“A great cover makes you want to return to a book again and again”

This month, an exhibition opened showcasing 20 years of Penguin Essentials. Now, designers tell us about their favourite editions of books with illustrated covers.

Becky Baldwin, senior designer, Together Design

“A great cover makes you want to return to a book again and again, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 cover for The Hobbit does just that. I remember pulling it off my parents’ shelves when I was too small to understand the words inside, mesmerised by the layers of vivid colour and the mystery of this strange world I was yet to discover. Years on, I appreciate it for its graphic elegance and resemblance to 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints. What makes it even more special is that Tolkien illustrated the cover himself, and this, along with the beautiful maps inside, gives the reader insight into how Tolkien saw the magical world he created.”

Design by J.R.R. Tolkien, courtesy of Peter Harrington Books

Sam Farrow, creative and managing director, Farrow Creative

“Everyone has their own favourite edition of a particular work, so choosing ‘the best’ cover is both highly subjective and really hard! Objectively, a beautiful, recent example is Norwegian Wood, designed by John Gall in 2015. The simple, clean typography set in cream on slate-grey is pure Scandinavian and evokes the dark and cold of the northern winter; there’s a visual link to the main subject, firewood, in the bright orange accent on the spine. It soothes my fears about a plastic-ridden planet and owning a woodpile like that is on my bucket list.”

Design by John Gall, published by MacLehose Press. Courtesy of Quercus

Jesse Reed, co-founder, Order

“I came across The Art of Dramatic Writing, by Lajos Egri sometime in 2016, and it has held its position as one of my favorite book covers. The design was done by the late Ivan Chermayeff, of Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv (at the time, however, the firm was credited as Brownjohn, Chermayeff & Geismar). I love this cover because of its most obvious feature – exclamation marks replacing the lowercase ‘i’s in the title. This treatment reveals the inherent nature of the text – imagery is unnecessary and drama is communicated via playful punctuation. This sort of graphic device has been since borrowed many times (by myself included), but until I’m proven otherwise, this cover was patient zero.”

Design by Ivan Chermayeff, courtesy of Touchstone

Ryan Wills, founder and creative partner, Taxi Studio

“This question’s really pertinent because it takes me back to my very first design placement. I was working with John McConnell at Pentagram, who was responsible for many of Faber and Faber book covers at the time. The simplicity of thought and application of wit that went into every cover he designed was something I found completely inspiring.

This cover for The End of Lieutenant Boruvka, by Josef Skvorecky is just one example of his approach, but for me it perfectly captures a duality of thinking that’s gone on to inspire a lot of our work at Taxi Studio.”

Design by John McConnell, courtesy of Faber and Faber

What’s your favourite ever book cover design? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Calvin Emerson January 17, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    We actually compiled a list of our favorite book covers of 2017 and held a contest to redesign them with our community of designers! I’d say personally my favorite of the year is the UK edition of Oola by Brittany Newell, but maybe it’s fun to check out our results: 99des.co/cheekyredesign


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