Tag Archives: Book covers

Exercise: Choosing a book by its cover

Exercise: choose a book by an author you’re familiar with, and design 2 covers, one illustration or photo, one type… The book I’ve chosen is The World’s Longest climb, by Pauline Sanderson – it’s an account of the Everestmax expedition in 2006, and significant as the first book I’ve bought and actually read in the same year.  Published by Grafika, and you can buy it on Amazon of course. The book is narrative of the journey with photos, the writing style is energetic, and the focus is on the journey, teamwork, camaraderie, and the idea that ordinary people can do this stuff.  It’s almost self-published – the publisher only has a list of 3, and they skimped on the proofreading. For my designs, I’ve decided to work to the same square(ish) size as the original, and the rest of the publisher’s list. The original cover design is largely photographic, so my non-typographic design choice will be illustration.  I’ve started with a list of phrases to describe the book, a simple map to describe the journey, and added symbols – arrows, sun, cyclists, climbers, campervan – and colours > earth colours to describe deserts, dust, high altitude plateau, and white for snow, ice, mountain, and a vivid blue sky.

Notebook pages (click to read)
notebook page
notebook page
notebook page
notebook page
notebook page

Cover designs

Cover designs, 3 versions (pdf)

Version 1 – adapting the map and the arrows to give a feel of the journey.  Added some personal symbolism > the arrow that comes down off the mountain, and the sensation of coming down off the plateau towards the Himalayas… Trying to get the lines and proportions of the blocks of colour to balance. The title font is Matisse ITC, chosen for the ‘M’, and the header/body text is Minion Pro, reasonably clear and a bit fussy – the fonts and the cyclists aiming to balance out the straight lines a bit.  On the back, the white box is for the ISBN/barcode/price details, the brick-red boxes for photos from the text.  The cyclists were interesting > they’ve moved around the page a lot, and the quantity has changed.  They work best as a group of 3, going (downhill, disturbingly…) in the opposite direction to the text – guess this is about balance. V1 front cover V1 spine V1 back cover Version 2 – adds a textured background and re-arranges text and cyclists to fit – this version works best (think).  I don’t need the arrows here (too fussy).  Not totally sure about some of the font colour choices, as the contrast isn’t that good – looks better on the pdf though, and possibly choice of paper would make a difference too, so have left it.  Also, the design on the back cover may depend a bit on the ‘L’s – which might not work so well with other characters – so this may need changing when the text was added. V2 front cover V2 spine V2 back cover Version 3 – this is the text only version.  I’ve used one chunky font – Impact – and simplified the whole thing down to letter spacing, colours and an angle.  I would prefer less space between the letters on the mountain, but this is as good as I could get it without changing the font.  Perhaps I should have drawn it? Not sure if it still conveys enough about the book, but it should be bright enough to stand out on a bookshop table display.  The spine looks like a Lonely Planet title – this is an accident but it’s ok.  This style of doing things relies on less text on the back cover too, and the ‘L’s issue again.  I should really try it out with actual text,  that would be the next job. I’ve added the cyclists to make up for these shortcomings… V3 front cover V3 spine V3 back cover

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Publishers and design style – Penguin fiction

Book frontcoversBook backcoversMore from the bookshelves. Gunter Grass and Thomas Hauser from about 1980, bold design based around  chunky text, black and white with one colour.  Isabel Allende, 1990-ish, functional back, orange spine, frontcover illustration with title text box overlaid, possibly hinting at the Virago style.  Ted Simon and Stella Gibbons reprints in standard noughties full cover design style with toned-in coloured text, and smoother cover paper.  Uniformity with other publishers through production technology shifts.  As with the Virago’s the branding is virtually all in the logo (which appears on all 3 faces with these). Stella Gibbons nice illustration by named artist, possibly part of a classics series deliberately using retro smaller size.

Pat Barker trilogy

This is an example of standard Penguin functional fction style in the 90’s – orange spine, functional back covers with centred text.  Uniformity of text style and placement on the covers, and some similarity of illustrations, to tie them together as a trilogy.

Book frontcoversBook backcovers

Zadie Smith

Noughties style, three independent novels by the same author, fullcover designs, Autograph Man with a fancy bit of cutout on the cover.  What can I read into these… ‘White Teeth’ is maybe a reprint of the bestseller first novel  – note title first, then author, and mugshot on back – possibly issued about the same time as ‘ The Autograph Man’ was published by a now, well-recognised author.  ‘On Beauty’ is a later book, but the title style still carries through enough to create a visual tie-in to the author’s name.  The back cover of ‘White Teeth’ is interesting where there’s been an attempt to design in the functional stuff at the bottom.  Note how the Penguin logo is less orange and uniform on the earlier 2, but returns in conventional style on the 3rd.

book frontcoversbook backcovers

Publishers and design style – Penguin non-fiction

Book frontcoversBook backcoversPenguins and Pelicans Pre-1980 traditional smaller Penguins (George Orwell, Tony Benn, Eric Newby) and a Pelican (Mao Tse-tung).  Also, a couple of later, larger Pelicans (Nigel Harris, Gwyn Williams). Some strong branding – Eric Newby is solidly colour-coded with orange spine and back cover, and very clearly states ‘Penguin Book’ on the front cover.  Likewise the ‘Mao’ book is a blue spine and backed Pelican.  Note both of these don’t centre their backpage text.  Lots of bold headers, chunky text and photo illustration.  The use of the logo front and back is the main branding > note especially George Orwell. Strong blue and orange colours used on the spines and backs for the older books.  The birds on the logos always face into the centre of the book.  Interesting how Penguin gradually sheds its orange over the years.

Book frontcoversBook backcoversA later (90s) set. You know these are Penguins because of the orange spine and the Penguin logos on front and back covers. Also the paper. Otherwise they are individually designed, apart from the functional strip on the base of the back cover.  It’s interesting to see the relationship between the title and the author’s name, in terms of size, style and weight of font – reflecting what is judged to be the element that will be most eye-catching. Back covers have a bit of visual interest but basically stick to the centred text style.

Book frontcoversBook backcoversSusan George: It’s difficult to tell what was different about the Pelican imprint from the cover designs. (Apart from the blue/orange and the different bird of course.) Here’s an example of an author who got re-categorised and how they dealt with it while maintaining the visual continuity between her books. This is an author who would sell books on her name, so it’s the strongest visual element. Interesting to see how the border carries the design onto the back cover, and how the functional details like barcodes and prices are part of the design, not sticking-plastered over the top.

Finally, 3 Penguin India books published and printed in Delhi. Quality paperbacks, subtle differences in inks, papers used and careful full-cover designs with use of 3-way proportion and some imaginative arrangement of text boxes on the back cover – note the alignment for ‘Chasing the Monsoon’. Also note the Penguin logo on the back cover of ‘Falling off the map’ breaks the rule – it’s facing outwards!  The differences are subtle, but the texture of these books is different, they feel much more different (to UK Penguins) than they look.

Book frontcoversBook backcovers

Publishers and design style – Virago fiction

I’ve picked a selection of Virago fiction off my bookshelves…

book frontcoversbook backcovers1980’s saw the Virago Modern Classics series with a very strong uniform dark green style, the apple logo, and a named illustration on the front cover.  They were designed to be instantly recognisable on the shelf, hence the solid green colour, in contrast to most paperback fiction at the time.  Cover illustrations were taken from selected artworks.  They were also produced in quantity, so long rows of green spines interspersed with face-out display of interesting colourful illustrations, meant they had impact in the bookshops. Size was important – used for quality books at the time, bigger than mass-market, and they had shiny covers.  This was more than just marketing, it was about redressing a balance. Note the appearance of the barcode on the back.

book backcoversBook backcovers1990’s Virago fiction still have the solid green spines, though the apple logo has changed.  Front covers are now designed to illustrate the content, the only uniformity being  the ‘virago’ name printed vertically down the right hand side. A couple of nice evocative covers using collage style and typography, and a less-beautiful film tie-in, probably constrained by marketing requirements. Back covers have become functional with centred text.

book frontcoversBook backcoversNoughties Virago fiction has merged into the mainstream.  The full cover is now designed as illustration of the book, the publisher is only evident through the (red) apple logo on the base of the spine. The cover is printed on thicker and less shiny paper. Where the author is known and will sell the book, the author’s name is larger than the title text.  Lots of named quotes and prizes added in to validate the books. Text and paragraph styling is more elaborate. Back cover text is now styled into the design, paragraphs occasionally branch out from standard centred to other styles, and on ‘Red Dust’ there is even an attempt to design in the barcode box.

Book front coversBook backcovers
Finally, spines, noting the ripening of the apple logo and the shift away from green to full-cover designs.

showing how the logo evolves from green to red apple