Book Cover Design, Rule 1:

The cover is a face of the book, a reader’s first insight into the story within

As already mentioned, the first and most important purpose of the book cover design is attracting the eye of the potential buyer. As Jason Heuer (2012) says, ‘it’s like a first impression on a date. A literary flirtation, or when done best, a seduction’. One could add that the part of this seduction is to let the content to sell itself, once the interest has been awoken. For that reason the cover always needs to correspond with the content within. To establish this connection, Chip Kidd (2012) likes to ask himself the question ‘What does the story look like?’ in the beginning of the designing process, because it makes the designer think about the book’s message, genre, story and audience. From the answer a lot of decisions can be made, for example the style appropriate for the publication and its genre. The designer treats the reader wrong if he makes the cover look like a criminal novel, if it is a modern fantasy. This would have several consequences that would lead to disappointment of reader’s expectations and result in a decrease of future income and sell ability of the book itself because fantasy readers would not find it and criminal novel readers would feel cheated and disappointed.

Fig. 2: Chip Kidd, Cover design for Kathrine Hepburn’s Memoires & Marlene Dietrich’s Bibliography, 1991

Katharine Hepburn’s memoirs and Marlene Dietrich’s bibliography (fig. 2) are good examples of cover-content based design. Chip Kidd (2012) says that ‘The Hepburn book was written in very conversational style. It was like she was sitting across the table, telling it all to you. The Dietrich’s book was an observation by her daughter, it was a bibliography.’ In other words, ‘The Hepburn story is words and the Dietrich’s story is pictures’. Chip Kidd’s typographic and pictorial treatments of these covers commu-nicate perfectly the style of the writing, its pure form and content and by doing so, also the personality of these famous women. He created strong link to the story within and differentiated powerfully these two publications from each other for the reader. As adumbrated above, all elements of visual style carry a more or less hidden message. For that reason, no decisions about any part of the cover should be made lightly. For instance, a specific treatment of typography or colour palette might be required to link the design to the targeted audience. Mark Gelotte (2012) says, that ‘For example, if it [understand the cover] is meant for single men, the colors will be more masculine. This can be worked around if font choice is masculine and then the colors can be muted or even pastel’.

The text is taken from my thesis Book Cover Design written in 2012. To view the full manuscript with interviews and reference list please contact me through my email or download it here. Please note that the text is copyrighted.                © HanaH. art studio, 2020

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