Book cover design according to Chip Kidd

Alex Bigman

Chip Kidd has been described as “the closest thing to a rock star” in graphic design. His book cover designs are omnipresent, his TED Talk has nearly 1.4 million views, and now he even has a few book titles of his own—both fiction and instructional—on shelves. He hardly needs more attention. But tomorrow is his 51st birthday, so what the heck.

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In any case, he has earned it. Since joining Knopf publishing house fresh out of design school in 1986, he has averaged about 75 book covers a year—that’s well over 2,000 designs. Over the course of his career, he has shaped the visual identity of authors ranging from Michael Crichton, to Haruki Murakami, to Oliver Sacks, who actually has a clause in his contract stipulating that Kidd must handle all of his covers.

Kidd has a lot of wisdom to share about the graphic design process and industry in general. Below we’ve rounded up some of our favorite Chip Kidd designs, along with quotes that are sure to be of interest to anyone in a creative profession.

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“I read the book, I brood, then eventually respond. Along the way, I may or may not involve photographers or illustrators or any amount of ephemeral detritus that washes up on my shores in the pursuit of solving the problem. And that is what it always amounts to: visually solving a problem.” (via USA Today)

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“One of the lessons I learned in school is that the whole point of a thumbnail drawing, a tiny little sketch, is that if something looks good small, if it’s effective small, it’s going to look great when it’s bigger.” (via NWPR)

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“Jurassic Park would absolutely have sold a similar amount, whether it had my cover on or not. I’m very much against the idea that the cover will sell the book. Marketing departments of publishing houses tend to latch onto this concept and they can’t let go. But it’s about whether the book itself really connects with the public, and the cover is only a small part of that.” (via The Telegraph)

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“When you’re writing you’re basically designing with words. You’re taking these essentially abstract symbols that don’t mean anything and then you construct them, so that when you read them it will mean something. With design, you’re taking a combination of words and pictures and putting them together so that they will mean something when they’re united.” (via The Telegraph)

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“A customer said ‘Excuse me? But do you have another copy of this book? This one looks like it got all wet.’ The clerk said: ‘No, I’m sorry. All of them were wet like that.'” (via The Telegraph)

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“I don’t really have a style so much as a sensibility. I’m working on mostly hardcover books that are supposed to be by definition archival. So I try to imagine what X will look like in five years. What will it look like in 10 years? What will it look like in 20 years?

“And there are certain basic formal considerations that won’t change. Big and small, dark and light, certain conceptual things; that’s kind of it. Will this look good a long time from now or will it look dated?” (via The Telegraph)

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“In a lot of ways book cover design is really quite limited. Which is good. There’s a saying one of my teachers used to have, which is that limits are possibilities and, if your choices are limited, you’re forced to think more.” (via The Telegraph)

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“Book covers are important because books, regardless of their form, need a face.They need some kind of visual representation, whether you’re going to be seeing them the size of a postage stamp on a computer screen or a smartphone, or sitting on a table, or on a shelf, or in a bookstore.” (via NWPR)

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“I see myself as a graphic designer, not an artist. I think that I get recognition for my work only because it’s standard that your name gets put on the back flap of the book if you’re a book designer. It’s not standard for most graphic designers.” (via The Telegraph)

What are your favorite Chip Kidd designs? Share in the comments!

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