Five designers and studios creating beautiful book covers
There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing digital designs translate into something tangible. So, we’ve gathered a selection of designers who have a serious knack for designing irresistible book covers.
- Olivia Hingley
- 17 August 2022
Spending hours perusing around a bookshop is a pastime loved by many. But what makes the experience so enriching is not only the words that lie upon the pages, but the wide-ranging covers on display. With numerous books piled high on tables, all boasting a different designer, artist or studio, you could argue that book buying is as much a visual experience as it is a wordy one. The cover, therefore, has the potential to make or break a new release – so it really is best to get it done right.
We’ve spent some time surveying both our digital and physical book shelves, and below we’ve collated some of our favourite current book designers. Expect clever metaphors, beautiful illustrations and a lot of carefully considered type designs.
Being the art director at the US branch of Picador, you’re bound to get to know a thing or two about beautiful (and bestselling) book covers. Alex Merto, who recently took up the position, knows as much. Making us swoon with his bold and unexpected approach, we can’t get enough of his witty designs – all of which are rooted in his ability to uncover the deeper meaning of the book titles he works with. It's a process that involves extensive research followed by typography, the latter being the part that Alex most enjoys. From hand-drawn script, to vintage computer glyphs to blocky statement fonts, it’s Alex’s type variation that truly makes his books stand out.
But the final product – and its deeper meaning – is perhaps the more important part of the process for Alex. Ultimately, he endeavours to create something that readers will treasure: “I want my design to become an object that someone wants to hold on to for a very long time.”
When designing book covers, it’s probably quite useful to be a big reader yourself. This is certainly the case for self-professed bookworms Omid Nemalhabib and Mahsa Gholionezhad of Tehran-based Studio Melli. Diving into subjects as diverse as art, music, philosophy and psychology, the duo see their exploration of the written-word as integral to their publication driven practice.
Another important basis of their work is their multi-lingual typographic approach. Loving to explore how different languages look in their type designs, the studio will often include more than one tongue in each design. This element of their work has been particularly useful when working with their close collaborators Baen publishers, who publish French, English and German books into Persian. Alongside Baen, Studio Melli has also honed its distinctive approach – that of striking simplicity. These four corners of the work culminate brilliantly in the cover for Meer Azmi’s Lipstick to the Void, with its dual English, Farsi type, minimalistic, geometric illustration and refined tri-colour palette. Sumptuously done.
If you’ve been to any bookshop in America, you’ve undoubtedly seen one of Na Kim’s designs. From Brandon Taylor’s debut novel, the translations of Tove Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen Trilogy, and Elif Batuman’s widely anticipated Either/Or, Na has been tasked with some of the hottest titles in the literary fiction landscape.
As creative director at US publishing company Farrar, Straus and Griouzx and art director at the The Paris Review, Na is pretty immersed in the world of books. This becomes clear when viewing her wide array of work. A truly diverse back catalogue, her works utilise illustration, photography and are always spectacularly composed, giving a subtle insight into the text and the feelings it is likely to invoke. For Either/Or, Na cleverly uses the book’s title and simple “hand-drawn” elements to create a truly unique design. “I guess just that I try to work as intuitively as I can, thinking more about how a cover feels like, rather than what it looks like,” Na details.
Designing book covers and having a passion for typography pretty much comes hand in hand, as is confirmed by Taiwanese designer Wang Zhi-Hong. Basing most of practice upon highlighting the importance and vast potential of typography, Wang sure knows how to build beautiful titles. “I want the viewer to feel that, even though the text is not the focus of the image, it is still recognised as an essential and important part,” he says.
Having entered the design sector in the '90s and with his work now spanning both cultural and commercial sectors, Wang has his fair share of knowledge and insight. So much so that he’s been able to launch his own publishing imprint, designing titles for projects spanning all corners of the creative world. In his designs for the imprint, he loves to take function and form to new levels, using minimalist shapes and simple colour palettes to create a clever nod to the contents of the book.
If there’s one word that would best summarise Studio Front-Door’s practice, it would likely be “nostalgic”. Composed of Minjung Kang and Kyungmoon, the Seoul-based studio has the primary goal of reviving analogue media and creating books “that could rival the iPad – beautiful and firm”.
For the studio, the ability to design covers that visually represent the contents of the book is of great importance. From grids that symbolise the boundaries between humans and nature, to a series of books that, when placed together, give the impression of watching a vintage TV show, the duo know how to create an instantly eye-catching yet multi-layered front cover. But, perhaps most impressive is the studio’s ability to use physical materials to speak to the book’s themes. For the photobook Abnormal Sense, Minjung and Kyungmoon use soft, nearly see-through paper to represent the subtle after effects and resonance of a momentous event. In the hands of Studio Front-Door, books have never looked – or felt – so good.
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.