As designer Jon Dowling notes in his introduction to this pocket-sized edition, these covers, “often austere in appearance, are confident in their use of restraint, with whitespace adorned with well considered marks of ink”.
Typographically, the Chinese script sits at the centre of this design approach, Dowling explains. As one of the oldest writing systems in the world, Chinese ‘hanzi’ characters have since been adapted to create Japanese ‘kanji’; Korean ‘hanja’; and Vietnamese ‘chữ nôm’.
With frequent use of pared back colours and subtle photographic techniques, the East Asian covers collected here make many of those that we see in the West seem that much more hectic and noisy. These covers, Dowling says, contain “a shared serenity and balance that resonates beautifully with their simple, uncluttered and modern aesthetic”.
That’s not to say that the quieter approach lacks variation – many of the covers featured in the book are typographic and use simple graphic forms, while others fill the paper with shapes and icons (see below), or intriguing photography (see the close-ups of the apples, above).
Dowling also makes an interesting point about the influence of online retailers on the way many of us now interact with books (and the role their covers play in this process) when we buy them.
The book cover as we know it simply doesn’t need to shout anymore, he writes, because it doesn’t serve quite the same purpose it once did. On Amazon, for example, cover images now appear next to titles and author names so the hierarchy of information required on the front of the book has shifted.
“Image making is now trumping legibility,” Dowling writes, “and the need for simple, striking graphics is more imperative than ever when the book cover is condensed down to a thumbnail.”
While this is probably not the final aim of any book cover designer – and the pull of a great-looking cover in the flesh has lost none of its power – it reflects an interesting change in how many of us engage with books in their virtual form before actually picking them up.
Something that Counter-Print has undoubtedly realised, too, as the tantalising images of this book and many others on its website prove.
Book Cover Design from East Asia is published by Counter-Print; £7.50