Photography in all its forms, including — but certainly not limited to — portraiture, landscapes, objects, macros, and still life. Most of the photography Foreword looks at are appropriate for books or walls.
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.)
Yale University Press scores a win here, with something immediately recognizable as about music, yet so much more. Performance art, indeed.
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.
I don’t usually think it’s fair to quote another blog post in its entirety, and I certainly won’t make a habit of it. With that out of the way, the always-interesting Pixel Envy, written by Nick Heer, hits us with a doozy — one that, due to its length and depth, requires the complete quote:
It’s a cycle. People create something, together, that reflects their energy and weird work; that thing becomes compelling as a result, and that makes it valuable, and at some point someone puts a price on it and someone else pays that price. It is at that moment that the thing begins to change. The new owner will almost always decide that what is most interesting about this thing is not the human essence that gave it value, but The Owner Himself, and will act accordingly. People will come back for the valuable stuff until the owner succeeds in crowding it out; when that crowding is done, the owned thing dies. Until then, what’s left is just what’s valuable—the humanity and brilliance and unpredictability and fun that all that cynical and idiotic and self-serving wealth is always and everywhere busy replacing with itself. There’s nothing to do but look for the good stuff until the looking becomes too challenging, or until it’s gone.
Heer writes in response: “You may disagree with Roth’s headline thesis — ‘everything is Silicon Valley now’ — or his tie-in with the story du jour, Twitter, or his analysis of baseball’s problems. But the paragraph above? That is something to keep pinned in your brain. For most of us, it is a reminder to be wary of how things are changed in exploitative ways; for those in power, it should be seen as a cautionary pattern.”
Kottke is Back!
After a few months off, Jason Kottke is back in the blogger’s seat to enrich all of our lives. As someone who’s been reading for years — he started in 1998, and I’m certain his site was in the blogroll of the old Foreword, back in the Aughts.
We might be waiting a while for his so-called “comically long what I did on sabbatical post,” but his Sabbatical Media Diet post is a gold mine of to-read and to-watch items.
Welcome back, sir. May you blog for many seasons more.
Stop Stealing [Free] Sheep
No, not that — the type book:
From Kottke, while we’re on the subject, one of his Quick Links from Dec 20th: “Google Fonts is offering a free download of the newly updated 4th edition of Erik Spiekermann’s Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works.” It’s a PDF, available now.
9th Annual Landscape Photography Awards
It’s fair criticism to say that I both decry photography contests and yet sometimes celebrate the results. But…:
Named for the city in Ireland, Dublin in Georgia is an hour or so southeast of Macon. It’s my third trip there, and, like last time, I enjoyed Gerald’s company.1He seemed to enjoy the trip, rain notwithstanding, but apparently the creative juices didn’t flow. (Sorry, man.) Details here.
It has a photogenic downtown, too:
The Welcome Park includes a clock and bell complete with clover, reminding visitors that the name is, in fact, a tribute:
As has become typical, my favorite — “best” is debatable, of course — shot is a close-up that’s almost an abstract. In this case, a turquoise box car in the appropriately-named Railroad Park:
Just off the main drag we found an item thankfully not yet painted over:
. . . Which may, in fact, be a holdover from a bygone era. In fact, I’d be remiss if I didn’t call this subject out:
The only people of color depicted here are Native Americans, relegated to viewing (probably from afar), and two Blacks, very much shown “in their place.” (Dublin still prominently features a Confederate memorial, as well.) Let’s hope that this small city continues its journey into the 21st century, one step at a time.
See the updated gallery here. As always, once in the gallery, click on any photograph to start a slide show.
He seemed to enjoy the trip, rain notwithstanding, but apparently the creative juices didn’t flow. (Sorry, man.) Details here.
An unintended postscript to the recent photostroll, and another in the lengthy list of places you pass through without stopping — except, this time:
While tiny, Fickling Mill in 2022 is eye-catching, thanks to this building at the water crossing, and likely represents exactly what the name advertises — the location of a former mill of some sort, driven by the power of the water of Patsilinga Creek.
We were there late in the day, hence the fading-yet-still-golden light:
Only nine photographs, but posted as a dedicated gallery. Enjoy your virtual photostroll — and thanks for visiting.
The county seat of Talbot (Wiki) was the primary destination of our recent photostroll, another of those places that are often passed through without stopping. A small, poor town — and county — its rich history absolutely deserves a home here amongst the galleries of Georgia.
Founded in 1828, Talbotton was a center of education for the area; its architectural splendor reflects a wealth no longer present. Even the later courthouse (1892) is a beautiful structure:
There was one structure in particular that I wanted to visit: the Zion Episcopal Church, an 1848 wooden item, painted dark brown with white shutters:
Unfortunately, Georgia’s early- and mid-century legacy survives intact. From the Zion Church’s Historical Marker:
The choir loft at the east end of the structure opposite the sanctuary, above the narthex, is flanked on each side by a gallery, where slaves worshipped prior to the conflict which many believed temporarily destroyed Southern culture.
Georgia Historical Commission, 1955
The church is still beautiful, it’s still beautifully preserved and maintained, and I’m glad that we can, in 2022, look at it in the historical context it deserves.1Read more about Zion Episcopal and its place in Talbotton here.
See the church and all of Talbotton — 34 photographs in all — in the new gallery here.
Thanks to Gerald for a pleasant Sunday of fine photography.
Read more about Zion Episcopal and its place in Talbotton here.
Despite the leaves pretty much, well, leaving us, yesterday was too nice a day to not do a photostroll — or three, in our case. First up: Sprewell Bluff Park. Located in rural Upson County on a lovely bend in the Flint River, the park has long been one of those places that was driven by and not visited.
Glad to have fixed that! Better still, it’s more than just a bluff with a view:
As it’s technically located there, the Thomaston gallery has grown by nineteen photographs — check it out. (As always, once in the gallery, click on any photograph to start a slide show.)
Stay tuned for Talbotton and Fickling Mill, which will be posted as soon as possible.
As most of you know, I’m not a huge fan of photography competitions. Like I did last year, though, there’s an exception for this one: not because it’s better than some — there’s still the problem with rights, methods of compensation, etc. — but because it’s so up my alley. (Pun intended.)
If you’ll pardon the cliché, great architectural photography is more than the sum of the building’s parts. These great shots show just that:
Entry photographs are divided into six categories: Exterior, Interior, Sense of Place, Buildings in Use, Mobile (with Bridges being this year’s theme), and Portfolio (focusing on the theme of Transport Hubs).
The small city of Milledgeville, on the banks of the Oconee River in nearby Baldwin County, is a favorite for photography. In this case, Gerald and I stopped on our way home from Sandersville, and spent some time wandering the historic district.
I especially liked this gate:
We were these the day after (part of) the Deep Roots Festival, which meant some street decorations lingered:
In this edition: Hummingbirds, the UK’s 2022 Landscape Photography of the Year 2022, a potential new logo treatment from Honda, and something just in time for Halloween.
Who Knew: Hummingbird Edition
Taken when the creatures are mid-flight and beating their wings at incredible speeds, Spencer’s striking photos capture sunlight as it filters through their feathers, emitting a full spectrum of color. The opalescent phenomenon is caused by diffraction and transforms their limbs into tiny, ephemeral rainbows.
This is Colossal
Let’s set aside for the moment the time and energy get these photographs and just celebrate that Australian photographer Christian Spencer worked to get these shots. Better still, there’s a book:
Sandersville, seat of Washington County, was the photography destination this past weekend. Gerald and I wanted to get out and enjoy this beautiful stretch of fall weather, and this small city — with its National Register-listed cemetery (more on that tomorrow) — hadn’t yet been explored.
There was a pleasant little park off what I’m calling Courthouse Square (it doesn’t seem to actually be named that):
The Washington County Courthouse is a beautiful and historic building, like many here in Georgia:
A wide selection of items for the beginning of fall, from positive fonts to jolly cameras — with Adobe and Pantone pouring some cold water on things. Let’s get to it!
As Americans, Europeans, or, more generally, Westerners, we take for granted that fonts will reflect the various pieces of individual type — that is, letterforms — that we’ll need. But not everyone falls into that category.
The always-great Hoefler & Co. spends a minute educating us about italics:
Italics can be the most colorful part of a type family, diverging dramatically from their roman cousins. Here’s a look at twelve kinds of italic typeface, with some notes on their cultural contexts, historical backgrounds, and practical applications.
Hoefler & Co.
Read the article, “Italics Examined,” at Hoefler & Co.’s Typography.com.
Adobe Types, “Stop.”
Adobe and Pantone are having a . . . thing. As a result, all Pantone spot libraries have been removed from Adobe products:
A classy move, completely in character for both companies, to reach into users’ machines and remove stuff they had paid for and may rely on because of some licensing spat.
Nick Heer, Pixel Envy
I didn’t get a notice in either InDesign or Photoshop, but a check in InDesign (the CC 2022, aka 17.4, version) shows only the CMYK libraries:
You can subscribe to the additional libraries from Pantone for $60/year. Book design is almost exclusively CMYK, so I won’t be . . . but grrrr.
Mortals can dream, sure, but here on Earth, I encourage an order from this Ukrainian company instead:
They’re based on instant film cartridges, are made of recycled materials, look incredibly cool, and a kit starts at an incredibly-reasonable $99. Throw in a few extra dollars to support Ukraine and . . . feel Jolly.
To call Rolling Stone‘s place in America culture iconic might be selling it short, and their logo plays a large role in that. In 2018, they flattened it — leading that trend, possibly — and it lost something.
However, this month, it’s back:
“The assignment was a paradox. How could we make the logo look like it did in the past, without making it feel dated? My hope is that loyal readers will believe the old logo is back, but on closer inspection will be surprised to notice how much it has been modernized.”
Jesse Ragan, XYZ Type
The “old logo” he’s referring to is the one that ran from 1981–2018, but there were others, too:
A great study in logo evolution: read more at the Type Network, and lettering specifics from XYZ Type. Awesome. (Hat tip to, as usual, Brand New.)
Aston Martin’s New Logo
On the subject of subtlety, Aston Martin usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Their recent logo redesign, however, falls into that category:
The evolution of their logo emphasizes those small steps:
Subtlety and Bugatti rarely — if ever — fit in the same sentence. Aston is stratospheric as far as I’m concerned, so Bugatti would qualify as the antithesis of subtlety. But, but, but: there’s something about one.
They have a new logo and marketing campaign to go with:
It’s been a busy August, including having to make a lightning trip through the usually-not-fun Atlanta airport. But there’s always a bright spot at the end of that tunnel: being the little boy again, awed by the simple act of flying.
Better still, the flight was on a 757, the sports car of big planes. Everybody around me had their window shades pulled and noses in their phones, but I was looking out the window: