Judging a book by its cover & judging book covers

I work at a bookstore roughly twenty hours a week. The New Releases section faces the front counter, the Cuisine & Art  is tucked away in the back of store, and in between, there's everything from True Crime to Gardening. I love that I get to surround myself with all of these texts almost everyday. These are books I will never have the time to read entirely, but I'm allowed glimpses into their subject matter and content through their covers designs: the clever suggestions as to what each pages may hold through whatever photography, illustration, or typography is used on its front. This is my version of heaven.


Having worked here for three years now (and two summers at a library before that), I feel confident in saying this: the cliché "Don't judge a book by its cover" is kinda bullshit. Sure, people shouldn't judge people by their appearances, I get that, but literally, how else would you judge a book before reading it? The research and marketing that goes behind book design is so extensive that there is no excuse for poor book design, especially with the amount of talented designers and artists that are out there. The expression should not be "Don't judge a book by its cover", but rather, "Don't produce books with shitty covers".


I spend a lot of my time ooh-ing and ah-ing over books and designs and, my favorite: book designs. There have been plenty of books printed on this matter, but I'll make a list myself: favorite book cover designs. And so, in no particular order:




Designer: Marian Bantjes

So, okay, maybe it's unfair to choose a book cover design that is literally a book about design, but unless you can't tell, this cover is GOLD. It's such a lush and beautiful design (and my current staff pick at Bookmark) that it's the first book to come to mind.




Designer: John Fulbrook III

So simple! So perfect! This book is super quirky, weird, and at times, uncomfortably raunchy. The stories are just 'so much' that to have a book cover that's 'so much' just wouldn't work. 



Designer: Coralie Bickford-Smith                        

While the whole 'Great Foods' series of book covers Bickford-Smith had designed is amazing, this is my favorite. I think what draws me most to it is the turquoise and golden brown colour combination. To die for.



Designer: David Pelham

I have a boxed set of postcards of vintage Penguin book cover designs, which are pretty much the Holy Grail of book design, and this is one of my favorite from the bunch. Again: simple idea, executed so cleverly.


Designer: Peter Mendelsund

What I love so much about this cover is the hair overlapping some of the letters. While I'm getting sick of the hype around this series (I have no real interest in reading it), this bold cover is flawless.


Designer: Shepard Fairey

Black and red combo is seen as the classic go-to colours for bold design and Shepard Fairey proves this to be true. This stark and eerily decorated cover gives you the idea that there will be something about this story that is not quite right, providing the tone of the book in the cover without revealing too much.


Designer: Darren Haggar

Illustrator: Charles Burns

Sometimes with collections of short stories, only one story is selected to be interpreted on the cover and acts kind of like the team captain of the rest of the stories. I love how a character from each sory in this book is interpreted annd depicted on the front and back by the always amazing illustrator Charles Burns.


Designer: Jon Gray

The hand lettering feels so fresh on this cover. Nothing is too overdone or elaborate and it actually looks clumsy in such an intentional and appropriate way.


Designer: Rodrigo Corral

Illustrated Lettering: Marian Bantjes

Another Marian Bantjes book cover, another gorgeous foil (when you hold this and turn it around, you can see the foil is actually pink!). I'm coming to terms with the fact that my design preferences tend to lean to the girly side, and this just allows me to completely indulge in that fact. 


Designer: Jon Gray

Jonathan Safran Foer is a vegetarian so of course his name would be growing vegetation rather than the fur & feathers of those he refuses to eat! Just a small touch to this rad book cover. You never really notice until you actually start looking for one, but completely green book covers are pretty rare (especially this bright shade), which makes this book cover stand out even more.