Monday, 29 August 2011

An overview of book cover design

Within this section there are specific novels mentioned and I needed to look for particular editions as fashions within book design alters and different editions have different covers. The images used for producing fiction covers follows two routes; using stock images which fit the ideas or conceptual covers shot as an assignment.

Why would an art director use stock images? Stock images can be useful especially for historical books, both fact and fiction. However there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach for any genre. Whilst existing images are easy to source it can take a long time to find an image that fulfills the design brief in respect of ideas and layout. This problem appears to be remedied by mixing archival images with modern photography, illustration and photography, and manipulation.

More often that not the final images chosen indirectly refer to the contents of the book rather than directly illustrating the theme. This can aid with the mystery of the tale, create an atmosphere and draw the readers eye to the book. An example given is a series of books written by Alan Furst, specifically Red Gold published by Random House 2002, designer Robbin Schiff, with the photography by Brassai and Kertesz. These books are espionage novels set in pre-war Europe and the shadowy, low-key images do suit the subject really well.

Red Gold Alan Furst (publisher Random House 2002) designer Robbin Schiff

Two more photographers to add to the list to investigate.

Covers that are custom made can be art-directed to ensure they fit the layout and allow for the typography, something which was highlighted as being very important within the last section where I touched on layouts. Disadvantages can be the cost of setting up scenes and getting to a location but the example given to illustrate a designed cover is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert which was shot indoors within a very small space and the elements were not difficult to source being everyday objects. The choice of  items are very pertinent to the words they spells out.

Eat, Pray, Love  Elizabeth Gilbert (publisher Viking Adult 2006) designer Helen Yentus

A couple of useful links to help with looking at book covers and how they use photographs are : -

The Book Cover Archive

Covering Photography
The Book Cover Archive came in handy when looking for titles with inverted images. It also has design information such as the photographer, illustrator and designer for each novel. On some but not all the details also include the typeface used. Because the site has a multitude of titles to look at I looked for similarites in book titles/genres/design. I did have an issue with getting the smart search to work for me :o(
Covering Photography is an archive and resource for the study of the relationship between the history of photography and book cover design. The images / book covers can be accessed via the categories of by Photographer, Author, Publisher, Publication Date and Designer. As yet I have to delve deeper into this one.
What I have been doing is looking closely at my own books and books in the local library, trying to see the links and patterns to book design/genre. I was quite surprised to discover that whilst there were some definite themes to some many others crossed over. A lone figure in a minimalist landscape for example, is used for sagas, romances, general fiction, thrillers to name a few. The treatment of the image was more dark for the crime/thriller genre but the initial idea was the same. As seen on another post, huts and washing lines can be popular ;o) Examining conceptual ideas

A very brief overview... 
  • Chick Lit mainly uses illustration. The fonts are decorative. 

  • Saga seem to use a mix of illustrations, historical archive, modern photographs and a combination of these elements in one design. These images work together well to indicate the books to sell the book. Fonts again are fancy.

  • Historical novels appear to use images of women which have been cropped; costumes and props chosen suit the period. More decorative fonts.

  • Horror uses mainly illustrations, where photographs are used they are dark and atmospheric. They also combine photography with illustration. Uppercase and serifed fonts.

  • Lifestyle - mainly photography, some manipulation with selective colour in a black and white image. Is white lettering the fashion or just accidental these are the examples I have chosen? Mix of serif/sans serif and upper/lower case. Sharp images which show directly the theme of the book or obvious allusion.

  • Real life stories, biographies, cook books, pets, travel guides, hobbies, gardening use clear sharp photographs of the subject. Observation that the word Mandela does not stand out very well, dark lettering against a dark background and the white lettering merges with his grey hair. Fonts all upper case but a mix of serif and sans serif.

  • General fiction uses both illustration and photographs, again both obvious or by allusion. Mix of font/typefaces.

  • Thrillers/Crime/Spy novels tend to use out of focus photographs, to promote mystery.Type all upper case on the examples shown.

  • Science fiction/ fantasy uses a mix of photograpy, illustration and the combination of both. Uppercase fonts.

More confirmation that you need to know the contents of the book to be able to design a cover which relates to the theme either directly or through allusion. Books with hidden themes/elements of mystery use out of focus images. Other design devices used are cropped images not depicting the subject completely. Font type/size is important to the layout and does seem to vary with genre, romance and saga in particular using a more decorative typeface. The importance of prominence of name versus title depends on the reputation of the author. Manipulation has been used to a greater or lesser extent on creating both the imagery and space for the type.


Images from :  [Accessed 29 August 2011] [Accessed 1 September 2011] [Accessed 29 August 2011] [Accessed 2 September 2011] [Accessed 2 September 2011]

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