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A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design Greg Thomas

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

Throughout time books have evolved into revolutionary ob-

jects. This has been witnessed across the span of history. They

ginning to provide not only visual appeal that embodies the text,

are vital components in transpiring ideas and purpose. Books

but also to attract readers. The earliest ways of pulling people in

consist of collections of folios (themselves a collection of leaves),

using book covers was typically done through painting. As ear-

which contain writings and/or illustrations, and are bound and

ly as the thirteenth century, manuscripts were ornamented with

covered, in some manner. Through this format, thoughts in

paint, silver, gold, and jewels. They are referred to as “illuminat-

history have traveled far and wide reaching an assortment of au-

ed manuscripts�. These manuscripts grew in popularity due to

diences. In an increasingly digital age, the materiality of those

the heavily adorned objects and spread throughout Western Eu-

thoughts, provided by books in the past has become more popu-

rope and Asia. The increased spread of religions also aided in the

larized through other mediums, such as, the iPad or Kindle. The

growth of production of illustrated and illustrated books. Even-

e-books and print-on-demand technology will change the tradi-

tually, around the fourteenth to fifteenth century books gained a

tional way books are received. Although this is the case, helping

necessary importance in societies because they were a appealing-

to maintain the physical life of books can be credited to their cov-

ly medium for ideas to travel. The artwork done in books eclipsed

ers: the face and context of the book. The ability to recognize and

other forms of art during the time and was highly valued. Illus-

identify printed texts has been accomplished through memorable

trations at the time typically reflected a cultural synthesis of the

book covers. Book covers are not only a physical embodiment of

times. Typically they showed interest amongst the dominant

the expressions of author’s ideas, but can also present an aesthet-

groups that could afford to produce and buy these pieces of writ-

ic reference to a cultural history. Book cover design has played a

ing. Artists soon became a part of the book-making group along

critical role for books, and has evolved throughout the span of

side the bookbinder, printer, typographer, layout artist, and even-

history, by preserving thoughts, expressions, and information

tually an illustrator/photographer.

through the use of graphic design.

Books have been illustrated and/or decorated from the be-

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

Rockwell kent / moby dick (front board above, interior right) / 1930 / random house

ernst reichl / ulysses / 1934 / random house

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

The development of the book continued. The hand-operated

printing press was introduced by Guttenberg in the fifteenth

advanced, industrialization took its place, and books became in-

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, as technology

century and put the book into faster production. The book cover-

creasingly manufactured. The handcrafted process of the book

ings then, were thick and durable functioning solely, to protect

slowly diminished. While still a valued commodity, the illustra-

the prized texts, which were not so easily produced. The protec-

tion and typography became a manufactured process. Painting

tive outsides of the book were often ornamented as a statement

became lithography, and calligraphy became typesetting. The

of authority by the higher class. They were uncommon to a major

demand of books increased, and likewise the manufacturing

portion of society, due to their expensive creative process. Book

process of these books, transforming the way illustration and

covers were created using printing and lithography, but were also

text were created. In the nineteenth century the development of

decorated with precious elements such as, gold, silver and other

a steam-powered printing press allowed for books to be printed

rare or precious gems.

on a considerably larger scale than before. With greater expectations of efficiency through mechanical production, there was more reliance on the machinery printing processes. The mass production had shaped the development of lackluster formal tendencies because of the push for assembly. The individuality that books and book covers possessed became lost during the end of the century.

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

Gyorgy kepes / false coin / 1959 / little, brown, & company

e. mcknight /ulysses / 1949 / random house

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

w.a. dwiggins / the time machine / 1931 / random house

george salter / the scarf / 1947 / the dial press

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

e. mcknight kauffer / the ill-tempered clavichord / 1952 / simon & schuster

arthur hawkins / bases overseas / 1944 / harcourt, brace & company

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

While printing ended the medieval type of illustration and

Book cover design became a creative forum for expres-

decoration, it opened up new areas of exploration, such as, typog-

sion around the world and encompassed the movements, styles,

raphy. The early nineteenth century dates the first book jacket,

and ideologies that surrounded the time of their conception. In

which was used primarily as a protective outer layer for the text

Europe, the Cubism movement distorted traditional forms and

block. It had no intentional attractive nature, lacking illustrations

notions of representation, implementing abstraction. Futurists

or labels. The book jackets only began to gain their importance at

and Dadaists followed suit, including inspired formal elements

the end of the century, when it was recognized that it could in-

from Cubism, and experimenting with typography as a new com-

vite potential buyers. In the beginning of the twentieth century,

municative element, no longer was it a passive part of the content.

book jackets began to be realized as a promotional instrument for

The artists of De Stijl and Constructivism contributed to some of

designers, giving book covers much more attention. Book cover

the enormous leaps in modern design. They polished the concen-

design and graphic design as a profession developed simultane-

tration of form into simplistically pure geometric elements, and

ously, aiding one another’s success. Slowly, book designs began to

also projected some ideologies that would comment on society.

become better thought-out in early twentieth century because it

During the early twentieth century, social and political upheaval

was a way for designers to reconstruct the speculative center of

would play major roles in the art movements. Many of the Eu-

design. Book cover design was an important creative expression

ropean artists and designers fled Europe to head for America,

for early, progressive designers, for it was to be, not only a pro-

where much influence was made in modern design.

motion of the designer’s individuality, but also meeting the needs of clients. If a book has some literary excellence, the book cover must represent the expression of the author, so a designer had the task of meeting this reputation on a commercial level.

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

Paul rand / thoughts on design / 1945 / wittenborn & Company

fred troller / seeing and the eye / 1973 / doubleday anchor books

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

designer unknown / purple-biolet-squish / 1969 / zondervan publishing house

lawrence ratzkin / ashes to ashes / 1971 / simon & schuster

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

The Bauhaus in Chicago gave life to modernist principles in

As design practices started taking new directions, so did

the 1930’s by those who immigrated. Book cover designers dur-

books as a whole. Designers during the mid century and 1960’s

ing that time began to not only design the cover, but to illustrate

were not only designing books, but were also authoring them.

the inside of the book as well. The devotion to the book made de-

Modernism was also proving to be successfully incorporated into

signing a book a more serious and lucrative process. Around that

book cover design. All aspects of book cover design began work-

time, the slipcover was also introduced, providing a different out-

ing better than ever for the publisher, author, and designer. In the

er shell for the book other than a book jacket. The Surrealist and

1970’s cover design reached a point of limitation, most likely due

Art Deco movement had an impact on the modern designs at this

to the social and cultural unrest regarding a decade of war, racial

time with, collage, geometric abstraction, photomontage, and fig-

strain, and political controversies. Although there were still in-

ure drawing. By the middle of the century, book cover design was

fluential movements, such as the Psychedelia, and Pop/Op Art.

developing into an extensively marketable profession.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, a move towards post-modern design and the digital revolution began to form new mainstream looks with a depersonalized expression. Many designers started to incorporate their own eclectic styles, varying back and forth between looks. While innovative design was continuing to manifest itself in a variety of ways, there was not a definitive look to the end of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, book cover design has emerged as a popular form of creative expression in a physical piece, but what is it now?

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

carin goldberg / ulysses / 1986 / random house

ernst reichl / ulysses / 2002 / random house

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

alan peckolick & tom carnase/ beards / 1976/ harcourt, brace & jovanavich

paul sahre/ killing the buddha / 2003/ free press

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

Because books house and circulate some pertinent infor-

mation and attempt to reach a certain audience, having a book cover has been essential to texts survival. Cover design is, and always will be a niche field for graphic designers, whether it is for a book, or an album, movie, etc. But, this niche seems to be a challenge for designers who have to compete with the ever-corporate world of publishing. The cover to a book hosts an assortment of engaging qualities that a designer should always be up for tackling. A book cover allows graphic designers to participate in an act of visual, constructive meaning. Book cover design should stick around.

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design


photo credits: By Its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design

drew ned

5?q=illuminated&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit T009964?goto=book&pos=1

By Its Cover: Modern American Book Cover Design drew ned

The Book: Its History and Development cyril davenport

typeset in: Mercury TextG4 and Gotham

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

A Brief Look at Book Cover Design

Book Cover Design History  

A brief look at Book cover design history

Book Cover Design History  

A brief look at Book cover design history