Designing a Book Cover

In this article I would like to give an overview on how I go about tackling a brief for designing a book cover and the stages involved. I am going to use the cover for Grammar Rules that I designed for Kyle Books as an example.

When designing a book cover I will use a combination of InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop to achieve the final result. The number of stages and revisions can vary depending upon the agreed brief and the client’s budget.

The Brief – Book Cover Design

The brief was to design a full cover (including the front, back and spine) for the title initially called General Grammar: Writing with Military Precission. The format was a hardback with a trim size of 229 x 198 mm. The book was to be a light-hearted, straight-talking, reference guide to the correct use of grammar. Written by a former army officer the client was keen to emphasise the military aspect in the design of the front cover. The client had previously mocked up a cover design using the iconic Lord Kitchener ‘Your Country Needs You’ First World War recruitment poster.

Stage One – Initial design options

This involves reading the brief thoroughly, ensuring that I have an understanding of it and clarifying about points that I don’t with the client. I will also carry out any necessary research, which, in the case of a book, will include looking at existing titles on the same subject so that I have an understanding of the target market and what the current trends are for jacket design in that area.

I provided the client with a set of pdfs of my initial ideas for the front of the cover based upon their brief. I wanted the book to have a ‘retro’ look so I explored various options including a Dad’s Army inspired look, a pastiche of the ‘Keep Calm’ poster (it seemed original at the time!), a military style dossier with an ink stamp style treatment for the title, camouflage backgrounds and developing the ‘pointing finger’ idea from the Lord Kitchener option.

Stage Two – revisions based upon client feedback

After receiving the client’s feedback as to which of the initial designs they preferred (in this case the ‘pointing finger’). I worked up this approach and provided the client with further options as pdfs, which explored colour and font variations.

Whilst the client was happy with the way the design of the cover was progressing they received some sales and marketing feedback, which resulted in a change of title to Grammar Rules and the focus of the book moving away from the ‘military’ aspect. I provided revised designs, which included typographic and illustrative solutions and using a shield/heraldic motif to emphasise the ‘rules’ aspect.

During this round of options I suggested making the cover appear like an old school textbook, which the client liked. I then explored this idea further, providing the client with options based upon this approach. The final look of the book was based on the type of exercise book you would get at school for writing in. The client was also keen to incorporate the ‘pointing finger’ back into the design as a motif. I came up with the solution of using it as an ink stamp. The worn ‘look’ of the typography was created by distressing the type in photoshop, which I also used to create the ‘ink stamp’ look of the finger.

Final Stage – Approved design

Once the client had approved the front I began work on the rest of the book cover. This stage involved designing the text for the back cover copy, designing the spine and incorporating the barcodes, pricing and client’s logo into the design. The final layout was put together in InDesign. The cover was also a plc hardback so I had to ensure that there was extra bleed across the jacket artwork to allow for this.

Grammar Rules book cover design. The full jacket including the front, back and spine. The cover is designed to look like an old school exercise book and features a blue background and distressed 'aged' typography. The author's name, Craig Shrives, is in a handwritten font, as though it has been added by the author himself. The cover also features an ink stamp of a pointing finger, which is based on the Lord Kitchner 'Briton Needs You' World War One poster.The front cover also features the subheading 'Writing with Military Precision' and a quote from the director of the Intelligence Corps, Brigadier Mark Hallas. The quote reads 'Few people understand grammar like Craig Shrives. Best of all, no one explains it so well and so easily'.

With all the elements in place the cover was sent to the client for final approval. Once approved I provided them with a final high resolution print-ready pdf.