‘The lost dog poster’: designers on book covers in 2021
As we move towards an increasingly visual world, book covers play a vital role in enticing readers and showcasing what a book is about, and in 2021 we saw bright colours and large fonts make a splash. Books+Publishing asked three book designers to share their favourite covers of this year, and their thoughts on book design for 2022.
Alissa Dinallo is a Sydney-based freelance book desigher who has worked in-house at Allen & Unwin and Penguin Random House Australia. She currently runs her own design studio working for publishers across Australia, the UK and US.
As social media, particularly Instagram, continues to forge one of the strongest marketing platforms for publishers, book cover trends continue to adhere to the small square tile formula: bold colour and strong type. This year we saw illustrative covers continue to shine in the commercial and literary fiction world. Large type woven into an abstract or semi-abstract image continued to be a popular trend, a hangover of 2020.
In 2022, I think illustrated covers will still dominate but we will start to see more Sally Rooney-style fiction covers popping up (big type with small, clean and simple illustrations). I also think playful and custom typography will feature a bit more in 2022, blending type and illustration into one form to create visually impactful and engaging covers.
Dinallo’s favourite book covers of 2021:
Josh Durham is an award-winning book designer. He’s worked with most of the publishers in Australia as well as some in the UK and US travelling under the tongue-in-cheek moniker of Design by Committee (an allusion to the collective and sometimes tricky nature of book design).
I think we might see a continuation of the trends set in 2021—the ‘lost dog poster’ school of cover design—such as Una Mannion’s A Crooked Tree (Harper), where the type stands top and bottom clear of a central image that is in a frame. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber) is an even more pared back example of this that almost looks like a Black Sparrow Press poetry cover from the 1970s—quite a feat for a bestseller!
I don’t know whether the general weirdness of the world is affecting writers and their output as much as designers because I am seeing a lot more slightly psychedelic left of field covers such as No one is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (Riverhead) or Outlawed by Anna North (W&N). The cover for In Moonland by Miles Allinson (Scribe) manages to do both!
Durham’s favourite book cover of 2021:
For my favourite of the year it must be the ballsy cover for Double Trio by Nathaniel Mackey, designed by Rodrigo Corral (New Directions). It’s a creative reminder to be brave—to work at the limits of our practice and push through. I’d love to have been privy to the in-house discussion with sales and marketing: ‘What, you want to go with the black blob? Can’t we at least put five or so puff quotes in the middle of it?!’
Jenny Grigg is a lecturer in the School of Design at RMIT University and Giramondo’s designer. Her professional career includes positions as art director at Rolling Stone magazine Australia, MTV Australia, and senior designer at Pentagram in London. She has designed for Faber and Faber, Granta Books, UQP and Scribe including titles by Peter Carey, Paul Auster and Eleanor Catton. She has won multiple design awards, a 2011 State Library Victoria Creative Fellowship and induction into the Design Institute of Australia’s Hall of Fame in 2020. She researches graphic design history and material literacy in graphic design ideation.
When I questioned an invitation from B+P to predict 2022’s book cover ‘design trends’ I was given the licence to write about the art form aside from its overriding commercial premise—the guessing of ways to please book buyers. The longer I work in the field the more I seek opportunities to explore the literary works visually, to make use of the new thoughts, reckonings and possibilities that reading inspires, rather than to interpret literature according to pre-existing market trends, an endeavour paradoxically misaligned to the value of books, which is, ideally, hopefully, why publishing exists at all.
As a teacher of design, I hope to use my experiences to evolve the industry through its young designers. I introduce designing as a means of contributing value, rather than as a means of selling, by highlighting rewarding aspects of the profession, such as when an author says that a book cover accurately interprets or crystallises their thoughts. This doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it is exciting to recognise that a collaboration exists between visual and verbal languages, and that ideas can be expressed in these complementary languages. It is confirmation that as a designer your role is also to inspire new thought or new ways of seeing, to create an interplay between words and imagery, and to contribute to the production of a book that communicates that book’s value entirely.
Students who elect to study book cover design are often keen readers attracted to the idea of using their visual skills to interpret written concepts they admire, and to participate with writers, however directly, in the imaginative potential of books. I would like to think marketing will play less of a role in determining the outcomes of their future designs. There is a section of covers in the window of my local bookstore at the moment that appear to be grouped by their common use of upper case large typography, but I think, unfortunately, and in reference to the original topic, that in fact these are grouped because they are the most recent releases. It would be interesting to know what the market itself thinks when it is faced with seemingly copycat editions.
Yet bookshops are as enticing as ever. The design language is versatile and book cover designers become necessarily expert at fulfilling personal goals within commercial imperatives, their skills and care for what they do inadvertently fixing marketing’s rule of a creative domain. Perhaps because of how I was taught, my eyes are trapped by cover designs that demand I decipher an idea posed by a designer to grasp the intention of a book, and mostly gloss over what has been seen before. I was taught and still teach that graphic design is a form of meaning conveyance rather than a form of decoration or a means of selling.
Grigg’s favourite book covers of 2021: