The 5 golden rules to designing an outstanding cover

Published:  September 26, 2014

Following on from the response to our 10 logo commandments, we’ve contacted a few more friends in the industry to help put together a list of their top tips when designing the cover for a book or magazine. Five notable studios have shared their advice to create a list to consider throughout the ideation process — from visualising a story, to the finished product competing on the bookshelf.

Toko Design

Toko Design

1. Toko Design — “Always aim for simplicity and clarity.

Last Saturday we spent some time in (the fantastic) Beautiful Pages on Oxford street and once again realised how fierce “cover” competition is. If you are not looking for a specific title, the visual overload can be seriously off-putting, therefore we always aim for simplicity and clarity.


2. Vince Frost — “Keep working on the cover each day.

Whenever I design a book cover, I focus on making sure that the cover is the face of the book. I design it to jump off the shelf in the traditional bookstore, and also look at it reduced to half a postage stamp size, so it’s clear and legible whilst retaining impact. I tend to do hundreds of covers until I know its right. While you are designing the whole book, keep working on the cover each day — the content will rub off on you as you immerse yourself deeper into the subject, the clues will appear as you find the story and flow of the book.



3. Sean Hogan, Trampoline — “Attempt to do something unexpected.

Obviously, the number one rule would be don’t misspell the authors name. But seriously, I think the one rule I try to adhere to is to ‘attempt to do something unexpected’. Do your research and know your subject matter – know what’s out there, who the audience is and where it’s going to be sold, and then try to subvert or challenge those codes. In terms of design, there are no rules in what ‘can’ or ‘can’t’ be done. In fact, the more the traditional methods of publication design are challenged, the more likely the publication will succeed in being noticed.

Old School New School

Old School New School

4. Veronica Grow, Old School New School — “First surprise, then intrigue and delight.”

Your cover must work on an emotional level that leads me to feel desperate compulsion to discover more (and pick up and open the book). Being blatant and spelling out what the book is about is boring and not so clever. Subtle suggestion to what lies within is powerful, and works volumes. Metaphor, pun and wit are your friends, and well-chosen words always deserve well-dressed letters to enhance their meaning. It goes without saying that this will only work if the whole package is visually striking and appropriate!


5. Jeremy Kunze, Pentagram — “It’s the last thing you do but it can make all the difference.”

If I can resist, I always try to restrict myself to designing the cover last. I find it much more easier once I’ve either understood or designed the complete book first. Then you can bring the book’s personality to the fore. It’s kind of like putting that final coat of paint on to a wall after you’ve done all the hard work, it’s the last thing you do but it can make all the difference.

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