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Book and Cover

To coincide with Manchester Literature Festival, Artwork Manager Ed Dunsdon celebrates the power of book cover design. 

Can the electronic tome offer you a visual hook in the same way as it’s printed adversary? Surely, clicking through icons is a less enticing experience than gazing at cover designs before you on the bookshelf.

The intrinsic value of the book jacket design is that it stirs your imagination even before you turn a page. It is what will always keep the book lover or “book fetishists” buying the printed, instead of the pixelated.

Despite the proliferation of the e-book the printed page still attracts the reader, and the importance of the jacket design is as significant as ever. The skill of the designer to interpret the text and to produce a visually captivating and intriguing frontage is highly regarded by both author and publisher alike. The task of the ‘translator’ (as Associate Art Director at Alfred A. Knopf, Peter Mendelsund prefers to be called) is to select a “unique textual detail that, as the subject matter for a book jacket, can support the metaphoric weight of the entire book.”

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With the march of the e-book, designers of physical books have to raise their game “I absolutely think we should seize the initiative and make the best books we can” says Suzanne Dean, the creative director of Random house - the only designer to be included in The Booksellers list of “100 most influential people in the book trade”.

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When conceiving an idea for any design, the creative must reduce the complexity of a Brand or a story into a bold, concise, visual statement. To appreciate the simplicity of a well designed, minimalist cover is to understand and appreciate the simplicity of the logotype. To stir the mind until the light comes on and the pieces fall into place is the desired aim of any logo creator or book cover artist. “By holding back information and being quietly suggestive, readers are invited to fill in the blanks and interpret for themselves” said designer David Pearson.

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When designers find themselves, as consumers they very often make the judgement on the aesthetics of the cover before ever reading the introductory blurb. With the advent of the electronic page the purpose of the printed book has gone beyond that of merely a story to be told and instead the book itself has become a possession to be cherished and displayed as if it were a painting or a photograph. The cover also helps us to define ourselves, in a similar way to the album sleeve, evoking nostalgia and reminding us who we were and how we want to be perceived, consciously or subconsciously. It is a projection of our own personal tastes and aspirations.

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This is very evident in the appeal of the book series, the collectables and the matching sets. As soon as we become conscious of the material and the autonomy to consume we collect ‘stuff’. We collect stamps, game cards and tea towels, things that match or go together. Publishing is no different and a series of books will gratify the reader as consumer and collector.

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The brief for the designer is to produce an effective series that is true to the classic brand and identity whilst enticing the reader to connect and collect. The cover design affords the opportunity for the publisher to re-release and repackage popular books. A novel that hasn’t changed its tale, but can become a blank canvas for each generation of designers, who can use their own visual interpretation to breath new life into the story. Life that is hard to find on a screen. 

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