Part of the beauty of design is that is tells a certain story, fostering emotion and human connection to hundreds or thousands of people. Pair this action with literary storytelling, and you’ve got an impactful design that people will cherish for years to come.
Despite the obvious prevalence of books and the necessity for a cover that we can all judge them by, book cover design is an oft-forgotten segment of the industry. Perhaps its due to the overlap between artists, illustrators and designers when it comes to creating collateral for a novel. Or maybe it’s because no one is really sure where, when and how to start creating book covers.
Getting Into Book Cover Design
Book cover design is really quite simple. It typically encompasses creatives from the graphic design or illustration field. However, instead of designing signage, posters or other printed collateral, they’re using their skills for a unique take on beautiful print designs: The cover of a book.
When it comes to the actual design of the book cover, the design can vary drastically. Perhaps it’s a photo-centric design promoting a wellness memoir, such as Kate Hudson’s book Pretty Happy. Or, it could be a more illustrated piece of art, a la Before She Was Harriet. Plus, depending on the nature of the book and its contents, more design may be featured inside. This is particularly common in children’s books.
But just because you might only be designing one page out of hundreds, don’t be fooled into thinking that designing a book cover is a one-and-done experience. Penguin Random House book designer Daniela Medina told Literally, Darling that some of her creations take months to finalize, while other designs are signed off on immediately. Ultimately the amount of blood, sweat and tears that go into designing a book cover are completely beholden to the particular project at hand.
According to Creative Choices, there are several different pathways that can lead to a career in book cover design. Some designers came from English literature backgrounds, while others were self-taught designers who simply created great work and showcased them within their design portfolio beautifully. However, these designers all had the same qualities in common — a fierce love of reading, energy and passion, and a strong imagination. In short, book cover designers are, quite literally, the visual version of writers.
So what should you do then?
- Do Your Research
The first step to designing the perfect book cover is having a comprehensive understanding of the book, its objective and the target demographic. Without understanding who you are appealing to, the tone of the novel or the emotion that the author (or, let’s be honest, publisher…) hopes to evoke, it’s very unlikely that your design will hit the right mark.
Read the novel. Speak with the author. Meet with the marketing department. Discuss with PR. Take the time to know the novel in and out and exactly how, where and when it will be promoted to the public. This will ensure you have a clear vision for the book cover design from the get-go and alleviate growing pains during the designing process.
- Use Trendy Design Elements
Just because you’re designing for a book, as opposed to something like an e-commerce website or a direct ad campaign, doesn’t mean your design doesn’t need a little pizazz! Book cover designers should always stay on top of the latest design trends and incorporate them into their creations.
- But Also, Don’t be Too Experimental
While you want the design to be fresh and modern, it’s important to remember that book covers live forever. They are timeless works of art that hope to grace the shelves of every midwestern Barnes and Noble for years to come — and too much “edge” may render them obsolete in the eyes of a consumer.
What’s more? Redesigning a book’s entire visual image (then reprinting the book…) can be a painstakingly tedious and expensive effort. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interests to find visual harmony the first time.
Want to incorporate bright geometric shapes? Just make sure they aren’t gratuitous. Adding bold typography? Probably don’t pair with a full-page image, too. So long as you strike a balance, you’ll be in the safe zone.
And when in doubt, go minimal. It’s the gift that keeps on giving to each and every brand.
Book cover design can be a very fulfilling path for imaginative bookworms who crave to tell visual stories. And if they follow the quick tips below, they’re sure to find success in this industry.
- Foster a love of reading and a strong imagination
- Become familiar with doing research before you pitch a design concept or start creating
- Strike a balance between timely design and modern elements
- Never stop practicing book cover design and seeking feedback to improve