The art of book series cover design

Alex Bigman

The emergence of e-books and other digital texts has forever changed the role of the traditional, printed copy. Today, the printed book’s physicality is a key distinguishing factor and principal selling point – which gives designers all the more reason to focus on the art of book cover design.

It’s common for a group of books (typically related by author, genre or theme) to be published and released as a series. These can be marketed as a collectible set and are unified by a coherent graphic style.

What are some unique ways to make a book series not only jump off store shelves, but also look great on an owner’s? Here are some ingenious approaches we particularly like.

Puzzle pieces
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Designers Cardon Webb and Paul Sahre both treated book covers like puzzle pieces or tiles in a mosaic; collect the whole series and you can put the whole picture together.

Webb gives each book in the Oliver Sacks series a unique identity with the addition of superimposed graphics in bold colors, whereas Sahre keeps the four volumes by Clarice Lispector fairly uniform, adhering to principles of minimal design.

Oliver Sacks series by Cardon Webb
Oliver Sacks series by Cardon Webb
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Lispector Series by Paul Sahre

Signature illustration
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Illustrations, which register distinctive qualities of the artist’s hand and style, are often a great way to bring a book series together. They also add a human touch to a product that can sometimes look austere.

Authors Truman Capote, Joseph Heller and William Shakespeare are certainly all worthy of this approach.

Truman Capote series by Nikola Klímová
Truman Capote series by Nikola Klímová
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Multiple author series by Nikola Klímová and Jindřich Janíček
Multiple author series by Nikola Klímová and Jindřich Janíček
Shakespeare series by Brian Lemus
Shakespeare series by Brian Lemus

Aligned spines
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While a book’s front cover might seem to be the designer’s natural canvas, it is important to remember that this is actually not the most visible part of a book’s anatomy. Rather, most people arrange books on a shelf with their spines facing outward.

They can be fairly narrow, but a nicely designed spine can make a book series double as an element of living room or office decor. The below are much too attractive to ever be boxed away.

Ralph Ellison series by Cardon Webb
Ralph Ellison series by Cardon Webb
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Dalrymple series: Cardon Webb

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Henrik Ibsen series by Henrik Steen Karlsen
Henrik Ibsen series by Henrik Steen Karlsen
Malcolm Gladwell series by Paul Sahre and Brian Rea
Malcolm Gladwell series by Paul Sahre and Brian Rea

Title placement
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It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to figure out that loud colors and bold or detailed graphics are the best attention grabbers. Yet this approach to cover design is an issue for title placement, since the textual element can become illegible or add too much visual noise if not somehow separated or set into relief.

Some cover designers have found a double solution to this problem: the manner in which you separate a book’s title can be a strong unifying element in a series.

Modern Library Classics series by Emily Mahon
Modern Library Classics series by Emily Mahon
Dystopia series (design exercise) by Sarah Miles
Dystopia series (design exercise) by Sarah Miles
Series for Nova Delphi by Rita Marquito
Series for Nova Delphi by Rita Marquito

A minimal approach
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We could hardly have a roundup of book cover design without including a section on the minimalist approach. Contrary to the covers featured so far, these minimalist graphics reduce visual noise to present a clean and organized cover. But that’s not to say there isn’t room for a bit of fun.

Series for 70 by Rita Marquito
Series for 70 by Rita Marquito
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Ler Melhor series by FBA
Ler Melhor series by FBA.
Book series exercise by Marilyn Tjitra
Book series exercise by Marilyn Tjitra

Striking graphics
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When all else fails, just make sure all covers in your series are equally badass-looking.

Peter Carey series by Jenny Grigg
Peter Carey series by Jenny Grigg
Multiple authors series by Omar Ibrahim
Multiple authors series by Omar Ibrahim

Seen any great book series cover designs lately? Share in the comments!

The author

Alex Bigman
Alex Bigman

Alex contributes from New York City on topics ranging from branding and typography to the history of design.

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