Brain Pickings

The Best Book, Magazine & Catalog Covers from around the World

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Reasons to buy yet another Nabokov, or why first impressions still matter the most.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover, or so the saying goes. We beg to differ.” So opens The Best of Cover Design: Books, Magazines, Catalogs, and More, a new title from Rockport Publishers. Assembled by Altitude Associates and its principal Brian Singer (creator of another beloved Brain Pickings gem The 1000 Journals Project), The Best of Cover Design selected the strongest covers from an open submission process that produced more than 2,000 entries.

The images that made the grade represent a cultural range from Australia to the United States, and 21 countries in between. The one hard criterion for inclusion was that the submissions be from practicing professionals rather than students because, as the introduction states:

Designing covers isn’t an easy task. It’s a minefield of requirements, constraints, and subjective opinions, oftentimes resulting in what we like to call the “design-by-committee pit of despair.” Make the logo bigger. The CEO’s daughter doesn’t like orange; change it. The sales team begins art directing. Welcome to the land of mediocrity. We’ve all been there, and it requires ninja-like skills to traverse and emerge in one piece.

Each spread in The Best of Cover Design presents ideas to ponder and images that invite lingering. The compilation features nearly 300 beautiful and bold works from large firms as well as independent designers, including the 2010 TED conference publication and a series of gorgeous covers by Vintage books, which gave its designers the brief of using butterfly boxes for the reissue of 18 Nabokov titles.

Spread from The Best of Cover Design

Covers by Design Ranch (left) and Paper Plane Studio/Jennifer Bostic (right)

Spread from The Best of Cover Design

Covers, from upper left clockwise, by John Gall, Paul Sahre, Yentus & Booher, Stephen Doyle, Michael Bierut, Rodrigo Corral, Carol Devine Carson, Appetite Engineers/Martin Venezky

Spread from The Best of Cover Design

Covers by Mucca Design/Erica Heitman-Ford (left), Base Art (middle), Jens Magnusson (right)

We’re exposed to several thousand messages a day, creating an environment where the sheer mass of information can overwhelm us. After a while, it all looks the same… To be successful, covers not only have to stand out amongst all the clutter, but they also need to make a connection with us. In just a few seconds, they need to communicate what they are, pique our curiosity, or simply make us smile. They need to engage us through inspiration. ~ Brian Singer, Altitude Associates

In addition to being full of pure design delight, The Best of Cover Design will inspire anyone who’s ever had to think about how to communicate a message clearly and, most importantly, convincingly.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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