Front to back: Hack Attack

Hack Attack is Guardian special correspondent Nick Davies’ account of how he helped to expose one of the biggest media scandals of recent times, centred on the newsroom at The News of the World. In our latest Front to Back, Vintage senior designer James Jones takes us through his cover design for this explosive title

Hack Attack is Guardian special correspondent Nick Davies‘ account of how he helped to expose one of the biggest media scandals of recent times, centred on the newsroom at The News of the World. In our latest Front to Back, Vintage senior designer James Jones takes us through his cover design for this explosive title…

The book is the culmination of Davies’ work to uncover a world of private investigators, phone hacking and police bribery, and shed light on how Rupert Murdoch’s News International tried to protect its interests in the face of increasing revelations about its journalistic practices.

“Above all,” runs the publisher’s details on the title, “this book paints an intimate portrait of the power elite which gave Murdoch privileged access to government, and allowed him and his people to intimidate anyone who stood up to them.”

Vintage designer Jones takes up the story from the point at which he first read through the manuscript for the book. What follows charts his journey through myriad cover options and type treatments which resulted in the cover shown at the top of the post.

“The design process for Hack Attack started with an early version of the manuscript,” says Jones. “From there I started scribbling down ideas on the pages before transferring the more successful notes on themes and visuals to my sketch book to help visualise the cover. This helps me identify early on the ideas to pursue and the ones to let go.”

Working from the strongest ideas in his sketchbook, Jones looked to typographic sets that might reflect the content of the book.

“To begin with I kept things simple,” he says, “with some typographic versions mimicking newspaper headlines. The initial idea was to screen print these to give them a more textured feel but they lacked any authority and looked pretty much like every other ‘newspaper scandal’ book out there.”



“So I started playing with the format, placing the newspaper into an advertisement board, having stacks of papers creating the type with their own corresponding headlines and playing with the idea of the many layers within the book which Nick talks about.

“Eventually I realised that to stand out from the crowd we needed a slightly different approach.”



“I experimented with some earlier ideas which were more conceptual, running with the ‘many layers’ theme by visually representing the phones hacked and the amount of people affected by the Murdoch empire.

“Repeated sim cards, photocopied images of Murdoch and mobiles were used to create some more graphic visuals. And it was here where I first started using a more typographic approach to the cover. Each letter used is a typeface from the newspapers mentioned within the book, hinting at their involvement within the scandal and in pursuing justice.

“This also allowed me to take the subtitle and use it as part of the design, utilising even more typefaces and ripped newspaper articles to make the Murdoch outline, but it was felt this may be too gimmicky (although I still hold a soft spot for them). A sim card border also came out of this process which divides the title and subtitle and also represents those hacked”




Detail from the type-led cover treatment shown above (in red)


“The final design came from me stripping back all these ideas and using all the elements that were working from start to finish,” says Jones.

“The different typefaces, the sim card patterns, the phone as part of the type and the newspaper texture all came from previous visuals. The final version includes some gold foil for the sim cards on a nice textured stock to give it that newspaper feel.”

The final cover

Jones is also one of the founders of the CMYK blog which charts the design of various Vintage books. For more of his work, see or follow him via @jamespauljones.

Hack Attack by Nick Davies is published by Vintage and is available now in hardback (£20) and ebook formats (£9.98).

Previous Front to Back features have looked at the making of Jamie Keenan’s cover of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Petra Börner’s series design for Penguin’s Legends from the Ancient North, and Donna Payne’s cover for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.

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