A selection of diverse items for this entry in the series: a new publication from The Guardian, open source fonts for your 2023 goodness (along with more for ’24), and the Natural Landscape Photography Award winners. Also: DAK. Let’s get into it.
The Long Read
Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of The Guardian, including its unusual-for-journalism payment model (that, frankly, some outlets in the US would be wise to copy). Now, they’re on newsstands with a “bookazine” called The Long Read.
“We know that for many people, myself included, when it comes to long, immersive pieces, reading in print […] is still the most satisfying reading experience, and one that should be cherished in a climate so saturated by disturbance,” quotes It’s Nice That. With most of these more evergreen stories taking months or even years to build, hardy print felt the best way for them to live. [A] ‘bookazine’, it balances all the things we love about magazines (“the drama, the pace, the energy”) with the considered typesetting of a book. A lot of attention was given to packaging its large volume of text – clocking in at 55,000 words – to make the reading experience as relaxing as possible, from body type size to column widths.
As a self-confessed font junkie, I’m always interested when a new one comes across the bow — but there are so many these days, they’ve unfortunately become almost commodities. (That’s a huge shame, but also a discussion for another time.) So it’s interesting when I see ones that are not only good but also available for everyone, free and open source.
Monaspace is the first of three I want to highlight, “a monospaced type superfamily with some modern tricks up its sleeve.” Designed for code — hence the monospace — it’s a successful answer to the question, “Letters on a grid is how we see our code. Why not make those letters better?”
B612 is designed for — get this — the screens on Airbus commercial planes. “[T]he challenge was to improve the display of information on the cockpit screens, in particular in terms of legibility and comfort of reading, and to optimize the overall homogeneity of the cockpit.” Read the back story here.
Inter is described as, “The 21st century standard,” “a workhorse of a typeface carefully crafted & designed for a wide range of applications, from detailed user interfaces to marketing & signage.” One of the world’s most-used font families, it’s perfect when readability is at the fore.
CreativeBoom has their annual compilation of 50 new fonts for the coming year up, “a comprehensive list of the best fonts that demand your attention in 2024. We’ve compiled this comprehensive list by asking the creative industry for their favourites, analysing work from the last 12 months, and taking on board the design trends emerging right now.”
For once: a contest that demands more — like the original RAW files. (Literally the raw image from the camera, before processing, for those who don’t know — think film negatives, rather than the resulting prints.) Okay, sure, it’s not perfect; there are entry fees and it doesn’t have a long track record, but the rules are solid with respect to image integrity.
Of course, the quality of the subject chosen to photograph is, if you’ll pardon the expression, subjective. The overriding theme here seems to be the perfection of dramatic subtlety — not an easy thing to get right.
The two photographs above are both by Adam Gibbs and reflect the judges’ desire to reward photographers who display a diverse portfolio of subjects.
A winner from the “abstracts and details” category for the first and a great title for the second image that does indeed tell so many stories. Rounding it out, another beautiful black-and-white:
If you’re a certain age — that is, were around in the ’80s — the DAK catalog was a regular. (Give me one, together with a JC Whitney catalog, and a weekend was gone.) A recent post by Cabel Sasser brought it all back:
Oh, the products. The explanations. The fun.
I’m not going to spoil the effort put into the story of Drew Alan Kaplan, a.k.a. DAK, Joseph Sugarman, Products That Think, or any of it: go enjoy for yourself.
Since its inception in 1923 as the Fifty Books of the Year competition, this annual event highlights AIGA’s continued commitment to uplifting powerful and compelling design in a familiar format we know and love. As book jackets became more prevalent, the competition evolved with the field to acknowledge excellence in cover design. Beginning in 1995, the competition became known as 50 Books | 50 Covers.
AIGA Press Release
The jury and I were very impressed with both the quantity and quality of the entries this year, which made choosing only 50 extremely difficult. Among the trending techniques this year were use of exposed bindings and elaborate page sequencing and mixed paper choices. For me, there was a greater overall sophistication in book design, with a mix of aesthetically beautiful and graphically brash approaches in the final choices.
Andrew Satake Blauvelt, Director, Cranbrook Art Museum (Chair)
As usual, there’s some overlap with various lists of “best of 2022” — here’s Foreword’s — but, as LitHub puts it, these are the best book [designs] of 2022 that you (probably) haven’t seen.
A selection of my favorites, in alphabetical order:
Simplicity itself — along with some awesome block type — add up to a great cover. (Love the angled blurb, too.)
One of the great things about this post is the “50 Books” part; this cover’s okay, and the spine more than okay, but it’s the interior design that really wins in my book (pardon the expression):
Kudos: the photography is great, but the spread above is artistic in wonderful way.
The trend, mentioned above, to mix paper stocks and styles is shown to full effect here. This book has too many great examples to post; see more.
Meanwhile, Uncovering Singapore’s Traditional Chinese Puppets may not be a title you’d automatically reach for, but…:
This is an interesting, compelling cover and jacket design as shown above. However, once again, rather than post it all here, I’m just hoping to whet your appetite — you need to see this one unfold (literally).
Great colors, great combinations, great cover.
I’m always a sucker for photographs of practical items used in ways that make book covers great, and this one’s a shining (pink) example.
There’s so much great design work done in the children’s book market it’s not even funny. The first of two great examples. (See more from this title.)
This time, several items related to books and bookstores; two more — possibly the last two — from the automotive logo category; and PRINT Magazine’s 2023 roundup of great design.
AI book covers? Here, now.
Creative Bloq, which I wasn’t familiar with, has a post up that’s only here because it’s the first I’ve seen of what is sure to be a trend: AI imagery on a book cover.
“Causing controversy,” they say, in that…:
[F]or a while now, with concerns over copyright and ethics plaguing text-to-image generators. Perhaps the most existential worry of all is the idea that AI could put human artists out of work – and while many still find the idea fanciful, we’re already seeing examples of AI-generated art being used commercially.
— Daniel Piper, Creative Bloq
The article itself has a hint of click-bait about it, what with Twitter users spotting a NY Times bestseller but complaining about the UK version of the cover design . . . but the larger question of AI coming for the book designers everywhere is valid.
Then again, AI imagery has the potential to reshape much of the creative landscape. Let’s hope — hope! — that it’s deployed ethically.
B&N’s Market Repositioning
BookRiot asks whether Barnes & Noble’s new presentation as “a local bookstore” — something that’s part of the community in a way that Amazon can never be —is genuine, let alone successful. (We have a B&N here in Macon, which I visit infrequently, and which doesn’t feel “local.”)
Background: The BookRiot article (and the image) above ultimately stem, I believe, from a NY Timesoption piece from 2018.
Temples of Books
As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of combining books and photography. Naturally, great photographs of great libraries strike just the right chord:
Positioning these spaces as intellectual havens, Temples of Books highlights their wide array of offerings, including botanic gardens, archival repositories, and of course, room to read. “As an institution that can curate knowledge, scrutinize the status quo, and encourage education, the library is more important today than ever,” a statement says. “This responsibility is only growing as the freedom to publish on all manner of channels increases.”
Formerly Jaguar Land Rover, but generally known in the industry as JLR, the British company1Technically, it’s an Indian company, as JLR is a subsidiary of the TATA conglomerate. decided to have a FedEx moment and rebranded. Alas, Paul Rand was unavailable, so there’s no brilliance in the execution. (We’ll absolutely leave whether walking away from Land Rover as a brand is a smart move for another, longer discussion.) Motor1 has the details.
Porsche > Almost all other mainstream car brands
There’s a new Porsche logo!
That’s right: it’s a very subtle change. But it’s a significant one, perhaps because it’s only the fifth in the company’s 75-year history:
The biggest changes are the backgrounds and the prancing horse in the middle, which is completely redrawn. (And, yes, has more than a passing — heh — resemblance to Ferrari’s.)
PRINT reminds us that not everything is digital these days — so much of the work still goes on paper or packaging — in their 2023 roundup of great stuff:
The 2023 PRINT Awards celebrated outstanding design in every shape and form, from the delicate texture and exquisite form of print to digital design that married technical skill with precise craftsmanship.
— PRINT Magazine
The best in show is a brilliant environmental design, the annual reports category is oddly satisfying (I didn’t know that Land O’ Lakes is a cooperative that owns Purina, for instance), the editorial category contains brilliance, and many, many more worthy of a design lover’s attention.
Sadly, their book design category is a bust. I like “The Every,” but pretty much any of my Best of 2022 picks run circles around it (and the other two choices):
But there are gems. I really like Bakemono, for instance, a winner in the fonts category and the best monospaced font I’ve seen:
It’s a long article (they call it a 74-minute read!), but when you have a moment, grab a drink and an iPad and enjoy — hopefully as much as I did.
And that’s it! Settle into summer, and stay tuned for more soon.
Lettuce first apologize for not having an update in a minute, but I’m going to try to make up for it with this word salad delicious selection of items I’ve been setting aside: ABCD book design, impossible book design, some thoughts on DPReview, Architecture in Music, Hoefler’s typographic illusions, and, because you deserve it, the Great Wave in 1-bit. Enjoy.
Book Design #1: ABCD
“Winner of All Winners,” says The Academy of British Cover Design (ABCD):
“Pearson’s design was judged to be the best book design to have won an ABCD award in its decade-long history,” says The Bookseller.
Meanwhile, their “Best of 2022” list included several I named as well, along with a few I hadn’t seen. The illustration that is the cover design for this young adult title, for instance:
Out There fills its “wonderfully weird” billing incredibly well, too:
Alas, the US version:
I often discuss UK covers when they’re pointed out somewhere, but as a general rule, my book design coverage, for lack of a better term, is US-based. Some other time, I do want to discuss why the UK covers are, generally, better than their US counterparts — as the above illustrates.
Anyway, read Design Week‘s excellent article on those and all the Academy of British Cover Design winners of 2022.
Bonus: I ran across Penguin Galaxy’s 2016 version of an Ursula Le Guin title I’ve got on my read-that-someday list — and love the cover design:
The Eyes & the Impossible the first-ever book to be published in two editions, for two readerships, and from two publishers: Knopf has one, in standard form, for the young adult audience.
The other one, however…:
Yes, that’s an illustration showing through laser-cut bamboo, with a glimpse at the red cloth spine. There’s no way to summarize this design story in a way that does it justice, so just go to PRINT and read the whole article. Great stuff.
Photography #1: DPReview Shuttering
Digital Photography Review, long known as just DPReview, is being shut down. Started in 1998 by Phil Askey, it’s currently part of Amazon and is arguably the internet’s leading camera database — with over a thousand reviews of cameras, lenses, and related items, 24,000 articles, some 2.7 million comments, and more.
Perhaps most valuable, and something that will be missed by many, is their large selection of galleries: lenses and cameras, all in a way that can be compared side-by-side, an invaluable tool for those looking to purchase a new toy essential item for their photography bag.
Askey, who left in 2010 (three years after the Amazon acquisition) blasted Amazon’s short-sightedness:
I meant to write about this long before now, but there’s an interesting thing commenting more than a month later: they’re still there. Like many corporate decisions these days (ahem, Twitter), something changed — but it doesn’t matter. The damage has been done, foot shot, whatever. The reporters have moved on, the articles have slowed to a trickle, and updates have been greeted with skepticism.
What a shame.
Photography #2: Architecture in Music
I somehow didn’t write on this one last time I saw it — so when a new series was covered by This is Colossal, there’s no way it wasn’t going to be celebrated here:
Recognize it? No? How about this one:
Charles Brooks, a twenty-plus-year overran of orchestras around the world and a cellist since childhood, has taken a probe lens and put it inside some of the world’s amazing instruments. The results are magical:
See many more here (2023) and here (2022). (See also this post’s header image, “Siete Lunas’ Guitar by Roberto Hernandez.”)
Hoefler & Co. points us at necessary illusions in typography:
Highlighted on Netflix’s Abstract: The Art of Design, these “cheats” show us that letterforms are so much more than just shapes drawn to stylize characters.
Since a number of people who teach design have suggested that we manufacture these for use in the classroom, I thought I’d take the more direct approach, and make them available as a free download, as a PDF that can be printed on transparencies. Whether you’re teaching typography, studying it, or just giving letters a closer look for the first time, I hope you’ll find these useful.
This time, the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of my favorite websites, a new book cover review site, an interview with B&N’s CEO, the end of Type 1 fonts, and a world-class rant.
Kottke Turns 25
Jason Kottke has been publishing a blog continuously for twenty-five years — more than half his life — and along the way, earned many an eye. (It’s been a full-time job since 2005.) Some of his thoughts from the anniversary post:
My love for the web has ebbed and flowed, but mainly it’s persisted — so much so that as of today, I’ve been writing kottke.org for 25 years. A little context for just how long that is: kottke.org is older than Google. 25 years is more than half of my life, spanning four decades (the 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s) and around 40,000 posts — almost cartoonishly long for a medium optimized for impermanence.
I had a personal realization recently: kottke.org isn’t so much a thing I’m making but a process I’m going through. A journey. A journey towards knowledge, discovery, empathy, connection, and a better way of seeing the world. Along the way, I’ve found myself and all of you. I feel so so so lucky to have had this opportunity.
— Jason Kottke, Kottke.org
Cited here often, always brimming with interesting items, and a regular source of learning, Jason deserves massive congratulations. Happy 25! Here’s to many more.
FastCompany points us to a new and interesting cover review site: mostly classic titles, covered in ~500 words “from a range of voices around the world.” Good stuff, with a NYT Book Review look and feel, updated regularly. Give it a try.
The Verge interviews B&N’s CEO
I’m not a regular listener of The Verge’s Decoder — it’s usually business-centric, going so far as to describe itself as secretly about org charts — but this one’s interesting: an interview between Nilay Patel and Barnes and Noble CEO James Daunt. They cover changes at B&N (with emphasis on why) and, of course, the elephant in any room:
[Amazon is] really terrible at putting a book in front of you that you never thought you’d want to read, that you have no reason to read and no tether to at all. Whereas a bookstore is precisely the place that does that. You pick up the book that you never thought you would want to read, might read, or could even think about reading, by an author you’ve never even heard of until that moment. When a bookseller says, “Look at that,” “Read that when you next come in,” or “I love that,” or whatever it is, all those small, little recommendations are personal and able to attach themselves to books that otherwise have nothing going for them at all.
— James Daunt, CEO, B&N
Props to The Verge for providing a full transcript, especially helpful for folks who would rather read the interview than listen to it. Whether you want to read or listen, though, book lovers in the US should take in this interview.
Adobe Discontinues Type 1 Support
Back in the old days, Type 1 fonts were the backbone of desktop publishing. They were multi-part, often incomplete or corrupted, and always getting in the way of perfect print output — and yet beautiful and opening never-before-appreciated horizons of possibility for your projects.
Now, in these days of OpenType, Google Fonts, and digital output, Adobe has taken the decision to discontinue support for the legacy Type 1 format. TypeNetwork has the full story, along with some options, and there are other converters if you need ’em.
Bonus: TypeNetwork also has all of the Adobe Originals, from back when Adobe was your go-to instead of the corporate behemoth. Classy classics: see the list.
One more from The Verge: “I don’t want to log in to your website.” The surge of login and email requests before being allowed to read “free” content is addressed brilliantly:
So what we’re looking at here is creating a worse user experience in order to pursue a variety of scummy money-making schemes. And that sucks because there are no real public spaces on the internet. Here in reality, I can fuck off to a park and hug a tree and sit on a bench and do stuff without ads, without anyone trying to track me, and without having to pay a dime. There was a time within my memory when people tried to make websites feel like semipublic places — you could hang out on someone’s cool blog and enjoy yourself.
From book design and minimalist photography to … well, book design and what absolutely isn’t minimalist photography, plus some street signs and another warning about Adobe. Let’s dig in.
Book Design #1: People Really Do Judge a Book by its Cover
From University College Cork — that’s Ireland, folks — we have something that, on the surface, seems obvious: a book cover“is the most likely factor to convince a person to read a book if they are unfamiliar with the work or its author.” Maria Butler, a PhD candidate in the School of English and Digital Humanities at UCC, reminds us why.
You’re reading Foreword, so you likely agree — and shown above is one of those worth-a-thousand-words images: the first of the 2023 titles I’ve set aside for my favorites of the year, and absolutely something good enough to make me pluck it off the shelf without knowing anything about either the title or author.
This project not only scores with great web design — check the interactive version of the book, pictured above — but what also seems like great book design. It’s a Kickstarter project (or will be, next month), so the usual cautions apply, but I might just go ahead and take the leap.
Couple of interesting book design items, by the way: the TOC is at the back, the endpapers are awesome, and the macro photography is tops. The book design reminds me of The Playmakers, still my favorite book design project ever.
The Minimalist Photography Award is the only foundation that deals extensively and professionally with minimalist photography as a branch of photography in which the photographic artistic vision takes the lead.
Milad Safabakhsh, President of Minimalist Photography Awards
Direct quote, just because: “A man with three legs, a vintage car scaling a building, and an unsettling formation of people donning bird masks are a few of the scenarios highlighted in the terrifically bizarre Wonders of Street View.”
I didn’t know it was a thing to dress up and pose for the Google cameras. Perfect.
Street Sign Style Guide
Speaking of street views, did you know there’s a style guide for highway signs? Would you believe that I’m a fan?
From DPReview: “If you’re an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber, you might want to go and turn off a new setting immediately. It’s been discovered that Adobe has automatically opted users into a ‘Content analysis’ program that allows Adobe to analyze your media files […] for use in its machine learning training programs.”
It’s important to note that Adobe only uses the files saved in the “Creative Cloud,” something I don’t do as a matter of course, but even still, this is yet another example of Adobe using its monopoly position in the creative field to take advantage of its paying customers.
Adobe, unsurprisingly, didn’t return DPReview’s request for a comment/clarification.
Just like last year, this post took longer than expected due to the best possible circumstance: there were so many great book cover designs in 2022 that I had a hard time whittling down the list. Even as it is, we’re busting right through last year’s limit of 50. Good times!
If we take a step back and look at the trends this years’ favorites represent, it’s more and better illustration, custom and hand-painted type, and a sense of a single focus — one, dominant thing on a field of color. Also, the trend of fewer photographs continues — more evidence that photography has become so ubiquitous that something different is required to stand out. (Or, of course, a really great photograph.)
Please remember that these are my favorites — others might say “best,” but I’ve been in this business long enough to know that there’s always another great title you haven’t seen or read about, and I don’t want to disrespect any of the great book designers not on this list. I’ve tried to include design credit where I could (special thanks to the folks who answered emails with that information), and I wish to stress that any mistakes in the list below (incorrect attribution, for instance) are mine.
Note: If you’re on Foreword’s main page, please click on the post title, above, to view this list. You’ll get larger covers for your viewing pleasure.
My favorite book covers for 2022 (Three-way tie):
How to be Eaten combines an aged look, just a smidgen of pencil sketch, hand-drawn type, and those eyes to create something that just goes beyond. I’m certain the background wolf and creases are real, too, either photographed or scanned — bonus points for that all-too-rare practical effects — and all this in what amounts to two colors. Simply awesome.
The Book of Goose defies use of the words “art form” — it’s the kind of cover that for many designers would be once-in-a-career good. However, Na’s work appears below, was here last year, and speaks to Na’s creativity being, well, a golden goose that just keeps on giving.
Simply put: there’s literally nothing about The Illusion of Simple that isn’t perfect. J’adore.
Other 2022 favorites, in alphabetical order:
This is striking not only for the beautifully-photographed woman in the pool, but the way the pool is extended out to make that woman even more striking. The pattern overlay is fantastic, too.
There’s nothing about this not to like: the frankly perfect illustration on a great background color, the head through the “O,” subtitle censorship bar, the sock, even the title. Enjoy-a-cigarette-after good.
Bunch of aged books with a little type, right? Yes, by so much more: striking colors, great hand-done supplementary text, perfect title treatment, style in spades.
This is a UK cover — the American one is okay, but not on this list — that celebrates a minimalism that is rarely seen, let alone so well seen.
What’s not to say about this cover? While faceless women are perhaps overused, this is a book I’d snatch off the shelf — and seemly catch something from — in an instant. Well. Done.
As simple illustrations go, this one in on track for the city of Superlative. Another Oliver Munday classic.
Along with “faceless woman” is “headless woman,” but the illustration here more than makes up for it. But it’s the expert, almost laugh-out-loud use of a void that makes it. Well done.
Sure, the title and background colors are neat, the sky outside is cool, and “a novel” is a nice, subtle addition. However: I want to know how this photograph happened. (And a waffle hot dog.)
The first of a couple of titles with unexpected wrap-around type treatments, this one has great type choices, too. But the real treat for me is the plane knocked out the photograph. Fantastic.
This title hides a secret: under the simple and wonderfully-die-cut jacket is a beautiful photo from René Groebli’s photoessay The Eye of Love.
Awesome. (Note that, once again, we celebrate the UK version of the book; the US hardcover has a design not on this list. Crumpets.)
The moon as O. The birds. The graduation from fur to imagery. The yellow. Any would be good on their own, but are great together. Have to say: I’ve seen this in multiple shades of yellow. I prefer the darker — closer to the Barnes title, above — to the lighter, shown here.
The typography, awesome little plane — the purse(r)! — the clouds, all of it: sky-high levels of good.
Interestingly, Fight Night‘s cover also had a 2021 version worthy of note:
I can’t begin to imagine what caused the redesign, or why it wound up being so radically — 180 degree! — different. The old design wound up on some “best covers” lists (here’s LitHub’s October 2021 post, for instance); both have wound up on mine.
The bird exiting the scene stage right makes this just right, with bonus points for the textured paper and slightly-rounded sans serif. I think the illustration is perfect — classically done, one could say — and also love that “author of Want” is in a different font.
Four Treasures to the Sky, mentioned in the May book cover design roundup, leaps into the best-of-the-best list. It features an aged look, but in a woodblock way that celebrates its limited palette. Add in the illustration’s interactions with the type and the vertical “a novel” — often an afterthought — and brilliance emerges.
As photomontages go, this one is simple — yet simply powerful: red Albania meets (and hugs!) beheaded Stalin. Great choices.
The quality of type and decorations on this “label” are beyond outstanding. This cover is candy for book design lovers and readers alike.
From It’s Nice That, we have a nice feature on Alex Merto — whose Ghost Wall cover is a great example of plant life adding so much more: “the force of a river to the head,” to paraphrase Emma Donoghue’s quote. Plus, one color! Win.
Nine parts awesome: type and illustration join to light a fire under the words “quality” and “imagination.” (Have I mentioned that I love a textured paper? Here’s a different one that’s also great.) This is one of several titles that’s not only a great book cover, but on a bunch of “best book” lists, too. Great books should have cover equal to their contents, and this one scores.
This isn’t here because of the attention Ukraine deserves these days, it’s here because of that illustration. Brilliant design needn’t be complicated, so ably proved here.
I mentioned at the top of the post that, these days, photographs have to bring something special to the table to stand out. And this cover does, from any table in any bookstore anywhere. (Lovely typography choices here, too.)
One trend I didn’t mention at the top of the article is the montage-in-type, done here to absolute perfection.
The woman in looking off the edge of the page at … something looking back. (Not only that, whatever it is casts a shadow.) The book is described as “subtle yet candid,” something that could equally be said about this brilliant cover.
Another UK cover, this image doesn’t show the uncoated stock and debased type — but does show the jump-off-the-shelf color choices and awesome interaction of title with background. (The US cover, alas, resorted to stereotype. Perhaps we aren’t sophisticated enough?)
Choose a interesting texture, put some blocks of color on it, some type and … done. Hah! (Seriously, just look at the hands: they say it all.) Bonus to the hints of doily in heaven.
The wrap-around title treatment makes another appearance here, with bonus second and third layers and a perfectly-done pull quote. With the aged ink fill and type accenting the striking illustration, this one is in that “wall-worthy” category.
On our second Ukrainian title, both flower and umbrella work together here to force us to stop and look. (The stenciled type is a brilliant stroke, too.) Proof that genius often appears simple.
The montage, taken to the next level: Jaffa, orange exports, and an healthy serving of emotion. (Also: curved text is rarely so on-target.)
So simple, yet it is precisely that reaching off the shelf, grabbing your attention. This book is described as “spare and monumental,” and no less can be said of the cover.
“Texture is key,” sure, but there’s texture and there’s this. The island’s brush strokes into what seem like a moon are whatever happens beyond perfection. I didn’t expect this cover for a novel about Pakistan, yet the emotion, the … evocation is perfect.
Apple? Tongue? Misfit teenager? Disturbed and distressed? Yes.
Rarely are such seemingly “dry” subjects treated with such skill: the angled type set against an urgent red, the subtitle sticker-that’s-better, and the photo choices add up to something I’d grab off a shelf immediately.
LitHub says this one has a very high “hang on the wall” factor. I can’t think of a better description — great stuff.
Na Kim just can’t help but design the best covers: a wonderful, antique background complimented by sheer brilliance. (Great typography, too.)
It’s nigh-on impossible to look at this cover and not flip it around to read the text trisecting the leopard. Take something simple, add the elusive more, get this. Yeah.
Another fantastic example of plants adding more than the sum of their parts. The mottled green background and watercolor-style falloff is perfectly complimentary. Great stuff.
From the Banned Books Department, we have the 20th Anniversary edition of this difficult title rendered in a photo-based collage that’s nothing short of brilliant. Highest praise.
Very nearly the perfect black-and-white cover. Texture and shape combine with an incredible title treatment in a way that shrugs off the need for color. Fantastic.
I’ve said before that moving to the South was a bit of a shock — the racism still all-too-evident jars all-too-often. This cover takes a simple, elegant idea and, without any of the stereotypes so often reached for, delights with style and simplicity, absolutely earning its spot in this list. (This is another of those titles that’s on many “best of” book lists, too. It’s a genuine pleasure to see worthy books get great covers.)
“Wow” is the only word here — a stunner of a photograph used in, if I may borrow from the cover, a breathtaking way. Simple, elevated to exquisite.
Never mind that I never knew Cary Grant was once a stilt walker (or named Archie Leach), this is an exercise in using a famous face in an innovative way, with a cast of supporting characters that flow as naturally as lines on paper. A trip through the possible — fantastically well-done.
Fantastic type and color treatments, yes, but it’s the way the photograph is handled that shines: where the eyes are, the color treatment implying front and side, all of it. A 2016 book reissued in hardcover with a cover guaranteed to attract new readers.
This cover is the antithesis of a swelled, salted herring: it’s brisk, to the point (if I do say so), and throws a life ring out to inspire book designers everywhere.
Brilliant: actual text, printed (on a great color paper, too), with actual string, photographed on said print. Not only is it exactly right for the subject matter, it’s simply and beautifully done.
Never mind the great brushed color blocks or boat-rowing-the-ocean above the title. This is here mainly for the overlap between color and island: shortlisted for the prize for intersection-of-the-year.
“I’ll just do a little cropping,” designers say. Then there’s … genius.
Another piece of art that’s absolutely wall-worthy — actually by the author’s mother — complimented by a tasteful type treatment with a wonderfully-offset “poems.”
“Great” can’t even begin to describe this cover — from the lemon shape, staggered type, green background, back-of-head portrait, to the slightly-aged treatment, we have ingredients that add up to that highest of achievements: a book I’d buy knowing nothing about, no hype [machine] needed.
Classical painting with a singularity. Sure. So easily pulled off … if you’re John Gall.
The title treatment is the winner here, using two translucent shades of orange to the best possible effect — taking a nice painting/illustration to the top floor.
Describing this cover as “haunting” would be a cheat — but completely accurate. (Love the line of type down the right side, too.)
The rare type-only treatment … taken to an entirely new level. Fantastic.
A triumph of textures: one matchbook you never want to throw away.
Breaks through more than water and time: it’s thrust into your memory. (See a note from the designer at LitHub’s cover reveal.)
One of only two text-only treatments in this list, done in a ’70s style — yet taken to a clever and impressive level. (Love the stacked “lls.”)
I adore how the type and frankly fantastic illustration work together here. Wonderful!
Cookbooks rarely make an appearance on “best book covers” lists — yet this one earns its spot with an antithesis-of-the-stereotype approach. Ordinary it is not, in the best possible way.
Another UK version — the US version is good, more than most even, but it’s this one that shines with its great photo choices, cut lines, and great type treatment.
This one’s a two-fer, with the UK version, above, showing the book-edge treatment done really well, while the US version…
…takes it to another level. Is there such a thing as a cloud globe? Or is that one of those old-fashioned stock-ticker covers? Either way, the subtle pattern — in front in some places, receding in others — adds a wonderful touch. Great stuff. (Great, too, to see the US version take one: a rare treat.)
Bellevue Literary Press scores a win here, with something immediately recognizable as about music, yet so much more. Performance art, indeed.
Note: I originally attributed this title to Yale University Press instead of Bellevue Literary Press. I regret the error.
Na Kim apparently not only did the design but the illustration, as well. The rest of us can only aspire to that level of talent.
This illustration being in grayscale is, at first, a little off. But, of course, that’s exactly the point. I overuse “brilliant,” but it’s the best description. (Again, see a note from the designer at LitHub‘s cover reveal.)
Family epics, climate change, dystopian futures, and Moon — all somehow included in this rich illustration. Two-color greatness. (Bonus: Another great use of “a novel,” something often “meh.”)
A standout historical photograph is only the beginning: it’s really the coloration that’s the story here, for both book and cover — so well done.
Among the best book cover illustrations ever, perfectly inserted into the seatback in front of you. (Great Circle’s cover was in last year’s list, by the way.)
There’s something about underwater photography, with its beautiful, soft light and fascinating reflections, that is evocative — and there’s nothing about this photograph that isn’t evocative. A triumph.
• • •
Whew. Seventy great book covers. 70!
Okay, let’s summarize: 2022’s crop of favorite covers not only surpass 2021’s, the quality of work here represent what I believe to be a new standard. To all the designers — and art directors that chose them — congratulations.
This time, art from old encyclopedias, architectural art, and an appeal to add art to your post-holiday shopping and giving plans.
Books as Art — In a Different Way
Cara Barer says, “Books, physical objects and repositories of information, are being displaced by zeros and ones in a digital universe with no physicality. Through my art, I document this and raise questions about the fragile and ephemeral nature of books and their future.”
It’s more than that, though:
As This is Colossal puts it: “With cracked spins and crinkled pages, the manipulated objects reference the relationship between the natural and human-made as they evoke flowers at peak bloom.”
As a book designer, I’m glad that the titles used aren’t something a designers labored over but rather mostly instruction manuals and old encyclopedias. Either way, they’re a beautiful way to make commentary.
“Photographic escapades in arcades and colonnades”
Few scenes set my photographic heart aflutter as does the view down a long covered walkway towards a distant, barely visible vanishing point. As a self-confessed symmetry addict drawn to architectural images in black and white, photographing these vistas scratches a deep creative itch.
Keith James, MacFolios
His article is well-illustrated, informative, and speaks to my heart: I love a good arcade — although, in some cases, I feel like an entry or exit makes the point:
This is not the first time I’ve admired Keith’s work. His “Architecture Meets Sculpture in Black and White: the Interplay of Light and Form” was great work. Both articles are highly recommended.
For those of you in the United States, this weekend is the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s also that most American of traditions: a shopping weekend. I have spent recent years boycotting Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and am encouraged by the emergence of Giving Tuesday. Here’s something to add to that list:
Photographer Chris Sherman developed the concept of “Artists Sunday” in 2019, after noticing a bump in sales on that day in November. “The idea struck,” Sherman told Hyperallergic. “What a great time to patronize artists — during the busiest shopping weekend of the year.”
In 2020, Sherman launched the project alongside Cynthia Freese, a fellow artist who has also spent extensive time on the boards of arts nonprofits. On a dedicated website, Sherman and Freese provide artists and arts organizations with free marketing materials to promote the event. Now in its third year, over 4,000 artists and more than 600 towns and cities across the country have signed onto the initiative, which takes advantage of special events and partnerships (with nonprofits, individual artists, and businesses) to spread the message.
Note: Click on the title above to see this post in one-column format, which includes larger graphics — helpful with some of these jackets especially. (This applies to any post here on Foreword, by the way.)
It’s time once again to celebrate the unsung heroes of the book world: the best items published by university presses.
The annual show, now in its 57th year, honors the university publishing community’s design and production professionals. The Association recognizes achievement in design, production, and manufacture of books, jackets, covers, and journals, and the Show serves as a spark to conversations and source of ideas about intelligent, creative, and resourceful publishing.
AIGA has announced their winners of the 2021 50 Books, 50 Covers competition:
With 605 book and cover design entries from 29 countries, this year’s competition recognizes and showcases excellence in book design from around the world. […] Eligible entries for the 2021 competition were open to books published and used in the marketplace in 2021.
AIGA Press Release
In this year’s competition, innovative book designs for topics ranging from designing and motherhood, African surf culture, stories of resistance, visual histories of Detroit, Black food traditions, and more all give our jury life, hope, and visible windows into new possible worlds. The covers and books we looked at had a diverse range of visual language and took aesthetic risks.
Silas Munro, AIGA [Competition] Chair
As usual, there are items here that I haven’t seen before, along with several that surfaced on others’ “best of 2021” book design lists (see that Foreword post for my faves). Also as usual, there are some excellent choices.
Further, there’s something in this competition that you don’t see in the usual “best of” posts: interiors. Half of the competition is covers, sure, but the other half considers the whole book design — and sometimes, as I can definitely attest, an underwhelming cover can lead to a treasure within.
But enough talking. My favorites, in no particular order:
This is one from the 2021 “best of” finalists that I didn’t post about — but now that I’ve seen the interior…. So very worthy. (See more.)
This series of three books not only have striking covers I’d not seen before but exceptionally competent interiors done on matte paper, a personal favorite. (Click through for more examples.) Excellent.
In this fascinating book, architectural photographer Iwan Baan and (Pritzker-winning) architect Francis Kéré “set out to capture how the sun’s natural light cycle shapes vernacular architecture.” While I may be slightly biased in terms of architecture and photography, this one’s a winner. (Read the AIGA’s take.)
“A little overly precious,” the AIGA says … while awarding it a prize. Completely fresh, I say, with interesting content presented in a way that does considerably more than interest. Well done. (See them apples.)
“The type on the cover and in the body is perfect, in all ways and choices. The use of the gutter for captions is a great understanding of the art and a perfect way to save space. The page numbers too.”
There always seems to be some projects that violate book design “rules” — this one doesn’t have a title on the cover, has page numbers in the gutters, and more. Yet this book, about a sculpture project, makes for interesting viewing indeed. (See more.)
Last, we have a couple that are only covers:
This was considered for my favorites of 2021 (and made it onto others’ lists). I’m glad to have been given the chance to call it out. Excellent in its simplicity. (See the AIGA entry.)
Last, but certainly not least:
Another advantage of this competition: seeing more than the front cover. And this cover, front, back, and spine, is so much more — especially in person: black plus four neon inks. Wow. (See the AIGA’s praise.)
For your May Day, please take a closer look at twelve great book covers — and a bonus thirteenth! — spotted during the first four months of 2022.
In alphabetical order:
Brilliant: actual text, printed (on a great color paper, too), with actual string, photographed on said print. Not only is it exactly right for the subject matter, it’s simply and beautifully done.
Another great background color choice, this time highlighting the awesome colors chosen for Fiona and Jane’s illustrations. The hand-painted text is perfectly done.
Woodcut or just aged? Doesn’t matter, as “brilliant” falls short when describing this title.
From It’s Nice That, we have a nice feature on Alex Merto — whose Ghost Wall cover is a great example of plant life adding so much more: “the force of a river to the head,” to paraphrase Emma Donoghue’s quote.
The typography, awesome little plane — the purse(r)! — the clouds, all of it: sky-high levels of good.
Interestingly, Fight Night‘s cover has gotten notice before:
I can’t begin to imagine what caused the redesign, or why it wound up being so radically — 180 degree! — different. The old design wound up on some “best covers” lists (here’s LitHub’s October 2021 post, for instance); the new one has wound up on mine.
LitHub says this one has a very high “hang on the wall” factor. I can’t think of a better description — great stuff.
Na Kim just can’t help but design the best covers: a wonderful, antique background complimented by brilliance. (Great typography, too.)
It’s nigh-on impossibly to look at this cover and not flip it around to read the text trisecting the leopard. Take something simple, add the elusive more, get this. Yeah.
Another fantastic example of plants adding more than the sum of their parts. The mottled green background and watercolor-style falloff is perfectly complimentary. Great stuff. (Except: This is one of those times when an editor or publicist somewhere says, “Hey, we need to add this quote at the top. Let’s do it without consulting the cover designer.”)
Never mind the great brushed color blocks or boat-rowing-the-ocean above the title. This is here for the overlap between color and island. Shortlisted for the prize for intersection-of-the-year.
This illustration being in grayscale is, at first, a little off. But, of course, that’s exactly the point. I overuse “brilliant,” but it’s the best description. (See a note from the designer at LitHub‘s cover reveal.)
So, the bonus. No, it’s not the extra Fight Night, above, it’s a fictitious cover. That’s right:
In another It’s Nice That post, we have Anna Hoyle: “Judge her fake books by their comical covers.” Okay!
More book design updates soon — ’cause, here in Georgia, USA, we’re done with spring. Summer starts . . . now.
I’m more interested in the design of such a title. Bookstores, advertisers, and publicists demand that the swear never be completely spelled out, but that doesn’t restrict great design ideas. Here are a few of my favorites:
Note the over-arching theme: no, not that — the lack of photography. The vast majority of these titles are text based, supposedly because something competing with the swear would detract from the shock value. There’s a primary color thing going, too, probably for the same reason.
Three diverse items in this round-up, from illustration to typography to whether or not ad-blockers are actually environmentally-friendly — along with a response that reminds us to look at the bigger picture.
Malika Favre (Expanded Edition)
French illustrator and graphic designer Malika Favre has been impressing audiences for years with her minimalist work for publications such as The New Yorker, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. Now over a decade’s worth of her work has been released in a new monograph from Counter-Print, which contains a suitably stripped-back aesthetic.
Her style is distinctive; I’ve liked her New Yorker covers especially:
The book includes the illustrator’s own cover, and she had a big hand in designing the layout, too. CreativeBoom’s article is excellent — check it out.
Throughout yet another “unprecedented year,” it’s safe to say that the macro trends influencing the type design community are nearly too long to list. Several socioeconomic, political, and cultural events continue to shape the way we approach creative work and how connect to each other online and offline.
Biodiversity’s relationship to type, varying type styles in a single logo, and thin serifs — the one I’m likely to use somewhere — are in this year.
Media, Trackers, Blockers, and the Environment: There’s a Problem
Did it ever occur that using an ad blocker in your browser is actually an environmentally-friendly move? No, I hadn’t put it together, either.1More from MIT on ecological impacts of cloud computing here.
[U]p to 70% of the electricity consumption (and therefore carbon emissions) caused by visiting a French media site is triggered by advertisements and stats. Therefore, using an ad blocker even becomes an ecological gesture. But we also suggest actions web editors could take to reduce this impact.
An interesting study, certainly, with information that many of us already use and some suggestions for action in case we don’t. But…:
I have qualms with this. The idea of a “carbon footprint” was invented by British Petroleum to direct focus away from environmental policies that would impact its business, instead blaming individuals for not recycling correctly or biking to work more. A “carbon footprint” is also a simplistic view of how anything contributes to global warming, and that it seems to be used here as a synonym for bandwidth and CPU consumption.
That is where I think this well-intentioned study falters. Even so, it is absurd that up to 70% of a media website’s CPU and bandwidth consumption is dedicated to web bullshit. Remember: the whole point of web bullshit is that it is not just the ads, it is about an entire network of self justifying privacy hostile infrastructure constructed around them.
More from MIT on ecological impacts of cloud computing here.
This post is late, because I had trouble narrowing my long list down . . . and then, when even the short list was too long, said, “heck, 21 is too few for a year with such superlative design.” So, instead of 21 for ’21, y’all get 50. Grab a delicious beverage, settle in, and enjoy.
Please remember that these are my favorites — others might say “best,” but I’ve been in this business long enough to know that there’s always another great title you haven’t seen or read about, and I don’t want to disrespect any of the great book designers not on this list. I’ve tried to include design credit where I could (thank you to the folks who answered emails with that information), and I wish to stress that any mistakes (incorrect attribution, link not working, etc.) in the list below are mine.
My cover of the year is one of those combinations of photography and printed word that works on multiple levels. Okay, sure, it’s called Liar’s Dictionary, so I may totally be pulling your leg here, but:
“We all peacock with our words,” one reviewer said: exactly right. I’m wondering about the direction of the shadow — some Monday morning quarterbacking, for certain — but otherwise, I’d be incredibly pleased to have this cover in my portfolio. It speaks to what I aspire to, which is the best photography and best graphics working in beautiful concert. Design by Emily Mahon. (Bonus: See a Spine write-up on Emily from 2017.)
My runner-up for favorite cover of the year, this novel of a queer mother is immeasurably strengthened by this extraordinary cover. Great color, great type . . . just great. Design by Lauren Peters-Collaer.
The rest, in alphabetical order:
The ability of this cover to catch your eye on a crowded bookshelf is undeniable, but it’s the amount communicated with seeming simplicity that makes it a winner. Design by Kapo Ng.
The progression of graphics here win on several levels, but the icing on this “exquisite ransom note” (thanks, Lithub) is the shadow from the silhouette in the middle. The use of so few colors is a huge bonus. Design by David Pearson. (He doesn’t seem to have a website, but here’s a It’s Nice That article.)
The combination of background image — the eyebrows are perfect — with the elements making up the overlays is wonderful. The wraparound text adds to the whimsy. Brilliant results. Design by Joan Wong.
This is just great: “struggle to survive” so prominently displayed, the fence and wall, what looks like a cop in the upper left, the guy staring straight at camera in the lower left, the “hurry up” notion of the mother and child, the colors of the collage, everything. Wow. Design by Linda Huang.
This is another from the “simple is better” category. Great colors, yes, but little details, like the type and the subtle overlay of the graphs over some of that type take it over the finish line with style.
Collage and type, yellow and green, all done beautifully well. Bonus points for the hints — just hints — at faces. Design by Lauren Peters-Collaer.
Another with simple colors, but the strengths here are not only in the eye-catching type, but the repeating line drawings with their own curb . . . and that single lit window for the win.
Leopard! Wonderful pencil sketch! From the simple-at-first-glance category we have anything but.
At the risk of repeating myself, this one seems simple. Until you realize that the tomatoes age . . . and spoil. (The vine’s awesome, too.) Edgy design by Na Kim. (Bonus AIGA Eye on Design article on her.)
“Memorable” doesn’t begin to describe this one; the upside-down painting is only the beginning. Design by Daniel Benneworth-Gray.
I’m going to go with chalk rather than brush to describe the type and especially flames, but either way, when combined with this extreme close-up, its perfectly-chosen duotone, and fantastic skin texture of this beautiful model, we get something close to amazing. Design by Sara Wood.
In contrast to some, this one is not simple at all: deeply detailed and strikingly colored, this cover says “all-American” in a way only an immigrant can. Design by Stephanie Ross.
The smile — and the shoes! — speak more loudly than the revolutionary themes so typical of Maoist-era settings. The perfect parody cover. Brilliant. Cover design by Matthew Broughton, based on art by Biao Zhong.
Color, type, objects, the arrow, “a novel,” circled, the people and places . . . all add up to so much more than just the sum of the parts. Awesome.
Nobel prize, blah, blah. It’s the cover, darn it! Design by Alex Merto.
The first of two skulls on this year’s list, this one made up of perhaps the least-hexed thing imaginable.
This one’s on this list for its subtle brilliance: the watercolor lines, the great typography choice, and integration of the photograph. Nicely done.
One the one hand, a simple photograph-and-title book cover. On the other, it’s beautifully cropped, the reader/viewer catches the “look,” and it’s complimented with great color choices. Long title served oh-so-well.
You don’t see almost-blank covers every day, and this one, especially, makes you want in. (Sorry.) Brilliant.
I. Want. To. Have. Taken. This. Photograph. (And then done this cover.)
This type of cover is actually very difficult to accomplish well, and here, it’s . . . well, accomplished.
Color and type compliment the awesome choice of suit and hat here. One of those covers that demands the reader/viewer pick it up off the shelf and explore. Design by Kelly Blair.
The painterly elements here lead the reader/viewer to the correct question: “what is this about?” and, guaranteed: it’s not what you think.
This made a bunch of best-of lists this year, and I gotta say: it’s one accomplished scribble. Brilliant. Design by Dave Drummond. (Bonus: Dave Drummond has a write-up from PRINT.)
The best riff on “upstairs, downstairs” seen in a long, long time.
Watercolor, in every sense of the word. (Cloudy drips, too.) O-so-beautiful. Design by Young Jin Lim.
Oh — wait a minute. Stick-on that isn’t, quite, combined with peeling and what seems like staring add up to a favorite. Design by Gray318.
From the simple-but-not dept., we have another brilliant entry, with great color choices, type placement, and the best — some might say, “Iconic” — “a biography” stamp ever. Love that the smallest photo is peeling, too. I’m actually envious of the talent displayed here! Design by Yang Kim.
I hope it comes out in the relatively small photograph, but this is actually paper cut. Great choices, great colors.
Like a dreamily lace curtain, the overlay on this painted shore brings what could be nice to the level of sublime. Having a cool title helps, too. Winner.
Wow. This cover violates so many supposed rules, yet succeeds on so many levels — absolutely brilliant. Design by Janet Hansen.
The simple-yet-not cup floweth over with this one; its scant 96 pages encompass dystopian political fiction that wins national awards and deserves something this strong. Design by Janet Hansen.
Illustration rules, in a foreboding style that suggests anything other than a Scottish summer. Lovely slim type is complimented perfectly by the script at the bottom. The title is actually Summerwater, by the way — I missed the hyphen at first — but ultimately I’m not sure it matters. Design by June Park.
The ingredients on this cover, together with splattered red, suggest more than food, racism, and a parent’s problems, yet this is a title I’d definitely pick and and spend time examining — all thanks to great design.
An absolutely perfect photograph highlights a stack of great choices.
The old-time portrait it taken to the next three levels. Fantastic. Bonus points for an unusual type choice (type name, according to site name). Great, great design by Na Kim. (See also the PRINT write-up on this title.)
The photograph cropping alone brings this title to the table, but when combined with the aged background, the white dots perhaps suggesting a past shot through with problems, and the desiccated flower suggest something so much more. Design by Mumtaz Mustafa.
Sure, impressing Ta-Nehisi Coates and Barak Obama means impressive fiction — but it deserves a cover with star power, and this design by — absolutely delivers. Great stuff.
The second skull on the list, this “house built by memory in-between your skin and bones” requires a second look, then a third. Deal me in. Design by Vince Haigh.
Great type complimenting great illustration choices, sure, but those feet . . . .
Surreal smart speaker — no kidding. How does one design a cover for that, exactly? This way. Design by Sara Wood.
“[C]ut a hole in the sky / to world inside,” this volume of Native American poetry suggests. The cover does just that.
“Another few cuts of paper,” he said with such casualness. Ha! Design by Tom Etherington.
“Beautifully rendered and bracingly honest,” one of the reviews says. The cover, as well. (Plus, lines.)
The color choices here, combined with the illustration, suggest something soothing, yet catch the eye in a way that demands attention. The mystery within does, too, from practically the first sentence. Here because I know I wouldn’t have done it so well.
Climbing that ladder’s going to take a minute. But then, that’s what it’s all about . . . .
On to 2022, everyone! Thanks for surviving 2020, 2021, and continuing to read — here, and behind your favorite book cover.
Books We Love is NPR’s annual, interactive, year-end reading guide. (You might have known us as the Book Concierge, but this year we got a makeover! We’ve changed our name and adopted a warm and welcoming new look.) What hasn’t changed is the annual bounty of hand-picked books. Mix and match tags such as Book Club Ideas, Biography & Memoir or Eye-Opening Reads to filter results and find the book that’s perfect for you or someone you love.
Always a dependable list, this year in a slightly different wrapper. Enjoy. (Previously: 2020, 2019.)