Cover Design: Art or Process?

A photo by Tim Arterbury. unsplash.com/photos/VkwRmha1_tI

A good book cover communicates a message to the reader about the book. It is, to quote Chip Kidd in his TED Talk, The Hilarious Art of Book Design, ‘a distillation’ of the story, and also in many cases, the first impression that a potential reader has of the book itself. It is clear that effective cover design can have a decided impact on sales for books, particularly in trade and self-publishing, and even go so far as to become part of an iconic brand identity for authors and publishers alike. But what goes into developing book covers? Is it a finely-honed piece of artwork? Or can it be delivered as a creative output resulting from a more automated process?

In this blog post we want explore the notion of streamlining the cover design process. Many publishers hire in-house design staff to manage the creative process of designing book covers for their titles. But in other instances this is something that is outsourced to external design agencies or freelancers. In some cases, even the more traditional service providers offer these solutions.

Recently, book designer at Hachette Book Group, Lisa Honerkamp, gave some insight into book design with a top five publisher in her article on the Digital Book World blog. In that post, Honerkamp highlights the thought process and development involved in designing cover art for books – a process which is not art by numbers.

Yet, in this modern era of the book business, when self-publishing is such a bourgeoning section of the industry, more and more ready-made online solutions are appearing, claiming to offer less costly alternatives to hiring dedicated cover designers. Some of these options include online market places for freelancers – including the likes of Fiverrr and Upwork – as well as websites offering existing designs and a variety of templates to work from, an example of this would be Canva. Often these tools are aimed at appealing to the self-published author who has considerably less resources than publishing houses. But are these viable tools for publishers as well? Does using automation to streamline what is otherwise an inherently artistic task have a negative impact on the result, or is there an opportunity here that could be further exploited?

One might also argue that the ever increasing volume of books on the market from self-publishing channels has created an opportunity too for companies offering cover design to go direct to author. However, the problem here is creating a business model that is effective without the volume of working directly with the publisher. Is this a gap in the market that providers can look to fill? Or will it stay specifically in the realm of freelancers. If design teams have the capacity to streamline this design process so that it is more efficient, then perhaps it is an option worth considering.

We spoke with our design partners, Fresh01, to gain some insight into how they streamline the process of cover design to ensure efficiency and cost effectiveness, while continuing to provide authentic and quality designs. According to Kurt Ozficici, Creative Director, the focus is “primarily to speed up the process, add accuracy in quality control, and provide a solution that is on point and matched perfectly to the author’s vision, while ultimately saving money all round. But the automated process can only ever go so far, and realistically is only useful in the main production part of the process and the inside layouts. The reality is that success lies in a hybrid solution, and inevitably involves a significant element of creative input.”

Essentially their process relied on having created a well thought through structure, enabling Fresh01 to eliminate certain timely and costly aspects, such as account handling. They do this by handing the reins to the author/publisher for establishing a clear brief. This can help to significantly whittle down the design choice by, for example, filtering sample covers, likes, dislikes, genres and font matches, colour preferences and image choices. In other words, really honing the brief to get the best out of a designer, for the shortest amount of time, is the goal. Fresh01 have templates set up for barcode positioning, spine, trim and bleed, which can then be overwritten if there is a creative and economic advantage. In summary, according to Kurt, “the interpretation of the brief, in the hands of a seasoned and creative designer, that also has a commercial mind, is the key to success. This has always been the equation to solve.”

Ultimately, creating the right message for a book through effective cover design is an important process, particularly given that the book’s primary real estate for promotion is the cover itself. It creates certain impressions of the content, and perhaps even the quality, and has the potential to influence sales depending on the sector in which the book is positioned; for example, creative cover design in trade publishing is likely to weigh more heavily in the reader’s mind than, say, academic or scientific publishing.

The bottom line though is that in order to streamline a cover design process, and provide a truly successful and viable service for the masses, there needs to be a balance between art and process. If traditional publishing suppliers have the ability to provide a cover design service that does not skimp on quality, yet delivers on time and cost efficiency, then this could continue to develop into a very interesting opportunity.

To find out more about Deanta’s creative services through Fresh01, check out our website and review their folio as well as other creative solutions including micro-site design, social media and additional marketing collateral.

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