cover design

By Its Cover: Suzanne Dean on good cover design

February 27th, 2017 by caroline_obrien | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on By Its Cover: Suzanne Dean on good cover design
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Suzanne Dean, the creative director for Penguin Random House, took the stage at this year’s Scottish Book Trade Conference to tell us all that, against a childhood’s worth of well-intentioned advice, we should, in fact, judge a book By Its Cover. Although much of her advice will be familiar to most of us at Stirling University from our design classes like all good advice it doesn’t hurt being repeated, and there was also much which was new and just as helpful. She was also able to offer an insightful and oftentimes very funny first-hand account of the frustrating, nerve-wracking, but ultimately fulfilling world of book cover design.

Dean was the one responsible for the Vintage logo update and some of her cover designs may be familiar to many of us, especially the work she did for Haruki Murakami’s novel. The simple, yet eye-catching, black white and red circle designs quickly became quintessentially Murakami. But, as any good designer will tell you, break your own rules. Dean certainly did, in an exceptionally well thought out way, by adding colour to Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki.

With quite a hefty bit of experience under her belt Dean is more well-versed than most on what effective design must be. Namely eye-catching, engaging to a reader, and thought provoking. After all, as Dean reminded us, we only have a few seconds in which to catch a browser’s eye and encourage them to pick our book up over all the others. In today’s world where books are increasingly becoming commodities like any others, sold on shelves between groceries and cleaning products, good cover design is more important than ever.

Through her work with Vintage Classics Dean is very well aware of this. Not only are classic books subject to the same fight for attention that new ones are, but they have a further added problem. As Dean asked, how do you convince someone to buy a book that’s probably freely available online?

Dean’s answer was simple.

By making them beautiful and desirable collectable objects.

Dean also found that a cover which hints at the contents receives a better reception than one which spells them out too heavily. Remember, with classics, the potential buyer has probably already read it, or at least is aware of the general plot, and so are more prone to spot and appreciate any little subtleties in the cover which, with a new novel, might only be appreciated after being read.

Of course, even while the contents of these classic books are well-known and familiar to many it is as important, if not more so, to keep the covers fresh and new. With content that has so many past covers it’s important not to become too similar. With their new Vintage Future editions Dean has managed to avoid this very pitfall. Using only a sheet of acetate and some line based designs this set of nine futuristic classics feature animated covers. The bold colours and psychedelic shapes combined with the animated feature and juxtaposed against the classic, black bordered layout perfectly capture the essence of these texts which, although written in the past, were always looking far into the future.

This seems to be a key theme brought by Dean to all her covers. Whilst they vary widely, and are each intricately tailored to suit their contents, there appears to be an emphasis on keeping them relevant, not just to our times but to all times.

But to achieve such beautiful, evocative, and timeless designs there is first a long process which must be traversed. As Dean revealed, one of her covers went through over seventy redesigns before it was finally accepted. It can also be very difficult to read a manuscript with the expectation upon you that a beautifully designed cover will simply emerge fully formed from your head. You must ‘rely upon the spark to happen’ and to keep on happening the next time and the next and the next. You must experiment, and engage with all forms of media. As Dean put it, ‘go out and see things,’ as many things as possible. You never know where inspiration will next come from.

And, most importantly, practice. For designers ‘just like dancers’ must practice before they can create something beautiful.

By Caroline O’Brien

Design by the Book: A Scottish Publishing Showcase

November 28th, 2016 by Stephan Pohlmann | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Design by the Book: A Scottish Publishing Showcase
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Of the multitude of tasks and activities assigned to you when studying publishing at Stirling University, keeping up to date with bookish events is certainly one of the most pleasant ones (not the most pleasant one though, which would definitely be the fact that you are effectively “doing something for your studies” whenever you have your nose in a book).

the-mileIt so happened that Book Week Scotland 2016, the annual “celebration of books and reading” (as described by the organiser, the Scottish Book Trust), had the students swarming out to several of these events and I, in this context, had the pleasure to venture through Edinburgh Castle for a first-hand look at the highlights of Scottish book design in 2016, presented at the Design by the Book exhibition. Finally, there was full justification (unintentional publishing pun) to buy a ticket to Edinburgh Castle, and considering that any foreign-national visitors there are likely to get lost in thoughts, just as they can be quite certain to get lost literally, it was probably a good idea to keep clear the full Monday afternoon to go there.

gu-leorHaving eventually arrived at the destination, the entrance being to your left just as you are about to enter the Crown Square, the first thing catching the eye of the bibliophile publishing student is a remarkably complete absence of books: The room is filled with information boards instead, displaying pictures of the most intriguing book designs Scotland produced over the past year (personal favourites being The Mile by Pilrig Press and Acair’s Gu Leòr). A second part of the exhibition is devoted to the formidable results of a book cover art competition which Publishing Scotland had launched in August of this year, encouraging children between the age of 5-8, 8-12 and 12-18 to draw covers for their favourite books, with at times remarkable results.

It might be worth mentioning that some information on the book designers and the design process could have significantly improved the exhibition, the empty envelopes on the information boards giving the exhibition a slightly unfinished look. However, the event is most certainly standing out in the medievalist scenery of Edinburgh Castle, and is definitely going to achieve its purpose in providing a bit of spotlight for all Scottish publishers represented in the exhibition.

by Stephan Pohlmann