We are increasingly being urged to create objects of desire and the cover obviously plays a key role here, especially when a book is aiming for pride of place in a bookshop. Designers visit them regularly, to note the common visual language of related or competing titles. It can be a source of frustration then, when presenting a contrasting or conflicting design aimed at standing out, only to be asked to produce a copycat cover intended to hitch on the success of the latest best-seller. Booksellers often create themed displays dedicated to the latest hot trend, see Hygge for example. Publishers are all-too aware of this and often the pursuit of a like-for-like cover is their priority… Being allowed to use ‘just type’ will always be dependent on what books are blazing a commercial trail… Jon Gray’s cover for Swing Time and John Gall’s for Norwegian Wood, to take two current examples, prove to publishers that the mass market can handle bold, type-driven design and so this approach will be validated for a time.
I always look forward 50 Books | 50 Covers announcement. It feels like the industry standard. It’s the cover design list that really seems to matter to book designers in North America, and it’s the one I always compare my own list to.
There are always great covers among the winners that are new to me, and this year is no exception. But here are a few random observations about this year’s the cover selections: there a lot of typographic/type-only covers; academic publishers are well represented; there are some surprising omissions (although the jury can only judge what is submitted); a couple of the selections are… well, a little problematic; it is a very male list.
I’m interested to hear what other people thought of this year’s winners.
I think we’re seeing a more global approach to covers as a result of publishers deciding to hold on to the international rights for their books, and designers and publishers (not to mention authors and readers!) being more exposed to covers from other markets through the internet and international travel. But it is still surprising how different covers from different countries can be. The contrast between British and American covers can still be quite striking.
In Canada, where I live, we are geographically very close to the US, and we get books from both the US and the UK, so domestic covers tend to be a bit of a hybrid, with a handful of designers and publishers trying to do something unique. I get the sense that the situation in Australia is similar, although there may be more willingness to experiment with covers than in Canadian publishing, which can be quite conservative when it comes to book design.
Tom Gauld takes a look at editing process for The Guardian.
Tom’s recent comic ‘Editor’s Letter’ for the New York Times Magazine‘s ‘New York Stories‘ comic strip issue is also great:
Tom illustrated a story by Andy Newman called View Finder, and provided other incidental illustrations and lettering for the magazine, but the cover was illustrated by Bill Bragg who also, you may remember, illustrated the cover of Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo, published by Faber earlier this year.
Rebecca Mead’s long profile of publisher Gerhard Steidl for The New Yorkeris a wonderful, fascinating read:
Each Steidl title is unique, printed with a bespoke combination of inks and papers. But to the informed eye, and the informed hand, a Steidl book is as distinctive as an Eggleston photograph. Unlike another German art publisher, Taschen—which is known for reproducing risqué images by the likes of Helmut Newton in enormous formats that would crush most coffee tables to splinters—Steidl produces books that invite holding and reading. Steidl dislikes the shiny paper that is often found in photography books, and prefers to use uncoated paper, even though it takes longer to dry and thus makes a printing cycle more expensive. He opts for understatement even with projects that would tempt other publishers to be ostentatious. “Exposed,” a collection of portraits of famous people by Bryan Adams, the rock star turned photographer, has no image on its cover. Bound in blue cloth, the book looks as if it might be found on a shelf in an academic library. Steidl wants his creations to satisfy all the senses. When he first opens a book, he holds it up close to his nose and smells it, like a sommelier assessing a glass of wine. High-quality papers and inks smell organic, he says, not chemical. To the uninitiated, a Steidl book smells rather like a just-opened box of children’s crayons.
I love this part about the attention to the detail:
Designing a book’s packaging is a process Steidl particularly relishes. “He wants to pick the cover, he wants to pick the endpapers,” [Robert] Polidori told me. “He treasures this limited one-on-one time with the artist. It’s almost a love act.” Sometimes Steidl indulges in a brightly colored ribbon for a bookmark, like statement socks worn with a formal suit. He pays attention to elements that barely register with most readers, such as the head and tail bands—colored silk placed where the pages attach to the spine. “It’s a tiny bit of fashion,” Steidl said. “With Karl [Lagerfeld], it is the buttons. With me, it is the head and tail bands.” For Gossage, he chose black bands and black endpaper, to contrast with the colored ink on the pages. The endpaper was made from cotton, and would cost thirty cents per book, as opposed to the seven cents it would cost if he used offset paper. “Using the cheaper one saves significant money for the shareholders,” he said. “But I am the only shareholder.”