockmann was one of the key pioneers of grid design and the swiss / international movement.
It includes considerations of grid and structure: baseline grids, measuring systems, units, margins, faces, construction of the type area and grid, and numerous examples of type and graphics in various grid combinations.
This is the kind of book that you can return to again and again, and always find something new.
As Little Design As Possible, by Sophie Lovell
Breaking away from the other books a little, this is a monograph about Rams and about principles of good design. As little design as possible...
There are early sketches and prototypes. There are incredible behind-the-scenes photos. There are stories about Rams and his team. There's a foreword by Ive, and the ten principles true for all good design are laid out in one place. Incredibly inspirational book. You should also check out Less is More which is equally great.
What about some web resources (not books)?
If you're looking for web resources (instead of books), there are a heap of great sites. Here's a couple to get started (let me know if you have more to add):
(lessons for programmers, curated by designers)
(5 design links everyday)
(summary of news for designers)
(designing web apps, and also companion app design)
(practical UI design, with PSDs and more)