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Books by their covers
01.01.70 | Katie Allen
Shoppers will spend less than a second looking at a book jacket in-store, making their design all the more crucial. In the wake of The Bookseller's Cover Design Seminar, Felicity Wood talks to five leading desingers about their favourite covers, and why they work.
Random House, creative director
Amerika | Franz Kafka | Designer: Alvin Lustig | New Directions: New Classics, 1946
I would have to choose Alvin Lustig’s design for Amerika by Franz Kafka. It’s an edition I would love to have on my bookshelves. With its bold, playful graphic interpretation, it’s as inventive today as when it was first designed 65 years ago. I am fascinated by the way he created abstract geometric symbols that summarise the spirit of the novel. It was fresh and original owing more to the paintings of Klee and Miró than what was happening at the time in cover design.
Amerika is an intelligent interpretation that demands contemplation. It uses discreet rather than ostentatious type. Lustig believed that you didn’t have to design down to achieve sales—he was right—his unconventional work on the classic series increased orders, window displays and sales. They look brilliant together. And his work was a forerunner for a great many contemporary classic designs.''
Penguin, senior cover designer
Skippy Dies | Paul Murray | Illustrator: Leanne Shapton | Design: Richard Bravery
Hamish Hamilton, 2009
Skippy Dies reached out to me and unexpectedly grabbed my attention. It woke me up and made me reconsider what I was designing at the time. The fluid colours and relaxed hand-drawn type make it instantly friendly and convey a sense of personality and playful emotion.
I thought I could relate to this book, that it is going to be a good one. It's a simple, bold design that draws attention to the book rather than to itself; commercially and aesthetically it got me in a headlock by standing out from the crowd. I bought it, read it, enjoyed it, talked about it and lent it out. I think if you can do something interesting and original and get everyone from the editor to marketing and sales on side it will stand out in the crowded marketplace and fight for attention.
Bloomsbury, art director
Papillon | Henri Charrière | Designer: uncredited | Hart-Davis MacGibbon Ltd, 1970
I would have to choose the original cover for Henri Charrière's Papillon. This cover has been around as long as I have, so somehow it's always been in my consciousness, and still influences my own work. It could never be bettered. It instantly communicates the epic story of imprisonment and freedom in an unforgettable, allegorical juxtaposition of simple images. In the hugely competitive environment of a bookshop, or online, this pared back style of design would still leap from the shelves with its simplicity.
I love symbolism in cover design as this communicates swiftly and makes a lasting impression without imposing the designer's personal interpretation of characters onto the reader—which is always best left to the reader's imagination in any work of fiction. The trompe l'oeil here also pulls the viewer in, making you want to open the book as well as the lock.
Walker Books, art director for fiction and graphic novels
The Wild Things | Dave Eggers | Designer: Rachel Sumpter | Hamish Hamilton, 2009
Choosing a favourite cover design is almost impossible—the breadth of styles and variety of successful designs are so vast. And of course, the measure of a design's success is a rather intangible and subjective thing. However, a cover I particularly like from the past couple of years is that for Dave Eggers' The Wild Things, the novel based on his screenplay for the film "Where the Wild Things Are".
The design is striking in its simplicity—the bold and simple silhouetted profile of a boy against a wildly drawn backdrop of imagined foliage, full of unsettling shapes and sharp, tooth-like edges.
It has a wonderful tactile quality, too—printed directly on the cloth, there are a variety of textures at play, and the simple line, "There's one in all of us", scribbled on the back is all that is required in the way of a blurb. From a commercial point of view I suppose it would have been easier (and perhaps safer) to have gone with a film tie-in look, but this I feel is much stronger and more appealing. And ultimately, in my case at least, it did its job—the first time I saw it, it was the design alone that compelled me to pick it up and take it home . . .
Struktur Design, founder; Laurence King, freelance designer
International Corporate Identity 2 | Edited by Evolution Graphics | Design: Takaaki Bando | Gingko Press 1992
Trying to think of just one book jacket that I could consider to be my all time favourite is an impossible task, one book after another gets pulled from my arsenal of design and reference books. Wim Crouwel: Mode en Module with its image of Mr Crouwel wearing a big Seventies bow tie (fragmented into a sequence of coloured dots making the image totally abstract at close range) made the shortlist, as did Pubblicità in Italia 59–1960 discovered in a second-hand bookshop with it's dog-eared jacket of bold green and blue sans serif typography.
In the end I plumped for International Corporate Identity 2, which looks as fresh and contemporary today as it did 18 years ago, in fact back then it was so far ahead of it's time it set a new benchmark for what design could be. The clean simple use of Univers combined with an abstracted architectural drawing does not really illustrate what the book is about (a compendium of corporate identities that have aged far less well than the book cover). The back cover is also noteworthy with the architectural drawing reduced down to just a grid of small square dots combined with hairline rules. That the bold rule work on the front is embossed on the case bound cloth is just the icing on the cake.