Book jacket design is both conceptual but still highly aesthetic: think Jurassic Park’s iconic dinosaur skeleton, A Million Little Pieces’s sprinkle-encrusted hand, the stark lettering of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In the past year, a number of blogs dedicated to book jacket design have launched, critiquing the headless knight on Seamus Heaney’s Beowolf, discussing the differences between American and British book jackets, and, of course, idolizing heroes like Knopf’s Chip Kidd and Vintage’s John Gall. Bloggers Christopher Papasadero of the design firm Fwis’s Covers ( and Joseph Sullivan of the Book Design Review ( give their opinions on the role of book jackets, building a jacket brand and their design pet peeves.

On branding:


“I love the idea of serialized design.” Things to consider: “Is consistency in appearance going to communicate that they’re all part of the same theme and thus leave the contents of the book behind? Or is there some method one can utilize that will create variation but also consistency?”

Book Design Review:

“Individually they’re not very impressive. But [when you] line them up next to each other, as a series, I think they really work. It’s a very straightforward design. Looking back, they do look dated, but what doesn’t?”

On jacket design as art


“We have this spectrum of design that we envision different types of graphics fitting within; on one end are typeset classified ads in a newspaper—at the other end, fine art. We think book covers are very close to fine art, and ripe for interpretation and critique.”

Book Design Review:

“I will buy the new Murakami novel because I really enjoy reading his fiction—it could be printed on loose leaf and shoved in a manila envelope and I would still buy it. But that Knopf does such a great job with the Murakami titles is a truly wonderful thing. Why do certain publishers embrace great design? They value design as design, and there’s an element of cultural capital at work.”

On pet peeves


“Science fiction has so much horrible, crappy book cover design, it’s despicable. Especially considering how important the things they’re addressing are: How do humans behave in the future? Where are we going? Who will we become? All of these questions are being asked by many sci-fi authors, and yet the cover design often defaults to an illustration of the events therein. Borrrriinnng. I can’t even tell you how many horrible covers there have been for such seminal works as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451.”

Book Design Review:

“Feet generally drive me up a wall. I don’t know what a photo of someone’s foot is

supposed to evoke in me or someone who’s making a purchasing decision. The other pet peeve I have is blatant copying. The jacket art for Oh the Glory of It All was the best design of the year. But Oh the Hell of It All was purely piggybacking on the original design—and was a much poorer design at that.”

[Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey was published before Oh the Hell of It All by Wilsey’s mother, Pat Montandon. The copying was intentional, whether critics like it or not. —Ed.]

The Great Man by Kate Christensen
Designed by John Fontana, Doubleday

“Initially I disliked this cover for its simplicity; however, after reading up on it, the novel is about two authors

competing to pen a biography about a man who was regarded as great artist but also led a double life of a rather shameful nature. So then when the type falls to the back, behind the brush, and becomes part of the composition in an integral way, it’s a nice change from the way we typically see type treated.” —Covers

“Much better than the majority of covers that use a single, stark image, but way too orderly and symmetrical for my taste. I probably wouldn’t notice it among other titles in a bookstore.”—BDR

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
Designed by Will Staehle, HarperCollins

“This cover works simply because the contrast between the illustration and the title itself; I’d say it was cheap except the contents of the illustration are humorous and relevant.” —Covers

“I’m a little confused by the colors, but otherwise this is pitch-perfect. I’ll read this, but I ordered it the other day just to have the cover.”—BDR

Bangkok Haunts by John Burdett

Designed by Chip Kidd, Knopf

“It’s rather creepy but altogether the type is clunky. When I see creepy done right, it’s less 'haunted house’ and more 'deserted hospital’—clearly the camp [aspect] of Bangkok won out with this designer, rather than its genuine grit and grime.” —Covers

“The East-meets-West type is on other Burdett titles; I’m not in love with it but have gotten used to it and it works. The woman-as-eyeball, however, just pushes this over the edge.”—BDR

Crashing Through by Robert Kurso
Designed by Beck Stvan, Random House

“Such a complex and broad story could have created a much more conceptual treatment. The type is nonuniform and seems badly kerned, the colors uninspired though appropriate, and overall it’s rather type-heavy.” —Covers

“Since this is a book about a man who regained his sight, the eye chart theme is a no-brainer. That there’s color where color usually isn’t [on an eye chart] underscores the passage from darkness to sight.”—BDR

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

Designed by John Fulbrook III, Scribner

“The idea is sound: the vertical rule disappearing into the clouds. I think I might have tried to do something typographic and pure; no need for the lines here. I’d be willing to bet, however, that the designer tried vertical type but was prevented from doing so by his or her higher-ups. It’s very delicate and it invokes that feeling of quietly impending doom. I definitely would not have used that typeface for the title.” —Covers

“I love this. A 'simple’ jacket for DeLillo’s 9/11 book that asks many more questions than at first blush: Are the towers still there, below the clouds? Where are/were you on that day? Where are you now—physically, politically? There’s a lot of tension here.”—BDR

Also, click here to see our bloggers weigh in on a few more covers.