What is graphic design?
Graphic design is the visual communication of an idea or concept that combines typography, color, and graphic elements such as illustration or photography.
Graphic design can be shocking or subtle, sophisticated or simple, but great graphic design both communicates an idea and engages the viewer.
Most book covers will combine text and imagery as well as other design elements. Striking a balance between the design elements within the cover is challenging, especially where there are many design elements competing for the reader’s attention.
What is poor book cover design?
Poor book cover designs simply fail to engage the viewer and/or communicate effectively. The book cover on the right, Silver Fangs, has several design problems.
- What is the title? Is it Silver Fangs, or is it Hit and Run?
- Why is the type on the book pushed to the edges, top and bottom of the page?
- Why is “Hit and Run” placed right on the horizon line?
- Why is someone running track in the middle of the night on a highway?
- Why is the moon an ellipse instead of being a circle?
- Why did the designer make the wolf element so large?
- Why is the typography used for the book title so plain, whereas the author’s name is much more stylish?
How can this cover be improved?
This example shows how many book covers suffer from two basic problems:
- Too many competing visual elements
- Poor graphic design execution
There are 8 elements on the cover that all compete for the viewer’s attention. Does this cover really need that many to communicate with the reader?
The cover is actually divided into two spaces by the “Hit and Run” text, with the moon/wolf concept occupying the upper and the desert human road runner at the bottom.
In redesigning this book cover, I would recommend simplifying the cover design so there are fewer elements. I would change the typography for the title and give the title some “breathing room” so the type is integrated into the cover design and not visually dividing the cover.
I would rethink the visual imagery so there is a primary focus for the viewer, with the typography integrated into the overall design with a more subtle touch. I would also have one main title and perhaps use a tagline to designate this book is part one.
On the right is one of my ready-made cover designs Outpost, which has a design similar to Silver Fangs, but with a fewer elements, but has some similarities in that the design has a horizon line dividing the dover. In my design, I made sure there was some visual “breathing room” on either side of the title, and I placed the horizon line slightly above the center of the book cover.
I also placed the title so that it overlapped the horizon line so it is less noticeable as a divider between the top and bottom.
Last but not least, I placed the tagline at the bottom of the cover, in a box that bleeds off the bottom of the cover, with some of the cover flowing around it.
This design shows that “less is more” but even with several graphic elements, it is possible to have several cover elements work together for a more unified look.
What makes a book cover great?
A great cover design is one where the reader stops and looks long and hard at the cover, but instantly sees who the author is and where the cover suggests to the reader that the book will be a wonderful reading experience.
I also believe a book cover should offer a visual promise or a tease of there being something unique in store for the reader.
Ideally, a well designed book cover needs to have the following:
- An arresting image or illustration – The cover design should make the reader ask themselves, “What it is I am looking at?” or simply give the reader a visual image they cannot look away from.
- A compelling tagline – After getting the reader’s attention, the tagline should further entice the reader. Great taglines should promise what is to come or excite the reader to begin the journey into the world within the book.
- Easy to read title – The book title should be easy to read, especially when the cover is shown as a thumbnail on websites. While thin, script typography works great on printed books, care must be taken that small thumbnails do not render a book title unreadable.
- Easy to read author’s name – For readers who are reading a series or just like a particular author, the author’s name is as important as book’s title.
- Back cover should be be compelling – Printed books have the ability of offering more than a promise. The back cover can offer an excerpt from the book that is intriguing if the work is fiction, or can offer some insight into the topics covered if the book is nonfiction. If the cover design wraps around to the back, the back cover text needs to be readable or handled so the words stand out from the background.
Where do great book cover ideas originate?
Before I begin any book cover design project, there is a “discovery” process in which the author and I talk about the book—the main characters, what the book is about and possible visual elements to be used. I also like to learn what the author likes or dislikes in terms of color and design approaches for the cover.
My role is to listen and learn, ask questions and then to put together several design concepts based on what the author and I have discussed. Design concepts allow me to try our several ideas of what the cover can be, and gives the author and me a starting point.
For more about the actual book design process, please go to The Book Cover Design Process page where I discuss the process of working with authors to take ideas and turn them into great book designs.
Elegant Book Design