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Exercise 2.3: Book Designers

Updated: May 28, 2022

This exercise was split into four sections, beginning with research into a long list of fifteen unique cover designers, then comparing them to one another and looking at individuals in more detail, before finally dissecting some of my own favourite designers.

1. Researching Designers

I started by reading up on each designer and gathering up some visual examples of their work to use as references alongside rough notes in my sketchbook. I enjoyed digging into the unique qualities of each designer and made a few connections to book titles that I've seen in bookshops over the years but never known who was behind the actual cover designs. To save on space in this blog, I've written up these notes and compiled them with examples of works for each designer into a single image below.

Fifteen Featured book designers, with notes on their styles and influences.

I'm really pleased with this arrangement to see my notes on them together all in one place where I could easily compare them to one another at a glance. As I explored, I did some initial light reading on each designer and feel that I have at least an initial level understanding of each of their styles. Most of them are still active too, so it was useful to see up to date information on their careers.


2. Comparing and Contrasting

There's a lot of variety within the different design philosophies on this list. Some artists tend to lean towards more vibrant and complex images to attract readers, whereas others take a more minimal approach through limited elements and a selective use of negative space. However, some of them do share similar visual or conceptual approaches, so to better understand the similarities and differences between these types of compositions, I made manual digital traces of some of their work by using my graphics tablet and pen to analyse. These images have also been overlaid with transparency to help me make more direct comparisons between compositions,


Traced Images of Typography Covers

Most typical book covers involve typography in some way or another, but the designers Derek Birdsall, Jost Houchuli and Wolfgang Weigngart all share a link for using text as the primary elements of their book covers. Their title and subtitle text has been scaled, spaced, rotated and arranged to create visual interest for the viewer in place of any other imagery. Despite appearing similarly minimalist at a first glance, each of these designers still have their own voice.

Birdsall chooses larger lettering and created a space between the top and bottom of the page to draw the eye, but Homunculi has chosen to use smaller scales of text that have been rotated to demand investigation from the viewer. The odd one out here is Weingart, who has created organised chaos in his work in a style described as 'Swiss punk' typography. This is only a small example of the range of possibilities with type as there is still a lot of subtlety in the choices made. I look forward to exploring this more in the next part of the course, as effective type is not something that I have often studied for use in my own designs.

Book Makers

Julia Hasting and Irma Boom are artists that defy typical design conventions by building their concepts into complete objects using experimental materials and binding solutions. Their work extends beyond the covers alone and are complimented by their choices made for the spine, paper types and surface textures for each piece of work. Many of their projects are built to reflect the style of other artists and for each commission of this type, where they have homed in on what style of cover supports the subject's expression. The industrial background and stamped typography emulated by Hasting in Factory: Andy Warhol suits its subject matter well.

These choices can sometimes lead to covers that may at first look uninspiring when in isolation, but the effectiveness of the cover really shines when you can also see the rest of the object in context. Designs such as Booms Sheila Hicks: Weaving as a Metaphor, where the cover has a white-on-white woven fabric section as the centrepiece, really become intriguing when you see the deckled edges of the paper block that suggest more textile inspirations within and goes to show that a holistic approach can be just as successful.

Mixed Approaches

I think for me some of the strongest designers are the ones that have shown the most diversity within their own portfolios. I have set out Suzanne Dean and Kelly Blair's work to compare against themselves rather than each other this time, and it shows how varied and creative you can be when not limiting your work to a single style. Both designers use tailored combinations of photography, illustration, and a wide variety of both handwritten and Printed fonts to create collages for each of their covers. Despite casting a wide net throughout their work, they still have their individual distinctions as artists when you compare them side by side.

I noticed in Blairs work that she often shows human figures with obscured or hidden faces in her covers for novels, as with When the Doves Disappeared, which reminds me of René Magritte's surreal double images. I think this is an effective choice that creates a sense of mystery and intrigue for non-fiction dramas. Suzanne dean tends to lean instead toward bright textures and patterns made of shapes, which when overlaid look to orbit the centre of the cover with these three examples. The text for both cover artists is often aligned along the centre too, and neatly scaled to keep it inside the border of one of the background shapes.


3. Researching Favourites

I then further researched some of my favourite names to learn more about how they have created their work and what makes them so compelling to me. The advantage of having so many of these artists still actively producing work also means that they have been interviewed and recorded on video in their own studios. Videos of artists speaking about their work in their own words is a valuable resource to me and one of my preferred ways to learn about someone, so I have linked some examples here next to each artist below.

Coralie Bickford-Smith

From all the listed designers, I was the most instinctively drawn to the work of Coralie Bickford-Smith. I really enjoy her covers for the blend of vibrant modern colour schemes with classic Victorian and art deco influenced decorative illustrations that form her distinctive visual style. Her work in redesigning covers for literary classics consist of an object relevant to the story that has been repeated in a pattern in repeated patterns with only a few complimentary colours involved. Her long career at penguin books has evolved from redesigning classics to now publishing her own illustrated stores with The Fox and the Star, The Worm and the Bird, and The Song of The Tree.

Julia Hasting

Julia Hasting takes an experimental approach that I found fascinating when I first searched her name. Her work feels the most bespoke to me. Her career path has been impressive to lead her to now work as the creative director of Phaidon books where she practices her process of considering all aspects of a book to reflect the work of the artists, designers, and architects within as full objects. A lot of her work does not come into full context from just looking at the cover, so I found videos showcasing how the object function particularly helpful in this case to get a sense of what she does. My favourite example is her removal of the spine for a book on Gordon Matta-Clark to emulate the cross-sections of buildings that feature heavily in his own artwork.

Suzanne Dean

With a modern aesthetic and prolific portfolio, Suzanne Dean's breadth of work variety comes from her role as a creative director as well as a graphic designer, where she collaborates with other artists to support her visions. Having felt unsatisfied with some of her experiences as a graphic designer that limited her creativity, she now enjoys working on a team interpreting cover sleeves and book designs for Penguin. Her creative approach involves frequent collaboration to make sure every project is professionally researched and designed with motif's that suit the subject matter the best. For The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, she used inspiration from 18th century fabric patters to create a seashell motif that blended with the books period setting. She can be involved in the production of up to 30 projects at different stages at a time which initially sounds daunting but also exciting as there must be a constant refresh of ideas between projects to help avoid becoming stuck on one concept.


4. Looking At Other Designers

The final part of this task was to look at three other designers of my own choice. As well as my shelves at home, I browsed online design blogs and book shops to see what caught my eye for designers whose body of work is interesting. I found it surprisingly difficult at times to identify individual designers as in some editions only the publishing or marketing team is credited as a whole, but I eventually found three new designers whose work I find enjoyable.

Sarah Nicole Kaufman

Sarah Nicole Kaufman's work stood out to me from the young adult fiction section of Waterstones. Although in a genre that I no longer read these days, the covers for this age group have always been fun and inventive and Kaufmanns continues that creativity. Serpent and dove first caught my eye with its striking gold snake woven into the shape of an '&', but as investigated her portfolio, I was impressed with how well she frequently incorporates typography to fit in as part of the artwork. This really helps to make her designs cohesive and clear and for non-fiction helps with world building.

David Pelham

A Clockwork Orange is David Pelman's most famous cover work and has become a staple of classic science fiction since its release in the 1960's. I wanted to know more about his work and found his vibrant yet foreboding style just as interesting in his other science fiction works for penguin. He uses bright colours against dark backgrounds to build surreal landscapes and generate uneasy feelings, even with the cover for Scotland Yard; A Study of The Metropolitan Police, which could equally be used as an image for a dystopian future. to my surprise I found that later on in his career he shifted styles completely and started successfully developing detailed pop-up books for children, many of them educational.

Will Staehle

Will Staehle is my favourite new discovery and I really find his creative choices engaging. His designs are bold and demand immediate attention, which may have come from his influences from reading comics as a child. Each cover has been approached differently and makes good use of negative spaces in the artwork to house the typography and examples such as The Echo Wife and The lost Book Of the Grail both showcase clever use of mirroring and double imagery to support each theme. His variation of Circe is a special example that draws me in. the jacket is clad in a bronze metallic finish styled after classical Greek artwork and fully encapsulates the atmosphere of mystery that I find prevalent in the rest of Staehle's work.


With all the names in this exercise, I have grown to appreciate where they have clearly applied creativity to form their own interpretations of cover designing. While personally I am drawn more towards traditionally ornate designs inspired by classic artworks, I can still recognise where creative considerations have been made for the examples that I am not as strongly drawn to, such as the ones that rely on minimalist typography.

All methods of design are valid when used in ways that connect them to the subject of a book and with any title it is an exercise in balance to see what works best in each project. I am looking forward to taking what I have learned by looking at these artists to see how I can exercise my own creative voice in the next exercise and the upcoming assignment for Part 2.



An Interview with Suzanne Dean, Creative Director at Vintage Books | Spine Magazine (2017) (Accessed 01/06/21)

Bickford Smith, C. (2021) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Blair, K. (2021) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Coralie Bickford-Smith on The Fox and the Star (2015)At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Dean, S. (2021) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

FamousGraphicDesigners. Wolfgang Weingart At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Hasting, J. (2021) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Howsen, E. (2014) The North's Most Prolific Graphic Designers: Derek Birdsall At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Huang, L. (2021) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Julia Hasting: The unusual book designer (2016) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Kaufman, S. (2021) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Lupton, E. (2021) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Mendelsund, P. (2021) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

MOMA. (2021) Irma Boom At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Munari,N. (2015) Jost Hochuli Interview At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Pentagram (2021) About Paula Scher At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Ramirez, M. (2016) The Book Covers of David Pelham At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Rand, P. (2021) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Staehle, W. (2021) At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Strizver, I. (2018) Jan Tschichold, Master Typographer of the 20th Century At: (Accessed 01/06/21)

Wilson, C. (2008) Reputations: Phil Baines At: (Accessed 01/06/21)


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