Alphabet Road Trip | the blog of Iskra Design

(Do) Judge a Book by It’s Cover: Design Process for a Bestseller

lettering design tools

Olde skool tools for modern tymes. In my process I use everything, but I have a special place in my heart for these timeless shapers of letters.

Designing a cover for a women’s novel  isn’t as easy as it used to be. The line between “romance” and “literature” is getting increasingly blurry, and all of a sudden (with the merciless invention of the Kindle) nobody seems to want to be caught reading something that looks like a romance. So even if a book is about Love, somehow it has to look neutral. Yeah, Love. Whatever. I’ll call you, but maybe not. It’s cool . . . .

This cover for author Emily Giffin was a lengthy process. There is a lot at stake in a cover design for a major author. Even if a book is found online and is never picked up before purchase, the little half-inch avatar on the screen that represents the book has to capture the imagination. Once the book is in someone’s hands the job of the book cover is to support the reader’s belief in the words inside and to create a loyal bond. The book jacket also has to sit around, sometimes for years, when it isn’t being read. While it seems to be languishing idly on coffee tables and night stands it is actually working hard, whispering to anyone who walks into the room, come over here, sit down, fall in love with the world between these covers. It has to have presence.

I started out this cover design by testing scripts that could express different flavors of modern love. Casual, sophisticated, breezy, or nostalgic (just a little) for the days of holding hands.

Iskra Design, custom calligraphy for a book title
New direction came in to go a bit retro, and “ornamental/but not.” Very tricky to get these particular words to lock up decoratively, and still read quickly at one-half inch on a small smartphone, the ultimate test these days. This one was drawn with pens and curves and then I laid in color and charcoal.
 Vintage style script by Iskra Design
Another meeting, a new direction: let butterflies say romance and dial the letterforms back to a classic hand-drawn typography. (I did not do the butterflies or other illustrative elements, and it was decided early on to keep the author’s name in a font.)


Hand drawn typography by Iskra

On the other hand . . . maybe hand drawn is where we want to be, but looser. Pen calligraphy with watercolor, letting mistakes happen and not trying to control the process very much.Watercolor calligraphy by Iskra Design

Book cover lettering by Iskra

I refined and clarified the script design, returning to a typographically drawn style, and the charcoal texture I created was further distressed and integrated into the whole. The finished cover is very spare and open. When I see this book in a field of covers that rely for impact on color photography it stands out for its feeling of light and optimism, as well as the simplicity of the elements. This is an unusual combination of modern and retro styling, and it could only have emerged out of the process of a lot of back and forth and human collaboration. (#designbyhumans #notatemplate )

To see more of my book cover design and lettering check out my full portfolio here.

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