Setting out to answer this how-long’s-a-piece-of-string style dilemma is a talk next month organised by West of England Design Forum, which has enlisted the help of renowned book cover designers David Pearson and Teresa Monachino.
The D&AD award-winning designers will be discussing what they feel makes a great cover design, and how you go about creating one. Pearson will be drawing on his experience of working for Penguin Books as typographer and later, cover designer, before leaving to set up his own studio in 2007.
Monachino, meanwhile, is no stranger to discussing the art of cover design, having spoken at Bath Literary Book Fair and the British Museum, as well as being a regular TED Talks speaker. She also wrote and designed typographic book Words Fail Me.
‘I’m going to be talking through mostly non-fiction books because I don’t think they’re often covered –pardon the pun,’ she says. ‘It’s interesting to hear about books like Monty Don On Gardening – how do you do something original for things like that? Or with The Making of Harry Potter – how do you go over ground that’s been so well covered?’
So what’s her advice for making sure you do create something original?
She says, ‘It’s taking what’s already there and not ignoring the obvious clichés, because they’re the most important and direct communication tools as designers. It’s looking at how you treat something very familiar in a new way, but not getting rid of all the familiar elements.
‘You can’t afford to be subtle. That’s what sorts good designers from not so good – it’s important you find something new.’
Pearson will spend one half of his talk giving a ‘potted history of Penguin books’ and the other discussing his own work.
He says, ‘I used to call the talk “money for old rope” – most of what I do is repackage classic literature, so it does feel like you’re constantly trying to trick people into reading these old books.’
Pearson’s stunning typographic Penguin Classics book cover designs played no small part in reinvigorating the brand, showing that for the classics, simplicity is often best.
‘I think they had a certain spartan quality which suits more authoritative writing’, he says. ‘People almost want these older books to have a more austere, authoritative look so it’s appropriate to use type as you give so little away – people can project onto the covers themselves.’
Cover to Cover: An Evening of Book Design with David Pearson and Teresa Monachino, takes place on 16 October at Anolfini, 16 Narrow Quay, Bristol, Avon BS1 . To book tickets visit http://www.arnolfini.org.uk