Low-Fi Sci-Fi

If the main objective of a book cover is to make you stop, pick up said book, perhaps read the back or the first few lines (and consider buying it, of course) then the new Gollancz range of science-fiction classics has certainly got something right. The ten titles stood out when I saw them on display in a bookshop earlier this week, so I asked one of Orion Books’ designers to explain the decidely low-fi approach they took to this new sci-fi series…

If the main objective of a book cover is to make you stop, pick up said book, perhaps read the back or the first few lines (and consider buying it, of course) then the new Gollancz range of science-fiction classics has certainly got something right. The ten titles stood out when I saw them on display in a bookshop earlier this week, so I asked one of Orion Books‘ designers to explain the decidely low-fi approach they took to this new sci-fi series…

“The idea was to bring sci-fi to a wider audience,” says James Jones, who worked on this particular series that uses images designed by recent graduate Sanda Zahirovic. “We wanted to create a series style that would adhere to the nature of the content – eg its complexity – but employ a hands-on approach.

“We’d recently seen Sanda Zahirovic’s work at the D&AD student awards and in working with her over a period of two weeks, we asked her to develop an existing concept into real books.

“Sanda created each cover using A4 paper, with all the typography printed and placed on the structure by hand,” Jones continues. “We then photographed each paper structure and, upon seeing the original black and white images, we didn’t feel that any tweaking or further alterations were needed.”

On closer inspection, some of the most striking covers were achieved by photographing a single piece of rolled-up or chopped-up paper or, even – as with Paul McAuley’s Eternal Light – the discarded paper circles from a hole punch. Here’s the rest of the set:

Design: Sanda Zahirovic
Creative director: Lucie Stericker
Series editor: Simon Spanton

Gollancz is Orion Books‘ science-fiction and fantasy imprint.

All the titles in the series are on sale now at £7.99.

  • josh

    This is real creativity. It’s been a while but it’s great to see some actual design on this blog.
    Great that it comes from a student’s work too

  • Simple yet striking. Great work.

  • aardvark

    awesome work… would have been a more interesting article if you’d spoken to the creative director or sanda zahirovic herself, as i can’t really see what the ‘art director’ has added to this project… the covers are pretty much the same as the student entries which you can see here…

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dandaduk/2613849424/in/set-72157605679154498/

  • This is amazing stuff and an original take on book design!

  • Rik Moran

    Really nice work.

  • Fantastic work! really good, wish I had done them myself.

  • Excellent work.

  • Nice work. I like the hand-on design approach, rather than relying on digital methods, but it seems like every art director and his dog is jumping on the cut paper aesthetic at the moment.

    It’s a shame when good ideas get over-used and I fear we’ll be saturated with cut paper designs this year, then be completely bored of them by Christmas.

    These photos make me want to see these cover designs on the actual books – it’s definitely an interesting context to place such designs in.

  • These books were made a year ago now (at least the concept was). But as they weren’t published until now, I’ve had to sit back and look as loads of work come out with the same ‘cut paper aesthetic’. I was really worried, they wouldn’t stand out and be ‘original’ enough.

    Luckily they have been received amazingly and people have recognized that this ‘technique’ suits the project and that it’s not just jumping on another graphic-bandwagon..

  • good for you, Sanda. i know how it is when a completeed project takes a while to see the light of day and you feel that some ‘edge’ may have been lost by the delay.

    this is great work, though. stark, bold anjd contrasty, just the way i like my GD.

  • Sophie

    It’s all black and white, eh? I feel like I’m in Pleasantville: there’s something very Mad Men about the style-over-substance graphic design of these covers and… hmm… something else that I’m feeling: oh yes, all books by white men. Yawn. This is only half a canon. If that.

  • Grant

    I think these are all excellent, but personally, ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ rises to the level of truly outstanding. Can you tell I’m a bit of an Arthur C. Clarke fan?

  • Julius Oboma

    Wauw, Sophie, what a racist and meaningless comment. Are we supposed to judge authors on the colour of their skin now?!

    Fantastic design, especially since it relates to the content of the books. Rendezvous with Rama, yes, brilliant.

  • LexBerman

    These designs have everyone all excited? The only thing I see here is that depth-of-field focus issues do not qualify as “conceptual design,” though I would agree that these are all Low-Fi. What is so outstanding, brilliant, and fantastic about all this? The designs are the opposite of fantastic, to be sure. In my view, they actually downplay the interest and drama in many of the stories that they supposedly illustrate… I’ve nothing against abstraction or design. Richard Powers covers aren’t really ABOUT the stories, but succeed by moving beyond visual strangeness to a realm of altered states and fantastic possibilities. Are you honestly convinced that a line of paper dolls is evocative of Stapledon’s work, compared to, for example, Macek’s cover for the Dover edition? Well, let’s see how the sales figures turn out… I know I wouldn’t pick up this series, though the choice of titles is quite superb. What worries me is that some people seem to be convinced that SF needs to “raise it’s stature” by rejecting the lurid pulp covers of the past, and now we must tone-down and high-concept the cover art to the point of marching in lock-step with every other genre. How sad. The leading SF cover artists in the field today (Picacio, Donato, Seeley, Dos Santos, to name a few) draw upon the rich history of motifs and tropes of the past masters and manage to envision new and fantastic images. It’s great to have alternatives, so please do challenge the status-quo in any way you like! But this series is so desultory, I just have to offer a different point of view from the string of accolades in the comments.

  • markhg

    I arrived at this blog after following a link from the Guardian website in an article about Penguin SF book covers http://www.penguinsciencefiction.org. Though I recognise the quality of the design, and some clever ideas, in these covers I have to say they fall a bit flat to my eyes as a SF reader and having read most of the books illustrated above the images don’t connect with my memories of the stories. I don’t think they would catch my eye in a book shop and though I have on occasions bought a book simply for it’s covers I wouldn’t for these. Cleverly done non the less.

  • David Scholes

    Very striking – I like them.

    By comparison what do you think of the cover art (by Wendy Arakawa) for my own recent science fiction book?

    The link to my author page is: http://www.StrategicBookPublishing.com/ScienceFictionandAlternateHistory.html

    Cheers

  • David,

    Personally I love the core image of the alien through the glass and feel the typography and city skyline detract from this a little. I would have simplified the type – probably reduced it in size maybe white out with a less predictably SF typeface and most certainly switch the outer glow off (a bugbear of mine!!!!!!!) then ditched the skyline as I reckon it’s not needed.

    But then again I haven’t read the book…

  • The mixture certainly portrays the sci fi side of the topics, at least to me so I have to disagree with Lex. I think that the idea behind these designs has hit the nail on the head completely and you definitely get an eye grabbing look with the black and white options. I did think the first one was a little hard to read the title?? Actually I am still not sure what the title is from looking at it again. Perhaps it is up to the audience the way the covers appeal?

  • probably reduced it in size maybe white out with a less predictably SF typeface and most certainly switch the outer glow off (a bugbear of mine!!!!!!!) then ditched the skyline as I reckon it’s not needed.

  • don’t think they would catch my eye in a book shop and though I have on occasions bought a book simply for it’s covers I wouldn’t for these.

  • good for you, Sanda. i know how it is when a completeed project takes a while to see the light of day and you feel that some ‘edge’ may have been lost by the delay.

  • Anyone checked out this book yet, entitled “Hells Aquarium” by Steve Alten?” Pretty good stuff in it, judging from what I’ve read. Ever wonder what the ancient relative of the great white was. This book has it and its called Megalodon, scary creature from the past. Spotted it yesterday on http://www.amazon.com/Meg-Hells-Aquarium-Steve-Alten/dp/1935142046

  • Sandra, this typography is amazing. We learn this at school. Fantastic design!

  • Beautiful work, sandra. Not yet as good as you. But I’m trying:)

  • probably reduced it in size maybe white out with a less predictably SF typeface and most certainly switch the outer glow off (a bugbear of mine!!!!!!!) then ditched the skyline as I reckon it’s not needed.

  • I think these are all excellent, but personally, ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ rises to the level of truly outstanding. Can you tell I’m a bit of an Arthur C. Clarke fan?

  • probably reduced it in size maybe white out with a less predictably SF typeface and most certainly switch the outer glow off (a bugbear of mine!!!!!!!) then ditched the skyline as I reckon it’s not needed.

  • These photos make me want to see these cover designs on the actual books – it’s definitely an interesting context to place such designs in.

  • These photos make me want to see these cover designs on the actual books – it’s definitely an interesting context to place such designs in.

  • Good job! THANKS! You guys do a great blog, and have some great contents. Keep up the good work.
    best regards,

  • probably reduced it in size maybe white out with a less predictably SF typeface and most certainly switch the outer glow off (a bugbear of mine!!!!!!!) then ditched the skyline as I reckon it’s not needed.

  • . I’ve nothing against abstraction or design. Richard Powers covers aren’t really ABOUT the stories, but succeed by moving beyond visual strangeness to a realm of altered states and fantastic possibilities.

  • Good job! THANKS! You guys do a great blog, and have some great contents. Keep up the good work.

  • Luckily they have been received amazingly and people have recognized that this ‘technique’ suits the project and that it’s not just jumping on another graphic-bandwagon..

  • Nice work. I like the hand-on design approach, rather than relying on digital methods, but it seems like every art director and his dog is jumping on the cut paper aesthetic at the moment.

  • Very nice and amazing book design!

  • Nice work. I like the hand-on design approach, rather than relying on digital methods, but it seems like every art director and his dog is jumping on the cut paper aesthetic at the moment.

  • Good job! THANKS! You guys do a great blog, and have some great contents. Keep up the good work.

  • Joana Cook Martins

    Great job Sanda! Very strong designs.

  • ‘ve nothing against abstraction or design. Richard Powers covers aren’t really ABOUT the stories, but succeed by moving beyond visual strangeness to a realm of altered states and fantastic possibilities.

  • Rick

    The only one I thought was clever was Rendezvous with Rama but that’s just me. The one for Ringworld didn’t really make much sense.

  • Barbi Oyunları

    probably reduced it in size maybe white out with a less predictably SF typeface and most certainly switch the outer glow off (a bugbear of mine!!!!!!!) then ditched the skyline as I reckon it’s not needed.