What separates a mediocre book cover design from a cover design that jumps out and gets the reader’s attention?

There are three elements to creating a successful, high-impact book cover design, but how each is utilized will contribute to the overall success of the cover design.

  1. Design that communicates and connects with the reader
  2. Appropriate use of typography
  3. Effective use of color, space and imagery

Design that communicates and connects with the reader

Before creating a book cover design, it’s important for the author and graphic designer to discuss the overall design goals, the audience and what the book is about so that a design concept can be created.

Skipping this step or not spending much time talking about the book with a designer is a missed opportunity for both collaboration and helping the designer to really understand what your book is about.

Often an author will have several major themes and many characters. It can be a real challenge to create a simple, uncluttered cover design that captures the spirit of the book while working well as a print book cover, an ebook cover and as a tiny thumbnail on websites.

Good design will not only communicate with the reader, but will also evoke a feeling of curiosity or excitement about the book.

TIP: Less is more. Avoid having too many separate elements on your book cover. The more elements you add, the less impact each element has because the reader has to consider each element separately and how each contributes to the overall visual message. Too many elements may simply confuse the reader.

Appropriate use of typography on book covers

Since Guttenburg launched the book printing revolution, type designers have created a wide range of typefaces to improve readability but also to create headline and display type for billboards, flyers and other uses that are designed to get the reader’s attention.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of novelty typefaces that might work great in advertising, but may be difficult to read or may send a different visual message about a book when used for a title.

Some typefaces have so much visual impact, they actually distract and draw attention to themselves.

Typography-samplesHere is the same title using four very different typefaces.

Each of these typefaces in their own right is fine to use, but do any of these work well with this particular title? Notice how the second example is very playful and whimsical, whereas the third example is just the opposite.

The last example is a typeface in which each letter is a work of art in itself, making the title hard to read, yet it might be effective for a historic or Gothic book cover design.

When choosing a typeface for a book cover design, care should be taken to make sure the title will be readable when the cover is reduced to a tiny thumbnail image for a website. What looks great as a printed book cover may not work as well when converted to a low resolution JPEG that is one inch wide.

TIP: Avoid typefaces that are difficult to read, especially when placed over a detailed photograph with high contrast details.

Effective use of color, space and imagery

Fahrenheit 451 Cover Design

© 2016 Elegant Book Design

Most cover designs will combine an image along with the book title, author’s name and a tagline or teaser. Getting the right balance among all of these elements so that each is neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed by the others is a challenge.

Graphic designers will utilize composition, or the arrangement of the different elements, to bring the reader’s eye into the design. Depending on the feeling the designer is trying to evoke, the composition will use color and space within the cover to create a restful or peaceful composition.Yet a totally different composition and color use can create tension and make the reader uncomfortable.

Here are three examples of covers I created to show different design compositions.

How a photographic image is cropped can make a huge difference in the visual impact, the same way that filmmakers will film from a distance or use closeups to bring the viewer closer to the actors and actresses. Typography can flow across the cover imagery or fit into the imagery for greater visual impact.

TIP: Strive for a balance among all of the graphic elements of the cover. Vary the size and visual weight of visual elements as needed to prioritize the elements and use color to unify the design.