The changing nature of book cover design

Donna Payne, Faber’s creative director, explains her creative process when designing a cover, and touches upon the impact of the pandemic and the boost in online sales it’s prompted 

In January, it was reported that in 2020 more than 200 million print books were sold in the UK, the first time since 2012 that number has been exceeded. Despite bookshops being closed for the majority of the year, initiatives such as, an online bookshop that allows you to buy direct from local, independent booksellers, as well as the growing influx of BookTubers and Bookstagrammers on social media all point towards book buying being a lockdown saviour. 

But with more and more people sharing what they’re reading, it feels as though it’s not just about what you’re reading, but also what it looks like. Of course book cover design has always been an art to be admired within certain circles. But now more than ever, even people outside of the industry have an opinion on cover design, especially with new releases having to adopt virtual marketing campaigns and book cover reveals, and piles of ‘What I’m Reading’ images and colour coordinated shelfies flooding our feeds.

Top: Faber Stories, art directed by Donna Payne and Jonny Pelham. Above: Britain Alone, designed by Jonny Pelham. All images: Faber

Which begs the question, is it wrong to judge a book by its cover? “I hope not. I might be out of a job if it were!” says Donna Payne, creative director at Faber. Payne and her team are behind the entire visual output for Faber, which was founded in 1929 and remains one of the world’s best known independent publishers. The Faber team is often praised for its ability to create covers and jacket designs which feel both contemporary and classic at the same time. Look through their back catalogue and you’ll find beautiful and thoughtful covers for authors such as Sally Rooney, Sylvia Plath, Kazuo Ishiguro, Rachel Cusk and many more.