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Assignment 2: Form and Function

At the end of part 2, my assignment was to reimagine two covers for Daniel Defoe's famous 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe. Intended to be released as two new editions published by Viking press, one copy would be a pocket version designed to read on the go and the other as a deluxe edition aimed at collectors. As a side project, I also needed design a cover for a new title called Washed Ashore: The Ultimate guide to Surviving on a Desert Island.

Initially, designing three covers at once felt like intimidating, but with of them all sharing a similar theme, I found advantages in being able to freely exchange ideas between them as I moved throughout the project in stages.


1. Research and Initial Ideas

I have read Robinson Crusoe a long time ago, but to refamiliarize myself with the key plot points and themes I read up on a synopsis or two to refresh my memory. Robinson Crusoe is considered a literary classic and is often seen as the first English language novel, as at the time it was released most books were written as factual accounts rather than fictional. Although inspired by true stories of castaways, Crusoe differed as being written from the perspective of a character of Dafoe's own making.

The narrative of the book covers the trials and tribulations of the title character as he adventures across the world, becomes repeatedly shipwrecked and eventually finds his way home many years later in the quintessential castaway adventure. Themes from the time the book is set emerge as religious faith and British imperialism influence Crusoe's actions as he seeks to reconnect with civilisation while stranded. This is most evident when he meets and saves a native character who he calls 'Friday'. Although he forms a strong bond and protective friendship with Friday, it is still within a master-servant role reflective of the views of British colonialism at the time.

I started visual research a similar way to exercise 4, by gathering up some examples of previous covers for Robinson Crusoe that have been made over the 300 years since the books initial release, including the beautiful first edition as showcased in this video.

These covers show several different interpretations of key moments of the story, many of them involving Friday, the parasol, and the 17th Century European clothing Crusoe fashions for himself out of goatskin. Many of these are fully illustrated works and I didn't come across many that were conceptual in nature with a notable exception for another of Coralie Bickford Smith's patterned vintage classics. I really like how she has used the phases of the moon here to indicate the passing of time and the many nights that Crusoe must have spent stranded alone.

I developed a spider diagram of words relating to as many relevant moments and themes that I could think of from the book, then extended the diagram to include more generic desert island survival concepts that could be used in the Washed Ashore side project.

As I worked on my spider diagram, I gathered up any related imagery into two mood boards, one relating to key story elements from Crusoe and the other from general desert island survival. In my sketchbook I recorded colour swatches of the natural tropical greens, blues, and browns that I was commonly seeing in my visuals.

Mood Boards for Crusoe / Desert island survival.

Memorabilia relating to 17th century sailing and trade gave me some historical context for the setting of Robinson Crusoe, and the 2000 film Castaway came to mind as the most relevant pop culture example of someone showcasing the same techniques that would be included in a desert island survival guide.

The next stage was to use my research to generate a series of thumbnails, similarly to how I did with exercise 4 on A7 pieces of paper. Inspired by the island setting of the books, these rough and instinctive images in pen and pencil crayon formed a selection of simple starting concepts and colour schemes from which I could use the strongest ideas to experiment with.

Initial concepts for Robinson Crusoe / Washed Ashore Covers

The Crusoe concepts were intended to show moods of abandonment and isolation with objects from the period involved to give it historical context, whereas the washed ashore imagery could be more modern and hopeful. I did not feel that these thumbnails had the same visual quality as the set I came up with for The Handmaids Tale, but there were still some useful footholds to take forward for creative exploration and they were still effective enough to act as a reference point to remind myself of my intentions for each idea.

As I sketched these ideas out, I started to consider what form each book would take in terms of bindings, size, and shape. Through working out the shape of the covers at an early stage, I could more accurately arrange my compositions as I moved on to the next stage of development. My sample books that I sourced for Exercise 2 were useful here for choosing appropriate paper stock using physical references.

Deluxe Edition:

  • A thick and weighty edition for armchair readers.

  • Cloth or leather hard cover, no dust jacket.

  • Beautifully decorated in appearance.

  • Printed on thin 80gsm off white paper.

  • A small to medium profile, between A5 and A4.

Pocket Edition:

  • Lightweight and transportable paperback for reading on the go.

  • Modern looking contemporary design.

  • Softcover, medium thick card stock, no dust jacket.

  • Printed on 80gsm black and white paper.

  • A small profile, no bigger than A5.

Washed Ashore:

  • Also lightweight as a travel guide but mad of a more durable material.

  • Potentially a more glossier cover to make it splash proof.

  • Needs to be clearly read as instructional, potentially in landscape.

  • Printed on 120gsm gloss colour for instructional photos.

  • A small profile, no bigger than A5.

I then sourced some free book mock-up files for photoshop that were best suited the book profiles that I had in mind. With my files now set up I could experiment with arrangements within the correct dimensions so that whichever design I ended up could be dropped straight into the mock-up for a professional looking series of concepts at the end.


2. Selecting and Developing Designs

The next stage involved selecting which of my initial designs to take forward and develop further. My feedback from previous parts of my degree course has often told me that I reach a conclusion too quickly, so this time I wanted to take the time to explore more options while still setting myself some boundaries to avoid the trap of iterating on ideas indefinitely instead of finishing the project.

For each of the books I chose two of my favourite initial concepts to expand on, with three variations for each. By sourcing, making, and bringing in multiple assets into Photoshop, I could then freely arrange and resize my images and text to find new variations in an organic way. These would all include the main elements of the books title, author and a quote or any other information as a blurb as spread out over the back, spine, and front cover.


Robinson Crusoe - Deluxe Edition

Ideas and influences 1 and 2 for Crusoe Deluxe Edition.

For the Deluxe Edition, I chose initial concepts 1 and 2 to explore as I wanted to pay homage into the history of the book and reimagine some of the design elements of its oldest edition covers. I love the look and feel of antique books and the original version of Robinson Crusoe was particularly inspiring with its style of decoration. For both designs I sourced public domain and copyright free images to use as assets for reinterpretation.

Developing Concept 1 - 17th Century World Map

This concept focussed on the idea of a 17th century world map over the main cover, and I found a version of the Orbis terrarum nova et accuratissima tabula world map to use as my basis for this design. I wanted to show the world as Crusoe would have known it in the 17th century before setting off on one of his journeys, so I complimented the map with imperialistic reds and golds and tried combinations of different antique fonts to give the cover a sense of age.

These designs turned out nicely and I feel they evoke a sense of adventure, especially with the title font used in design 1a. There were a few happy accidents along the way too as in 1B I found a place for an 'X marks the spot' at the rough location of the island Crusoe was on behind the 'O' of his name in the title, a motif I used to create my preferred choice of spine. 1C directly uses elements from the first editions illustration and title card, but I prefer having the text from 1A as the main title.

Developing Concept 2 - Cave

Of all my designs, this concept probably evolved the most as I developed it. Initially I had conceptualised an ocean view out of Crusoe's cave at the coastal landscape that he would view each day, but as I searched for illustrations, I discovered the vibrant work of Alexander Frank Lydon, who illustrated the 1865 Groombridge and Sons edition of Robinson Crusoe. His work was available for me to use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, so I tried several options with his illustrations as a focus.

I started with version 1A, where a deep reddish leather cover becomes a cave silhouette to show a window through to Lyndon's illustration of Crusoe waking up to the sound of his parrot, with a handwritten note containing his quote on the back. For idea 2A I tried an oval window with an alternate view of Crusoe surveying the island and I was pleased with the better balance of this look where the spine is more ornate than the covers. Option 2C was more experimental but ended up surprisingly effective as the viewer can focus on specific elements of both artworks through multiple circular windows on both the front and back.


Robinson Crusoe - (Pocket Edition)

Ideas and influences 6 and 8 for Crusoe Pocket Edition.

Ideas 6 and 8 were my choices for a contemporary look for Robinson Crusoe, but both took quite different visual approaches. I wanted to try one style that I don't usually prefer for with concept 6 by making a minimalist cover with gestural lines and shapes, while idea 8 is more within my comfort zone as I used photography to construct a staged scene based around a shoreline theme.

Concept 6: Minimalist

Working with so few elements was unfamiliar to me as I usually like my designs to feel full as I enjoy the process of naturally discovering how many smaller elements can fit together as a whole. With only a handful of assets as focal points to move around this time, I found the choices more difficult to make with so much space available. With that said, having a grid layout of guides helped me find natural locations for elements in each of these design variations.

I stuck to only three colours and main shapes; A dark brown for the text to represent the earth, a green gestural mark to indicate the island and a blue line for the ocean. I had considered a ship silhouette too, but I didn't want to start adding too much complexity to the piece. My variations did not change these elements and instead rearranged them at differing sizes, and positions on the page. I feel 6b is the most effective with everything resting at the base of the page, but in hindsight I feel an object representing a ship would still help to add a sense of scale to the island.

Concept 8: Beach Shoreline

This was a fun part of experimentation to take photographs on a hot day using seaside objects that I already had in the house. Taking advantage of the rare British summer heat, I spread out some construction sand on concrete and used a combination of stones, moss, seashells, wooden pieces, a miniature boat, and an old compass prop to stage some shipwrecked scenes. I took my favourite photos as the basis for each of my design variations and only added clear white text to complete the images.

Design 1A has a natural arrangement already where the paddles draw the eye towards spaces for the title and author, but it could be misinterpreted as a book on fishing due to the more modern looking miniature. 1B fixes this by featuring an old brass compass prop of mine that while not being historically accurate, is closer thematically to the type that Crusoe may have used. 1C adds even more references with broken driftwood around the edges and spine to help sell the shipwrecked atmosphere. In the sand I also added some evidence of human and dog footprints to link with those elements in the story.


Washed Ashore: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving on a Desert Island

Ideas and influences 1 / 2 and 7 for Washed Ashore.

When coming up with ideas for Washed Ashore, I had to take a slightly different approach as his time the book was instructional nonfiction rather than a reimagining of an existing novel, so I had to do some of my own research into what the content of the book could be. After looking at existing guides that listed tips and techniques for surviving on a desert island, I boiled it down to the essentials of finding food and water, building fire, shelter, and tools, and eventually attracting rescue. These categories could then be shown on the back cover of washed ashore as a preview of what could be learned about inside.

Concept 1 / 2: Birds Eye Beach View

The first two concepts I came up with were quite similar, so I rolled them into one idea for an illustrated bird's eye view of a beach, with the design wrapping around and connecting the front and back covers to create one image. I made these rough assets in Adobe Illustrator and moved them into photoshop to give them textures and shadows. I would have liked to have polished the look a bit more, but it is effective enough to demonstrate the concept at this point without overdoing it.

Version 1A had a vertical orientation for the artwork with the coastline segmenting the front cover and leaving room for an earthly background at the back. I made smaller illustrations here to represent the categories for survival tips, but I don't feel it read as well as a complete image as I had first intended. I had much more success with 1B, where the shoreline was stretched out in landscape with the items naturally scattered across it, leaving me plenty of room in the middle strip of sand for text, which I managed to blend in with image as if it had been drawn in the sand. 1C was the same image but at night for more atmospheric lighting coming from the campfire on the spine. Of the three I think 1B is the best, but there's still room for me to add a description of the book on the back if needed.

Concept 7: Double Exposure Typography

This was another new experiment for me to do a cover that was mainly typographic in its focus. I've seen double exposure images used well on book covers before, so for my own version I experimented with different fonts and backgrounds to try and create an image that would give a preview of the visual content inside through the words that are describing them. I sourced a range of relevant copyright free photographs that I could pair with the words using editable clipping masks in photoshop.

1A was my first attempt using a more uniform font at first. It took a while to make sure the images beneath the letters were clear, but I made it work eventually and I am pleased with the main title. Instead of a tropical image of paradise that you would see on a travel brochure, I went for a moody tropical storm to set a more serious tone for the book. I also brought across the same island motif from the minimalist concept for the pocket edition of Crusoe, which feels more at home in this space. The other two variations were experiments with placement of the same elements, but this time with a more effective rugged font for the titles.


3. Finalising Designs

Making my final decisions on which ideas to pursue out of each of the pairings was tricky at first as I had grown attached to each of them in their own way. I went with my instincts and chose my strongest designs to edit further using the most successful elements of each of their variations, mixing and matching until I felt that I had the best solutions.


Robinson Crusoe - Deluxe Edition

Robinson Crusoe: Deluxe Edition | Cover

I selected the concept variation 2C as the basis for the final revision as I really liked the multiple window effect for the ornate heavy cover I had in mind. The circular viewports are unusual for a book of this style, but still has its heart in the traditional with the text and decorations debossed and foiled in gold. other changes I made include the spine with the paddles lifted from variation 2B and a new font for the main title to help it stand out and draw the eye. I think this version has a good balance and fits the brief as a modern deluxe edition for armchair readers that still honours the history of a classic.

Robinson Crusoe: Deluxe Edition | Front Matter

The other concept of a map did not fall by the wayside though, as I repositioned it once more to serve as the front matter using the original illustrations and title card as a direct reference to the internal parts of the original edition of the book. The circular format of the globe also pairs well with the main cover to complement each other. The full effect is something I would gladly buy myself if I saw it in a bookshop and can be seen from several angles in my mock-ups below.

Robinson Crusoe: Deluxe Edition | Mock-Up

Robinson Crusoe: Deluxe Edition

by Daniel Dafoe

- 14.8 x 20.5 cm

- Cloth bound hardcover

- Sewn Binding

- Printed on 80gsm off-white paper

- Gold gilded edges

- Debossed and foiled typography and ornaments


Robinson Crusoe: Pocket Edition

Robinson Crusoe: Pocket Edition | Cover

Although I have enjoyed experimenting with minimalism, I still felt that the photography-based approach of Concept 2 was the more successful of the pair, so I chose design 8C to review. I found the presence of the red plank on the bottom right corner distracting and made the image feel a bit confined, so I repositioned the front cover to show more of the compass on the rock in the upper half, with all the text sitting comfortably in the lower half of the page.

The back cover didn't require much adjustment either and the books quote sits comfortably between the shells and over the footprint. I kept the spine as it was as this was the main selling point of me choosing this design and it acts as a clear dividing piece between the covers that looks great on my mock-ups.

Robinson Crusoe: Pocket Edition | Mock-Up

Robinson Crusoe (Pocket Edition)

by Daniel Dafoe

- 14.8 x 21 cm.

- Softcover on 200gsm Card

- Perfect binding

- Printed on 80gsm black and white paper


Washed Ashore: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving on a Desert Island

When looking at my two concepts for washed ashore, I decided that the illustrated shoreline from concept 1 would be better suited as a guide aimed at a younger audience, whereas the slight gritter approach of the text-based concept 7 lends itself more to what I had in mind when I first read the brief. I preferred the arrangement of the back of the book from design 7A but changed all the major text to the same gritty font used in the other two variations, with the front cover sharing a similar layout to design 7B.

Washed Ashore: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving on a Desert Island | Cover

At this point I felt there was still something missing, so I returned to my mood board and was reminded of the film castaway where the main character is stranded with FedEx packages, one of which he keeps and becomes more damaged as the film progresses. I felt this texture would fit perfectly on my cover and so I added a freehand layer of dirt to the edges using a textured photoshop brush. I think this really brought it all together in a way that makes to cover look adventurous and thematic yet still instructional survival guide. Another thing to note is that although my mock-up appears as a paperback, I would now consider this book to be more suitable for a case bound format to make it durable and able to be laid out flat.

Washed Ashore: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving on a Desert Island | Mock-Up

Washed Ashore: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving on a Desert Island

by Rik Bennet

- 21 x 14.8 cm

- Case bound with a low grit texture splash proof material

- Sewn Signatures

- Printed on 120gsm gloss colour paper


4. Reflections

I am very proud of how this set of books has turned out. Although the process as I have written it out here might looks quite linear, I would often bounce between projects as I progressed all of them through the same stages of development, which led to some useful sharing of ideas along the way. For example, as I was looking for fonts for one title, I would come across ones that I thought would be better in another, then return to that file to experiment.

The process of taking my time to experiment and make variations was valuable and felt like a positive progression in how I approach my work rather than rushing to complete an individual idea. I do recognise that I need to be careful to not get lost in trying to develop these additional ideas though, as throughout this assignment sometimes I found myself lingering for too long on small details rather than being content to a composition in a rougher state before I decide whether to take it forward or not.

If future I hope to find my balance between the different stages of development where I can make sure I can come up with a variety of ideas and give each on its fair share of consideration and exploration, before focusing my efforts on completing a project in an appropriate time frame.



Dafoe, D. The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) Amazon Books

Leventhal Map and Education Centre (2021) Orbis terrarum nova et accuratissima tabula At: (Accessed 25/06/21)

Mockups Design. (2021) Free Book Mockups. At: (Accessed 25/06/21)

Owl Eyes. (2021) Historical Context in Robinson Crusoe. At: (Accessed 25/06/21)

Seidel, M. (2018) Robinson Crusoe: A world classic. At: (Accessed 25/06/21)

Sparknotes. (2021) Robinson Crusoe Plot Overview. At: (Accessed 25/06/21)

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Daniel Defoe (2015) (Online Video) At: (Accessed 25/06/21)


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