Thomas Traum's Bookshelf provides a glimpse into his thoughtful and pragmatic practice

5 December 2018
Reading Time
4 minute read

“I am not a collector of design books even though I appreciate books,” director Thomas Traum tells It’s Nice That, “My visual culture is no longer shaped by books. (But avoiding to be pigeonholed here, it’s certainly not shaped by Instagram either).” The creative force behind Traum Inc, Thomas and his team create still and moving images with an explorative digital approach. Working in the industry for over ten years, Thomas has helped spearhead an aesthetic which has seen him work with the likes of Kenzo, Nike and Chanel.

Despite professing to seeking creative inspiration outside of the printed pages, Thomas explains how, “I read more than ever, be it audiobooks or iBooks on my Kindle, or real books. I am addicted to learning and looking into other fields which might provide alternative viewpoints. I am interested in how we see the world beyond visual culture, and different ways to deal with reality. Which is kind of what design is, just on a more broader level. I am addicted to ideas, history, methodologies, systems of thinking and life hacks.”

A revelatory line-up of books, Thomas’ Bookshelf is pragmatic, providing a glimpse into the thoughtful method behind his creative practice. Check out his top picks, below.

Ray Dalio: Principles

This book has been a real eye-opener. I wouldn’t want to live or run a design studio like this, but the man’s clarity of thinking and the practicality was striking. So many rules in there which become really interesting to adapt to design in general or running a design studio. There are a lot of processes in Principles which I can relate to from a VFX point of view and using complicated software day in and out.

A book I have gifted a lot and a book that when I meet another designer who’s read it, I know we’ll get along.

Margit Rosen at MIT: A Little-Known Story about a Movement, a Magazine, and the Computer’s Arrival in Art

This book has, in a way, zero relevance to the work I do which strikes me as odd. Many would say our studio output is the inverse of the work featured in this book. I bought it used for quite a bit of money for someone who doesn’t buy any books in general.

I love early computer-generated art and the special aesthetic touch the 60s and 70s seem to have in this scene. It’s a kind of a stylised modernism with computers thrown in. It’s honest in its futurism, while the future is much harder to get excited about these days (even though I am on a personal level excited about the future).

Most of the works are printed too, as a screen wasn’t a thing back then which gives them a different quality. Also, the question is why were these early pioneers also so good at designing posters and typography? All the catalogues in this book look amazing. Something which is completely lost now as any interactive or generative artist seems unable to have any design sensibilities.

Ryan Holiday: Obstacle is the Way

As I ventured into directing, I sometimes used to be very nervous, and so the audio version of this book became my daily meditation. Whenever I am scared of something I might listen in to this book to reset my thinking and clear my thoughts. It introduced me to stoicism, showed me that there are ways to think of a situation in many different ways and confirmed my hunch that nothing without pain is worth making, which is creative work in a nutshell.

Pieter Levels: Bootstrapper’s Handbook: Make

I only read this very recently after a friend sent it to me. I have been following his work for a while and find him an interesting online personality.

I am building my own bootstrapped startup at the moment at and this has been a great guide. I also think the rules and lessons are really valid for running a small design studio. I love what is the supposed autogenerated book sleeve Apple is generating from a cover image – they look particularly good on an iPad. I love the choice of a default web font as this is about web-based services and the use of Emojis, which Pieter Levels uses a lot in his sites and it gives the book a nice feeling.

It’s very direct and practical which I really appreciate in a book.

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

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