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December 20, 2018

Why You Should Judge A Book By Its Cover

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

5 cover designers from top publishing houses in the country tell us how the fate of a book is sealed by the impact its cover creates….

Mugdha Sadhwani, Rupa Publications

Sadhwani believes that creating the ideal book cover requires a thorough understanding of the essence of the story. This allows the designer to hone a certain aesthetic which appeals to the visual senses of the reader. “I tend to create designs that provide your vision with room to breathe and draw your attention to the title of the book and the author’s name. A cover should evoke a special sensation when one’s eyes move rhythmically across the design”.

Attributes of a good cover…
“It’s a real challenge to not over-divulge information because you’re so close to the matter. A book cover is a 2-dimensional format so it’s great to lend a tactile feeling to certain features.”

Elements to avoid while creating a cover…
“As tempting as it is, do not use design elements that are unrelated to the story of the book. You want to integrate components related to the narrative in order to develop a relationship between content and design.”

Favourite cover by another designer in 2018…
“Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif has been my favourite book cover this year. It’s basic but impactful at the same time. Since the book is a satire set in the time of war, the use of red and black on the cover works perfectly. The delicate strokes in the title add a classy elegance and a certain life to the font.”

Favourite cover she created this year…
I loved creating the series for children’s classics like Heidi and Black Beauty for Rupa Publications. It was a challenge to make them look like they belong to one family yet have an independent identity. Usually, classics in the market all look the same. In this series, it was important to break the monotony and come up with a look that was elegant yet relatable.

Bhavi Mehta, Hachette India

Mehta belongs to the school of thought that celebrates minimalism. “I strongly believe in the simplicity of design as it has helped me build a style that isn’t needlessly complex. Even the busiest cover visuals must be derived from a clear line of thought. I like to be thorough with the text, have a clear idea of what the cover should communicate and then try and bring that into my designs.” The freelance designer, who works out of her home studio in Pune loves experimenting with type, textures and juxtaposing elements to create interesting visuals. 

Attributes of a good cover…
“There is no secret sauce to designing a great cover. Each one is as unique as the text it represents. However, the basic principle to keep in mind is to not try too hard. A good book cover should entice the potential buyer to own a copy and evoke the kind of happiness that only comes from buying a beautiful book.”

Elements to avoid while creating a cover…
“Over-cluttering always proves to be more disturbing than engaging. Avoid the mindless use of typography — just because a font looks good doesn’t mean it’s right for the book. Steer clear of excessive effects and filters unless you are going for a deliberate pop look.”

Favourite cover by another designer in 2018…
“I loved the Faber and Faber cover for Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People. It is so minimal and clever.”

Favourite cover she created this year…
“The series design for Hachette’s 10th-anniversary books. The idea was to create a bold look for a series of 10 books on a varied range of subjects from Bollywood trivia to ancient India, using die-cut covers in solid colours. The challenge was to use different visuals for each of the 10 books like a Bollywood movie poster for Bioscope and a thumbprint made from quilling for Ballot. Instead of using the creatives upfront, we decided to print them inside the book and die-cut the logos to reveal a unique detail of the artworks. This instilled a sense of curiosity in the reader to open the book and admire the full artwork.”

Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Amazon Books

Ghosh’s design kryptonite is interestingly laid out typography that seamlessly reflects the content hidden inside its pages. “I love that the colour palette and the visual rendition give me a peek into the pages of the book. It is both, the challenge as a designer and the process of intrigue that reels me in”, the graphic novelist says before trailing off into the dizzying spaces of his mind that he often steps into while discussing anything design-related.

Attributes of a good cover…
“In my opinion, the cover should unravel a secret. It should be a visual statement about the book and not an illustration of the content. It should captivate the reader, buyer and onlooker and compel them to purchase the book. I consider both, the cover and the back cover equally important.”

Elements to avoid while creating a cover…
“It’s always better to let your cover exude a sense of mystery. Secondly, the cover should not be excessively art directed. As a designer, I believe if we can keep these two aspects in check, there is a higher chance of hitting the jackpot. Try to not play it safe every single time because readers are sticklers for innovative design these days.”

Favourite cover by another designer in 2018…
Jonahwhale by Ranjit Hoskote, designed by Gunjan Aihlawat.

Favourite cover he created this year…
The one I designed for Points of Entry by Nadeem Paracha.

Semy Haitenlo, Pan Macmillan India

Haitenlo hates boxes. That’s not to say that you won’t find a single quadrilateral in any of his designs, it only means that he doesn’t have a specific style and prefers to not develop one. “I subscribe to a broader aesthetic which enables me to work across styles and genres. I’ve been working with a lot of photography at the moment but I love illustrations and hope to explore more of those in the future as there are so many talented illustrators out there”, he answers when asked to define his design MO.

Attributes of a good cover…
“Every book comes with its idiosyncrasies and it is essential to have a complete understanding of the subject, tone and target audience before you begin work. You have to subtly reinvent yourself when you take on a new project so that the reader and you don’t die of boredom. A very important tip — don’t ignore the spine as most books end up on a shelf spine out and you have a far smaller space at your disposal to grab the attention of your audience.”

Elements to avoid while creating a cover…
“It’s best to avoid gimmickry and unnecessary clutter. Don’t use colours that will get lost amongst other books on a crowded shelf. Build an aptitude for recognising appropriate colours and understand the psychology behind applying them.”

Favourite cover by another designer in 2018…
“My favourite Indian published cover of the year is Juggernaut Books’ Jasmine Days, illustrated by Joy Gosney. It is bright and joyful and is designed to catch your eye. I like the combination of the simple, almost childlike quality of the illustration and the hand-lettered type. The publishing house opted for a glossy finish which I would normally dislike, but oddly in this instance, it works.”

Favourite cover he created this year…
“Of all the covers I have designed in 2018, John Zubrycki’s Jadoowallahs, Jugglers and Jinns published by Picador has been my favourite. It was a dream job for a designer because I was given free rein with regard to creating quirky magic posters and beautiful vintage typography.”

Saurav Das, Harper Collins India

Saurav Das who considers himself somewhat of a design chameleon; his style ranges from witty and eclectic to bold and elegant. And he is better for it as it allows him to slip into various roles depending on what the book demands of him — a spy with a secret he’ll take to his grave, for instance. “You must keep two things in mind while designing a cover. Know what (content) you’re designing for and whom (audience) you’re catering to”, he explains.

Attributes of a good cover…
“A cover should be an amalgamation of elements that are dramatic, intriguing and quirky whilst ensuring a cohesiveness with regard to image and type.”

Elements to avoid while creating a cover…
“Trying to say too many things at the same time and sticking to tried and tested methods while dealing with cliched topics.”

Favourite cover by another designer in 2018…
“I liked Thomas Pierce’s Afterlives because it has a peculiar aesthetic wherein the colourful geometry of the yellow combined with the fractured image to create an oddly pleasant mix of forms.”

Favourite cover he created this year…
“It would have to be The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace. I like how the letters hint at espionage with some of them emerging from darkness and others fading into it. It successfully creates the illusion of hide-and-seek that is usually associated with spying.”

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