Book covers designs of the year 2023

Writer and editor Mark Sinclair reflects on the influence that the digital world has had on our understanding of book cover design, before rounding up his favourite covers of the year

Ahead of sharing my top ten book covers for 2023, I’d like to mention a new favourite bookshop. Beyond the imposing stone entrance to Topping & Company in Bath, books are – perhaps to no surprise – everywhere. New hardbacks and rare secondhand editions here, innumerable paperbacks there. They even have those ladders you can wheel along the shelves! And they let you use them! At least, I think it’s allowed.

Anyway, I mention T&Co as the place also seems like a celebration of the book-as-object. There’s plenty of room for face-out displays and for general gazing at the design work on show. These days, for me at least, the bricks-and-mortar experience is sadly all too rare; most of the production of this list is carried out digitally via looking through hundreds of covers online. But it strikes me that amid the various conversations about the best in the papery world of book covers, tech rarely comes across as its antithesis. In fact it’s now often where encounters with great book covers are not only first forged, but also shared, interrogated, and explored in detail.

Steve Leard’s new Cover Meeting podcast is one such example. Each episode is an interview with a single book cover designer and just over an hour in length. Eight are currently available, featuring guests including designers James Jones, Jamie Keenan, Suzanne Dean, and most recently the Canadian designer Tree Abraham. Leard asks good questions and, being a cover designer himself, knows how to bring up wider industry concerns while touching on each designer’s individual process. The conversations offer real insight.


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One of Leard’s guests, designer Mike Dempsey, is no stranger to book design nor to offering up an opinion on current and past covers (watch out, murder-mystery-covers-inspired-by-the-Richard-Osman-aesthetic!). Over on Instagram, across 100 individual posts, Dempsey has also been sharing some of his favourite examples as part of a Just Type series. He regularly flags some great, often overlooked designs, all of which have a type-only approach in common.

On the same platform, Rob Lowe (aka Supermundane) is making some interesting videos of himself drawing and making art, but also the occasional to-camera piece on different subjects. I caught one where he mused on the various covers that the novels of late US author Richard Brautigan have had over the years. This led onto some thoughts on covers changing as a book is republished again and again – unlike the packaging of music, for example, where an album cover remains fixed over the course of its existence and becomes, Lowe added, “synonymous with the music” – occasionally entering into ‘classic’ territory (eg Dark Side of the Moon).

Interestingly, Lowe mentioned that Brautigan often appeared on the covers of his own books when they were first published, so in that regard his ‘product’ behaved more like that of a musician’s – although later editions of Brautigan’s work have tended to forego his image on the front. In conclusion, Lowe wondered, “would we see literature differently if books always had the same cover?”


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This food for thought goes some way to suggest that there’s a considerable movement to investigate the subject of book cover design by practitioners (and fans) of the art themselves – from reviews to interviews – and using all the digital tools now available to them. Publishers have been in on this for a while. Faber recently brought Jonny Pelham and Tom Etherington together to discuss the design of Red Memory, Tania Branigan’s book on the Cultural Revolution in China, for example, while in October it published a process-driven story on the design of Sara Pascoe’s Weirdo by the cover designer Sophie Harris.

One practitioner who’s helping to collect the thoughts and inspirations of many in and around cover design is David Pearson, who launched the Book Cover Review back in January – and on which I’m now helping out on the text side of things. The BCR site contains “reviews of beloved book covers – both new and old – from a range of voices around the world” and there are 36 to date; a huge range of styles and approaches are on show, not to mention a variety of reflections and opinions on why things work they way they do.

Luckily for those of us with an interest in design and books and all that surrounds them, these days you don’t necessarily have to be in a bookshop to experience the very best examples of the profession. And with that in mind, here are my personal favourite covers from this year:

The Fraud

The Fraud by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton); Designer: Jon Gray

Suggesting just the right amount of wrong, Jon Gray’s cover for Zadie Smith’s latest novel uses colour and type to catch your eye. And having snagged your gaze, on closer inspection there are stranger things going on: both ‘A’s look odd (one blocky, the other reversed) and most of the letters seem to have been cut in some way. Even the borders are wonky. But in just the right way.


The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Designer: Na Kim

No stranger to great book covers, Na Kim has managed to design one that almost begs to be touched with the back of your hand, just to test its temperature. Sweltering colours and a blurry haze that’s just starting to obstruct the type make for a fantastic, sensorial design.

Exiles: Three Island Journeys by William Atkins (Faber); Designer: Tom Etherington; Art Director: Jonny Pelham; Photography: John Worrall/Alamy

There’s a formal elegance to much of Tom Etherington’s work and his design for William Atkins’ Exiles is no exception. With a photograph of a rock formation near Sakhalin Island in Russia (where one of the dissidents featured in the book was exiled in the 19th century) winched to the very top of the cover and perched upon some heavy type, the design could feel unbalanced in lesser hands. It’s a highly satisfying mix of bold colour and bold type.


Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf); Designer: Janet Hansen; Photography: Ian Teh

Rivers of blue sky permeate this lovely cover from Janet Hansen for Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest collection of short stories, which utilises a photograph of trees exhibiting ‘crown shyness’ to great effect. Minimal, unobtrusive type only gives the image further impact.

The Glutton by AK Blakemore (Granta); Designer: Jo Walker; Frame: Peppin Press; Art Director: Sarah Wasley

A sickly colour palette and great use of negative space (a gluttonous mouth) turn this bizarre piece of printed Victoriana into a striking cover design. Jo Walker also added a lovely touch of her own to the original ‘frame’ illustration – the grisly chain of extracted teeth around the fellow’s neck.

The Weeds by Katy Simpson Smith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Designer: Grace Han; Art Director: Na Kim

Single-colour book covers are rare and I’ve not come across one that takes the blue palette of cyanotypes and employs it across both illustration and typography. Everything is stretched, too, while the overall aesthetic feels indebted to early New Directions paperbacks. Grace Han’s intriguing cover does an awful lot with very little.

Hangman by Maya Binyam (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Designer: Alex Merto

A subtle noose-like reference to the title is in there but Alex Merto’s use of a particularly vibrant artwork – La Cena (The Supper) by the late Cuban artist Belkis Ayón – is an inspired choice. The type makes use of two of the main colours from the arresting characters and their backdrop to create a pretty much unmissable cover.

Fieldwork: A Forager’s Memoir by Iliana Regan (Surrey Books); Designer: Morgan Krehbiel; Illustration: iStock/ilbusca

Take a fantastic hero image – in this case, a false chanterelle mushroom – and a typeface that looks like it’s just been jotted down by hand, then wed them to an unusual background colour. The result is a handsome edition for the would-be forager where all the requisite elements create a considered and satisfying whole.

Beijing Sprawl by Xu Zechen (Two Lines Press); Designer: Andrew Walters

It’s not solely the typeface (Beatrice by Sharp Type) that works on Andrew Walters’ cover for Beijing Sprawl, but its relentless, pattern-like repetition and placement over the entirety of it that evokes the overwhelming nature of the city experience. Building structures with type is a bold feat for a cover.

Caret by Adam Mars Jones (Faber), plus Pilcrow and Cedilla paperback editions. Designer: Jonny Pelham; Art Director: Pete Adlington

Adam Mars Jones’ latest book, Caret, gave Jonny Pelham a chance to refresh the covers of his earlier novels Pilcrow (2008) and Cedilla (2011) and gives me a chance to highlight his brilliant approach to the trio. Employing typefaces Buxom – an adaptation of Milton Glaser’s Baby Fat – on Pilcrow; Lettres Ornées on Cedilla; and Profil on Caret, Pelham builds on the bold forms of Jones’ name and lets the letters (and colours) do the work.