Want to design like David Pearson? Go and judge a book by its cover

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This week cover designer David Pearson spoke on redesigns and image vs. typography at The Galley Club’s December event. David was appointed a member of AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale) in 2013, has been listed as one of Britain’s Top 50 Designers by The Guardian and was named by Debrett’s as one of Britain’s 500 most influential people in 2015. Here Abigail Hyland covers his best tips from the night.

Re-packaging a classic text in a new cover has always been an exciting feat for David Pearson, who spent the early part of his career trawling through the generous Penguin archives. It was here where he found his inspiration for re-branding, and displayed this best in the design of the ‘Great Ideas’ series. He describes his first bash at the series in one sentence: ‘I only had enough money for two colours’ but, funnily enough, this ‘stripping back’ has forged the path to where Pearson is today.

Stripping back

Here are some useful tips in how to strip back your cover design to create an impact on your reader:

  • Box yourself in and limit your choices – a cover of a book means that you are constrained to only filling a page – this fixed space can help a designer to scale down their ideas.
  • Use a limited colour palette – not only are the publishing costs cheaper, but a simple palette is more memorable and can create a thread when designing a book series.
  • Don’t over compensate with images or writing – often the less that is said or displayed on a cover, the more the reader is intrigued. If the book is part of a series, you can even leave out some information, so that the reader will have to go and source it from another text in the collection. This is a brave move, but can be effective for more classic texts. Pearson embodies this best in his most recent cover design of 1984 by George Orwell. There is no imagery used and what text is included is covered by a black film. The reader has to scratch off if they want to find out what the book is called, and it’s this playful simplicity that creates the most intrigue in a reader.

Image and Type

Looking closer at Images and Typography, and the way they relay information to the reader, Pearson makes clear that the two can complement each other to establish and create meaning.  He describes how you wouldn’t put an apple on the cover of a book and then write ‘Apple’ beneath it: imagery and words can each display their own message, and can work in harmony to do so, stating: ‘a book does not have to be labelled twice’.

Here are a few tips on how to use typography and/or images when designing the cover of a book:

  • Position your image in a way that creates meaning – for example the 1947 cover of The Velvet Well: the eye is drawn downwards into what first seems like a well, but at a closer look, becomes the tip of a dagger, with the handle taking the form of a city skyline – a multi-layered image that provides the reader with multiple messages.
  • Sometimes typography is enough – J. D. Salinger never allowed an image to appear on the cover of his works, and Pearson, to some extent, agrees with his admiration of the typography form.
  • Use type in innovative ways to intrigue the reader – do like Pearson and break the rules: break a title over two lines and make the reader work to read what the book is called.

‘Winning formulas don’t exist in book design’ according to Pearson, but hopefully these tips go some way in helping!

Abigail HylandAbigail Hyland is a Editorial Assistant at SAGE Publications and music reviewer for the Brighton based magazine, ‘The Latest‘.

Feature image credit: Sally Wilson, CC License.

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