Sue Murphy on how books are windows into intimate worlds that we never knew existed

The esteemed creative director has worked for some of the biggest names in the business. Here, she discusses how books have been a never-ending source of inspiration.

22 July 2020


Currently the creative director at creative agency Gretel, Sue Murphy’s stamp on the creative world can also be seen through her previous stints at the likes of Weiden+Kennedy, Wolff Olins and IBM. With an impressive roster of clients under her belt, Sue has led teams on projects for Airbnb, Chobani, Amazon, Google and Facebook – just to name a few. With this much commercial prowess, we couldn’t help but wonder what treasures lie on Sue’s bookshelf. And it’s safe to say that books have been an essential aspect of the creative director’s trajectory so far.

“Growing up I was obsessed with books,” she tells It’s Nice That. Prior to the internet era, Sue would read a book a day, packing her holiday suitcase with more books than clothes. “Living in a small town in Ireland,” she continues, “books were windows into intimate worlds I hadn’t experienced or ever knew existed.” They captured ideas and feelings that moved her in new ways, a power that has gone onto inform her branding work to date. Now, much of Sue’s work is all about telling a story or provoking a meaning for a brand. It’s about being “human friendly,” she adds, “with the goal of moving the viewer to feel something.”

Books have guided Sue through her career thus far, and we’re delighted to be presenting five influential titles from her bookshelf today. Here, she talks us through her personal home for fiction, her Kindle, not to mention the countless print surprises that never fail to inspire her.

Kindle 3rd Generation

While not a singular book, I felt my Kindle needed a mention because it has been my oracle and medium to knowledge and stories. I bought it in 2010, and it has been all over the world with me. Its e-ink screen is a soothing comfort in a life where I am constantly surrounded by, and staring intently into digital screens. The case is just as old, delightfully worn as an old book would be that had been repeatedly cracked open for ten years.

Avaunt Magazine

The physical print I did allow myself to buy before becoming more settled in the US was magazines. I don’t hold onto many, except those that inspire me in layout, photography and content. I have several issues of Avaunt Magazine on my shelf, it’s a magazine I look to for inspiration. Matt Willey is my favourite magazine designer, I love how he leaves his DNA in everything he makes. When reading magazines he has designed, I look at how he treats thin rules, working neatly to divide blocks of copy, bringing order, and close attention to bylines. I search for them with delight when he designs something new. I like there to be meat in the magazines I read, growing up I found it hard to find ones that appealed to me or held my attention. I find that hook in magazines like Avaunt, or Monocle, mostly magazines which are geared to men.

Jefferson Hack the System: We Can’t Do This Alone

Its appearance as a coffee table book is deceiving. You can’t read this book passively. It requires you to turn it at angles, vertical to read chapter introductions, back to horizontal to read interviews. How does one even begin to describe Jefferson Hack? He’s an editor, a creative director, a curator, a prolific founder to varying entities from magazines (Dazed, AnOther Magazine) to platforms (Nowness), to companies (Dazed Beauty). I find inspiration in people like Jefferson, those who can’t easily be defined – I find it terribly boring to do the same thing over and over. This book shines in its demonstration of the power of the cross-pollination of ideas, people and multidisciplinary skills. That’s a world I want to live in.

Tibor Kalman: Peverse Optimist

I was given this book as a gift by a thoughtful colleague after a particularly rotten time with a boss in one of my previous roles. It was his copy that he passed on to me, it’s special when someone parts ways with one of their books to fuel another person. Fuel it does, each page is brimming with creativity, Kalman is a prolific idea generator. He’s another example of a creative renaissance man, an antidote to the LinkedIn-ness of the world, where one has to define oneself in three words or less.

Nathan Williams and Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen: The Touch, Spaces Designed for the Senses

This is a recent addition to my bookcase. It felt both timely for research for a project I am working on, as well as an opportunity to look inside other buildings while confined to my apartment. The book is a collaboration between Nathan Williams of Kinfolk and Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen of Norm Architects and presents five essential building blocks of human-centric design – light, nature, materiality, colour, and community – to prove that good design is not only visually appealing, but engages all of the human senses. It’s a swooning page-turner through beautiful homes, hotels, museums, and retail stores, as well as interviews with design industry leaders. Although it’s an architecture and interior design book, this book is relevant for people working in branding today, who have to consider how a brand appears in the world.

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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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