Last year I began CR’s round-up of the best book covers of the year with a plea to publishers to credit their designers when sharing newly created work for forthcoming titles. One of the issues raised at the time, by Penguin studio manager Ebyan Egal, was that far from being a simple enough request to ask of publishers, it was really more about the importance of being seen and acknowledged for one’s work. “Particularly when looking at barriers for creatives from marginalised backgrounds a key issue is visibility,” Egal wrote, “so just a mention will make an impact.”
With that in mind, it was welcome news that in September Egal, Faber’s Donna Payne, and Profile Books’ Steve Panton launched Design Publishing & Inclusivity (DPI), a mentoring programme for under-represented creatives which will pair successful applicants (from the UK and Ireland) with leading designers from across the publishing industry.
“Design within publishing suffers from the same failures that the majority of publishing does when it comes to staff diversity,” Panton told Danny Arter at the Bookseller. The article also flagged the potential startup and relocation costs to new designers wanting to enter the industry, alongside the amount of opportunities that are still centred around the capital.
Design within publishing suffers from the same failures that the majority of publishing does when it comes to staff diversity
Interestingly, despite previous initiatives made by publishers to increase diversity within the workforce, art departments – and design leadership in particular – have often been overlooked, Arter suggested. Visibility is vital, but ultimately access and opportunity are just as important. More at dpi.org.uk.
Regardless of whether book publishers take heed and credit their designers more often, designers and book design enthusiasts have continued to go ahead and do it themselves, championing great work through a growing range of social accounts.
On Instagram there is now the well-curated @SheDesignsBooks, @BookCoverGallery, and @Spine_Magazine_Official, while casualoptimist.com remains a must visit. Needless to say, all are worth a follow if you want to stay up to date with some of the best work being done in this area.
And as new titles are revealed ever further ahead of their publication date, social media has become more populated with covers than ever. But I can confirm, via an enjoyable stroll around my local Waterstones, that variety remains strong in real life too. Though trends can be detected in isolation, if you seek them out – see ‘brushed type’, for example – there continue to be surprises and delights in every section of a well-stocked shop, from fiction to non-fiction, philosophy to poetry. Similarly, after what can often increasingly feel like a digital-led experience of printed media via one’s smartphone, nothing shows off the final product like a well-curated bookshelf.
As new titles are revealed ever further ahead of their publication date, social media has become more populated with covers than ever
In fact, from August onwards Waterstones fielded several enquiries from Twitter users wondering where its books – and display tables – had gone. There were apparently stock issues relating to a change of warehouse systems, but from the images shared from inside the shops, it looked a lot like a cover designer had snuck into as many branches as possible and simply turned all the books face-out.
Before moving to my favourite covers of this year, tradition dictates a small shout-out to series designs that have stood out. First up, Peter Mendelsund’s brilliant covers for New Directions’ Storybook ND series of slim hardbacks which “aims to deliver the pleasure one felt as a child” reading a book in an afternoon. The series is very rich and very strange.
There was also a great hardback series for Haruki Murakami’s novels, featuring artwork by different Japanese artists under the direction of Suzanne Dean, and an equally bold-looking series of covers illustrated by We Are Out of Office (Felix van Dam and Winneke de Groot) for Ernest Hemingway’s backlist – both from Vintage Classics.
While not a series as such, I’d also like to single out Granta Poetry, which continues to put out some great covers under the design direction of David Pearson. His most recent couple – one a lovely full-page root system for Sylvia Legris’ Garden Physic collection, the other a fantastic arrangement of glyphs for Anthony Anaxagorou’s Heritage Aesthetics – highlight his own breadth of approaches and also Granta’s willingness to explore a range of varied styles across their poetry range.
In terms of single covers, though, here are my ten personal favourites from 2022:
The Colony by Audrey Magee; Design: Jack Smyth; Publisher: Faber
A sense of sparseness is no accident in Jack Smyth’s cover for a novel set on a remote island off Ireland’s west coast. That one of the main characters is a painter is perhaps hinted at in the blue swirling brush of a seascape that takes up most of the cover, but overall it’s a beautifully composed and evocative piece of design. Art director: Jonathan Pelham.
Valleyesque by Fernando A Flores; Design: Na Kim; Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
A book cover you can almost read with its series of icons collected together in a dreamlike arrangement and framed by a pair of legs (is the correct term ‘akimbo’? Probably). Na Kim’s medley of objects among the desert clouds, which she illustrated herself, is a delight and well-suited to the variety of stories contained within.
Chéri and the End of Chéri by Colette; Design: Sarahmay Wilkinson; Publisher: WW Norton
Everything on this cover is hand-painted, and with the petals and rose heads flying around, it’s effectively an animated take on a still life, perhaps hinting at the stormy content that lies within Colette’s tales of 1920s Paris. The foregrounded objects enable a dark wall of shadow behind them to house the lettering.
Outsiders by SE Hinton; Design: Rasmus Pettersson; Publisher: Modernista
SE Hinton’s 1967 classic about two rival gangs has suffered from fairly standard cover designs over the years (youths/leathers/fighting), but Swedish publisher Modernista’s edition eschews these more obvious symbols. Instead it hints at the rough and tumble via ragged cut-out letters and a single visual clue to the ‘greasers’ in the book. Cleverly, the counters of the ‘O’ and ‘D’ are used for quotes.
Losing the Plot by Derek Owusu; Design: Emma Ewbank; Publisher: Canongate
Stencil-like lettering curves around the illustration of a mother and child in this cover for Derek Owusu’s latest collection of poetry. Emma Ewbank’s design and illustration work somehow manage to feel both deliberate – centring around a bold printed image – and spontaneous, with a loose, almost thrown-together quality. Art director: Rafi Romaya.
The Status Game by Will Storr; Design: Steve Leard; Publisher: William Collins
Some book covers make you look, and some make you look and say ‘Oh that’s clever’ to yourself. I’ve not seen this audacious approach before – a pleasing inversion of conventional text hierarchies whereby the author’s embellishments take centre stage ahead of the title – and a joke in-keeping with the subject matter of the book. Art director: Julian Humphries.
The Doloriad by Missouri Williams; Design: Luke Bird; Publisher: Dead Ink
The power of the ultra-close crop is demonstrated here using a tiny portion of Gerrit van Honthorst’s 1634 painting, Woman Tuning a Lute. But what a rich element it is. Bird says he was captivated by the eyes in the picture and reusing the portrait of the woman’s face in this way adheres to the book’s unsettling themes.
Joan by Katherine J Chen; Design: Holly Ovenden; Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Every once in a while a cover designer gets a book title which, based on the letters alone, presents a way into a complete design. Here, a fleur-de-lis adds to the quartered pattern made from the four letters of ‘Joan’, which transforms the whole into a kind of coat of arms. Add in some contrasting colourways and you have a striking, regal cover that stands out a mile.
You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi; Design: Anna Morrison; Publisher: Faber
How to deal with a very long book title, exhibit A. Anna Morrison’s vibrant design subverts the conventional text display by reading down the cover and along the length of an elegant illustrated hand. It’s a simple construction and the little touches make it: the chain of the ring hanging over the text; the painted nails containing images of palm trees, deckchairs, and birds of paradise.
Bliss Montage by Ling Ma; Design: Rodrigo Corral; Publisher: Text Publishing
With its lovely play of surfaces, light and colour, this cover just makes you want to reach out and touch it. It’s the kind of idea that could have been rendered any numbers of different ways, but it feels like this iteration – packed full of bright oranges – gets it just right. Full of zest! Photographer: Michael Schmelling.