For the past couple of years now (since Joseph Sullivan put the Book Design Review on ice in fact), I’ve been posting a short list of my favourite covers for books for the year. Now that thing for the New York Times is out of the way, I’m free to post my list for 2012.
To make a couple of very general observations about book design this year, the cover that probably made the greatest impact was Fifty Shades of Gray. It was a design that made it OK to read erotica in public, something which surely contributed to the book’s breakout success — a point not lost on other publishers who rushed to re-package their own erotica titles in a similar fashion. The results inevitably lacked the finesse of the original, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as they say…
But while the cover of Fifty Shades of Gray smartly defied the conventions of its genre, it wasn’t an exciting cover and some publishers seemed to be more conservative in their design choices, playing it safe or relying on formulas. The jacket for The Casual Vacancy could hardly have been more forgettable, and it was not alone. A bland sameness crept in. Perhaps that could be said every year. I suspect, however, that smaller budgets, tighter deadlines, and readers browsing thumbnails rather than shelves had an effect.
Nevertheless, some publishers were willing to trust their art directors and designers, and publish interesting and challenging covers. If I was to identify a common theme to my choices this year, it would be hand-drawn lettering and illustrated designs. With the ubiquity of stock photos and uninspired type-choices, that seems to be where the interesting things are happening, at least to my mind. Perhaps photographs will make a come back next year?
Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss by Philip Nel; design by Chris Ware
University Press of Mississippi
Cruel Britannia by Ian Cobain; design by FUEL
Vintage Isherwood, Vintage (UK)
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson; design by Jonny Pelham
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; design by Cardon Webb
Penguin Drop Cap, Penguin (US)