Book Cover Typography: History, Examples, and Best Practices

Design July 2, 2014

Ever since the original printing press in 1452, printing and production has exploded into an industry which has evolved and molded our modern culture.

Back when printing presses were still “hot off the press,” it was painstaking and difficult to produce a book. Typestyles were not easy to develop so there were not the hundreds we have to choose from today. Months—even years—went into the development of a single typeface. Each letter was carefully sketched and crafted before being molded into pieces of steel or metal for the printing plates.

Thanks to technology, typefaces are now easy to produce. Yet designers still craft typestyles with the same attention to detail embraced by those who developed them centuries ago. In this article, we will explore various examples and principles of book cover typography. Note that this article is extensive and in-depth, so set aside some time for further exploration of the topics covered.

What is Typography?

Dictionary.com defines Typography simply as:

“The art or process of printing with type.”

Similar to colors, mediums, images, and arrangement, typography is an essential tool for any designer.

Through the ages, typography has taken many different shapes and sizes. As mentioned previously, typography, or setting type, was done completely with metal plates with which newspapers, books, and other early periodicals were printed. A key turning point in typography was the development of the original printing press, known as The Gutenberg Press.

Handtiegelpresse_von_1811-e1291425570649
Printing press from 1811, exhibited in Munich, Germany

Clean and Simple

The first important element of strong typography in book design is a clean and simple layout. If cluttered with too many images, colors, or design elements, the impact of the typography lessens. A proper balance between simplicity and strong design can have stunning results.

Let’s explore some book designs which effectively capture these features.

Against Happiness | Eric G. Wilson

Stunningly unexpected and simplistic typography captures this message’s meaning.

against_happiness.large_

Loneliness | John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick

Typography alone powerfully showcases this book’s content.

loneliness.large_

Faraway Places | Tom Spanbauer

This cover design showcases clean typography which creatively runs off the trim-edge of the book.

faraway_places.large_

The Catastrophist | Lawrence Douglas

Bold red circles showcase this book’s typography (along with a humorous image).

the_catastrophist.large_

The Road | Cormac McCarthy

Another design showcasing nothing but type makes this book easily recognized on a bookstore shelf.

the_road_oprahs_book_club.large_

Bold and Impacting

When accentuated properly, bold, large type can capture attention like nothing else can. This, of course, depends upon the type of book and what’s fitting for the target market, but when delivered effectively, bold type produces stunning results.

The Mayor’s Tongue | Nathaniel Rich

With an unorthodox layout, the bold-rich colors and type displayed across this cover is eye-catching.

37-e1291441521965

The Great Hurricane | Cherie Burns

This vintage design creatively mixes an assortment of old-style typefaces.

the_great_hurricane_1938.large_

Good Faith | Jane Smiley

Carrying the 1960-retroish style, Good Faith features bold and powerful typographical elements.

good_faith.large_

Spade Archer | Joe Gores

This bold type stands at attention. Accent shadows create a3D effect.

spade__archer.large_

Subtle and Intriguing

Sometimes, a less obvious, less bold use of typography shouts a dynamic message.

Empire Rising | Thomas Kelly

This cover features 3D typography that matches the perspective of the photo it showcases.

empire_rising.large_

One Perfect Day | Rebecca Mead

The everyday look and feel of an ordinary receipt hammers home this book’s theme.

one_perfect_day.large_

Chosen | Gladys Billups

Bold colors and sharp, yet subtle typefaces capture the reader’s attention.

1414112750-e1292430302386

Distinct and Elegant

This collection of designs depicts the books’ message through fine, elegant typefaces.

The Godly Approach to Writing | Selena Howland

Clean, subtle typeface colors capture the light.

1414119003-e1291443100523

Striking and Powerful

An impactful cover design surprises the reader. Let’s explore some book cover designs that do exactly that:

Netherland | Joseph O’Neill

The rotated, scaled typography of this design turns heads.

netherland.large_

Why Most Things Fail | Paul Omerod

This design delivers every element in an unexpected and unique fashion. From strikethroughs to upside-down words, the design certainly captures attention.

why_most_things_fail.large_

The Guggenheim | Frank Lloyd Wright

Literally going outside the box, this design departs from the common look of a book cover in favor of a round, retro-style typeface layout.

the_guggenheim.large_

A Question of Loyalty | Douglas Waller

Going outside the norm of a straight-on view of the text, this visually interesting composition encompasses the entire layout of type within what appears to be a section of a newspaper.

a_question_of_loyalty.large_

World as Laboratory | Rebecca Lemov

With a tactfully executed variety of typefaces, colors, and images, this design successfully breaks the mold of the common book jacket design.

22-e1291443174133

Backstory | Ken Auletta

Origami-style folded newspaper creatively relates to the book’s content.

backstory.large_1

Like You’d Understand, Anyway | Jim Shepard

Last, but definitely not least, the creative title, type layout, and imagery of this design make for one unique and effective cover.

like_youd_understand_anyway.large_

Conclusion

There’s much to learn when exploring ideas for your next book design. When studying successful designs, its best not to imitate or copy ideas shown, but rather examine how the same unique and creative strategies can be applied to any element of a book’s design. This is the case for anything from the typography, to the colors and images used.

Additional Resources

Learn more about the art, science, and trade of book cover design with these articles on the topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.