“There is so much stuff in books that you can’t just get on the internet”: Ben Longden presents his Bookshelf

The Guardian’s digital design director shares five influential titles from his bookshelf.

5 August 2020

As digital design director of The Guardian, Ben Longden is no stranger to print. Surrounded by printed matter galore by day, books continue to play an important role for Ben outside the office walls. He’s recently written a book all about creativity and mental health. Titled Graphic Design is Mental, the newly published book explores imposter syndrome, how you might feel as a designer starting out in the industry, and tackles some of the challenges a creative might face in an often daunting industry.

Ben, who’s also director of RoomFifty, frequently turns to the quiet solitude of books as a means of getting away from whatever he was doing at the time. In this week’s Bookshelf, he shares the books that he “likes to look at and ones that [he] often uses on a regular basis.” Not only providing inspiration but also a break from the screen, books are an elemental aspect of Ben’s practice. “There is so much stuff in books that you can’t just get on the internet, and you consume them in a different way – a richer way,” he tells us. “I think the connection between the pages and your hands means the information gets absorbed in a different way, or at least, that is the way for me.” So with this in mind dear readers, please enjoy Ben’s Bookshelf.

Paul Rand: Sparkle and Spin

I think Paul Rand is the designer who has had the most impact on me. It was mostly his branding work that I knew and loved, but when I discovered that he had written and illustrated books with his wife, I just wanted to find a copy. I love the childlike wonder he has with the illustrations, they are so playful, yet they all have a real intelligence to them. I just love that. It's one of those books that I will look at every now and again when i'm not feeling inspired and it just lifts my spirits. I always find something in there that makes me think in a different way. 

Pentagram: Marks

I bought this book when I was still at university. At the time, it was released as a limited edition of 1000 copies and I looked everywhere to find a copy. I think it's the book I've used the most. I love that all the marks are black and white with nothing other than the logo on each page. I always use it to get me thinking about ideas in a different way. I love logos, especially smart logos that have a little trick or spin on a cliche, it's something I try to do with all my work in branding, so I love to see these and get excited by the ideas.

David Lynch: Catching the big fish

Not the prettiest book – but it's a very important book to me. I read this book when I was struggling with things that were happening in my life, it's an incredibly inspiring book. The way he talks about creativity and his process really helped me feel inspired again, and think about things in a different way. I love the way it's structured as tiny little stories which all interlink but for me (a very visual person) this is perfect. It's bite sized stories that will inspire you to push yourself creatively and find new ways of thinking. It's the book which inspired much of the way I approached writing my own book Graphic Design is Mental.

A dictionary of colour combinations

I’m not very good at colour – it’s the one part of design which I find the hardest – or at least I used to before I got this book. It was given to me as a present, I think it was a subtle “you might want to use this”. But it's great in the unexpected palettes and the practicality of it. To be honest I only use it occasionally now, but i feel comforted by the fact that it’s there. 


This is just a book that I love to look at, again it’s a children’s book. But it’s just great – the typography, the illustrations, and you can’t underestimate the use of a fluorescent colour!

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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