The New Old in Book Cover Design

by Cathi Stevenson Amy Weiss-Meyer posted an interesting blog over at New Republic. In it she discusses the return to the chunky fonts of 1970's-style book covers and quotes Chip Kidd, who isn't really thrilled over the new trend. (If you're new to the biz or have been in a coma for the last few decades, Chip Kidd is the reigning guru of book cover design, creative genius at Alfred A. Knopf, star of information-rich YouTube videos and Ted speaker. If you haven't seen it, you should check out his Ted talk, it's pretty funny). I'm not a fan of some of the fonts or layouts, but I have always loved a text-only cover, which many of these are. Regardless of anyone's likes or dislikes, the trend seems to be gathering momentum. Weiss-Meyer cites several examples, including Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl, but chunky fonts are popping up everywhere, not just on book covers. She also also touched on a good point. Some books are targeting a demographic that became adults in the 1970s, so book covers that bring up nostalgic feelings from that period might be a wise marketing move. Marketing doesn't have to be good art, or even good writing — although both would be nice, it just has to move a product or service. I think Michael Murphy's Goodby Emily (Koehler Books) is a great example to this trend. The salute to the tie-dyed t-shirts worn in the '70s is pretty awesome. I'm also a fan of the text-only cover for Jojo Moyes' Me Before You (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking). The cursive lettering is just the right font, in my opinion. Not all versions of the book are using this cover. If you really just can't embrace the new old look, relax. Like the Papyrus font, grunge covers, feet and legs, lone trees and countless other book cover design trends, this too shall pass.
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5 Replies to “The New Old in Book Cover Design”

  1. I think I’d rather see a Papyrus/grunge/lone-tree blend! I agree that the key function of marketing is to move product, not be good art, but anything that reminds me of the 70s will probably lose my attention pretty quick. I’m sure it’s a better fit for a demographic about 10-15 years older than me, though, as the 70s were my pre-teen years for the most part. Anyway, I do like the Goodbye Emily cover (never lost my taste for tie-dye, I guess!), but the others… nope. If the intent of the Not That Kind of Girl cover was to look like an old book at a yard sale, they nailed it.

  2. After I wrote that blog post, and started looking around I agree for the most part. Those heavy slab fonts just don’t work for me. I remember I did a lot of covers using them 15 years ago and I can’t even look at some of those covers and I cringe when I see I’m credited as the designer.

    I do like grunge. I’m been using the same wall I photographed on a small island in our Harbour for a grunge texture now for 6 or 7 years.

    I guess some trends exist because people like them…they’re appealing. Not a bad thing.

  3. I have to quote and agree with my housemate who has been known to say on occasion: “Nothing good came out of the seventies.”

    I’m sure there’s a time and place for that style. There’s a place for most any style or font. The trick is knowing the right time to use it for the most effective results.

    …except Comic Sans.

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