Visual tips for book cover design

Effective book cover designs draw the reader in so they want to find out what your book is about. Most people DO judge a book by its cover. So how do you pull people in visually?

Your book cover needs to:

1 Communicate clearly, quickly and efficiently to the reader by organizing the visual elements in harmony with each other

2 Lead the audience to the title

Pay attention to not only typeface, but styling, sizing and positioning. Organize the type and images with a visual hierarchy of importance. Some elements should stand out more than others.

3 Have a relevant visual theme and concept

It is important that your design convey the message and meaning of your book clearly.

4 Use simplicity

Your cover should work well and be attractive very small, as a thumbnail, and large, as in a poster. Detailed illustration is often difficult to differentiate when the book is small. It may be meaningful to you but not to your audience and can very well detract from its marketability. Reduce your cover design to the size of a thumbnail on Amazon and see if you can distinguish visual coherency and it is  readable. If not, simplify.

5 Use a pleasant color palette consistent with your books style and era

Caution is needed when building a color palette. For instance, when using red on black there is little differentiation between the 2 colors which can make certain things become transparent to the eye from a distance. This goes for a light color on light color as well. Be sure there is significant color tonality distinguishability  between your color values.

6 Work visually in black and white as well as color

Note that your cover changes dramatically without color. When used in, for instance, a newspaper ad, make sure it is still a readable and effective design.

7 Use a dramatic visual effect

Run the image and color right off the books boundaries. You will find it gives the illusion of expanding the covers visual space.

8 Create a good focal point to pull the audience into the cover visually

Dramatic perspective, angle, a visual explosion of color or a central area the eye is attracted to can do the trick.

9 Use a font that is easily readable

Some script fonts can be very attractive but, keep in mind, they are often difficult to read. Test them yourself. Use the five foot rule. If you can’t read the text on the spine of your book from 5 feet away….Neither can your readers.

10 Stand out

A helpful exercise for you would be to look at covers on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. Determine which ones are the most eye catching. Why do you think they stand out on a shelf?

The bottomline is, a great book cover CAN help sell your book!

Logo Morphing

PriceWaterhouseCoopers, now PwC, has a morphing logo too. See video here.

Shown below is the static logo – old and new.

Its morphings reveal many visual varieties and adaptations to different types of content. Logos no longer just sit static. Moving media has changed that.

The new branding is now almost a year old. It can be seen in use on the company website and in the static marketing pieces shown below.

They use a warm red color scheme as opposed to traditional accounting logos which are typically in the blue range. Maybe this is to focus on the warmth in working with PwC. The series of colorful boxes could represent “staying in the boxes” and makes a good metaphor for an accounting firm.

PwC wants to be seen as forward-thinking and contemporary, not stodgy as people tend to typify accounting firms (hmmm). As said by Dennis Nally, chairman of PwC, “We think our new brand expression visually distinguishes PwC in the same way that the quality and expertise of our people differentiates the experience of working with PwC. Underlying the visual elements is what the PwC brand really stands for – how we are viewed by our clients, our people and our stakeholders. Beyond our capabilities and experience, we want PwC to be known for building great relationships with clients that help them create the value they’re looking for.”

I am not sure this new look really relates to their vision, or even depicts who PwC really is. Does it really speak their brand? One thing is obvious… this is how they want to be perceived. Conceptually, it is an interesting dichotomy.  The changes in the financial markets mean it’s now as important to look nimble and up-to-date as it is to look solid and dependable.

Logos of the future

Logos based on algorithms are being developed with more frequency. Are these the logos of the future? The following are 3 examples of logos based on algorithms that show out-of-the-box thinking.

Casa da Música logo inspired by buildings architecture

Stefan Sagmeister is a graphic designer who every 7th year takes a one-year sabbatical to rejuvenate and refresh his creative outlook. Kudos to him for doing this sucessfully. After coming off his last sabbatical he developed a logo for Casa da Música. The design came out of its building architecture which in itself is art – so it came naturally as the inspiration. They began with a study of the architecture from 6 angles: west, north, south, east, top and bottom.

Using Casa da Música software based on content’s color in an image, the software generator “calculated” the logos colors. They used an image of Beethoven to generate this logo shown below.

Each employee has their own logo. For business cards, the logo’s colors are generated with the software by using the people’s portraits.

MIT Media Lab generates a logo, 40,000 of them!

The new Media Lab logo is based on three intersecting “spotlights,” composed of three colors, straight lines, three black squares, and blending gradients. The algorithm behind it generates a unique logo for each staff member. It illustrates the concept of ongoing originality in the Lab.

Science Channel’s morphing logo

The new Science Channel logo uses a morphing logo they actually call Morph. It seems to be imitating natures way of visually adapting to its surroundings. According to the designers, Morph “represents the future of logo design”.

Yes. This is a time of transition. These are the logos of today. Today is the future. And it is certainly valid for these appropriate industrys to use a moving form of media as their visual identity’s setting since they are rarely viewed in static media. The premise works if we are moving towards everything being in motion. And we are. There is no “one size fits all”. Logos are developed based on the concept and brand that drive the company. And this fluidity is part of that. Designers clearly see the differentiation of when a “morphing target” is appropriate – when it is driven by the company and its vision.

Visual hierarchy

To be an effective designer, we have to be able to clearly communicate selected ideas to viewers or we lose their attention.

People see designs in terms of relationships. Seeing similarities and differences or just “seeing” is how we organize our world. Our brains synthesize information by grouping similar visual elements and organizing them into meaningful patterns. Information that is organized with a hierarchy in mind will always be more effective at communicating than information that is not organized.

Visual hierarchy applied to text.

In the above sample illustration, the information in both text blocks is the same. The key to visual hierarchy is how we change the way the reader takes the information in. By applying subheads and pull-out quotes, more visual prominence is given to one element over another, thus making it easier to scan because it is hierarchically organized.


Size easily draws attention because the eye is drawn to the most prominent item on a page. But remember, size must also correlate to importance.


Organizing information based on color can guide the viewer. Color can also be used to convey emotional intensity. Some colors are more soothing than others so used appropriately, color can help evoke emotion.

The wheel of emotion shown above was invented by Robert Plutchik to define a model of human emotions and their relations and combinations. It consists of 8 basic emotions, opposed in pairs, and multiple shades. It is an interesting guide to the power of color and its emotional impact although I would not adhere to it rigidly. Color theories abound.

Grid alignment and white space

Grids create order between elements which helps readability. White space has a functional purpose. It helps guide viewers when used skillfully. Read more on… Visually leading with intent.

How great brands deliver

A 2011 survey ranking the top 100 brands as selected by US consumers conveys the top attributes of those brands that ranked highest.

They each:

offer low prices and high quality;

provide a consistently branded experience;

listen to their customers; and

consistently exceed customer expectations.

It is no surprise that some of the companys selected were USAA, Amazon, Red Lobster, Charles Schwab, Olive  Garden, Netflix, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Krispy Kreme, Subway and Apple.


Each company:

Has an ingrained customer satisfaction culture. (The customer is always right.)

Has the ability to deliver on their customers’ expectations.

Is highly innovative.

Listens to its customers.

Develops new products.

Strives to charge their customers less.

Does what they say they are going to do.

Has the ability to stand in their customers’ shoes.

Now THAT is thought-provoking. Interestingly, these attributes build great personal brands as well.

Everybody Plays With The Phillies Visual Brand

The Philadelphia Phillies pack the stadium consistently with 45,000 fans and are watched by many more on national syndication. Am I the only one concerned with their visual brand?

Brand Keys, a marketing and research firm, gave the title of “team with the most loyal fans” to the Philadelphia Phillies in their 2011 Brand Keys Sports Loyalty Engagement Index. This index is based on 4 factors: Pure Entertainment, Authenticity, Fan Bonding, and History and Tradition.

So their brand is strong and that is important.

Their visual brand is not. Everybody plays with the Phillies logo, colors and uniform designs.

The inconsistent colors, typefaces and many designs all contribute to visual brand confusion. Typography has nearly as much to do with the identity of the team as the logo itself. But it seems the team has no control over the use of their visual brand elements. Most sports memorabilia vendors take liberties with the designs. Although you can get usage of the official custom typeface from the Phillies website, most opt for a less expensive route.

The team plays in many uniform sets in a multitude of style and color variations. It’s phashion week at the phillies … every week. Why is there no control over the teams visual brand consistency?

But it seems the Philadelphia Phillies do have one consistent element that gains instant recognition everywhere … the logotype. It uses its own custom-designed typeface called scriptwurst which has the a fun feeling – just right for a baseball team. Its colors and stars, craftily used as the dots over the “i”, honor not only its historic city, but the all-star spirit of the team and its brand-loyal fans.

3 Ways To Visually Capture Attention

An informative image is not only well designed; it captures both the feeling of the content and facilitates an understanding of it. You can increase a message’s impact, capture attention and create something memorable through visually communicating by using these 3 simples imagery techniques.

1 Powerful Imagery

Increase the emotional bond with the viewer. Studies show effective use of photographs and drawings of the face create this emotional appeal. People easily identify positively with facial expressions and pick up the emotions they evoke quickly. Use facial gestures that express an intended emotional intensity.

2 Symbolism

Using symbols provides a way to communicate emotional content to represent abstract and sometimes complex ideas. People will associate the visual symbols of their culture with their society’s values and themes which gives it emotional meaning. Almost any concept can be communicated with a symbol.

3 Visual metaphors

You can synthesize two objects or concepts to reveal a new connection or another meaning. It is important that viewers be able to interpret the figurative rather than literal meaning. For a successful metaphor, we need to use recognizable objects and familiar concepts.

Most importantly, seek innovative ideas that communicate the benefits of your business or marketing strategy and resonate with your audience for a particular business goal.

What Happens Above The Fold?

Designers make specific considerations for effective visual communication. It is not only an art, but a science.

What is the ‘above the fold’ concept?

The most eye-catching story or image in a newspaper lies on the most visible part of the paper when it is folded in half and set on a newstand. The obvious goal… to pull in readers quickly and get them to buy. Today, we also call this the ‘virtual fold’.

Where is the ‘virtual fold’?

This depends on:

how a user is browsing the web;

the physical size of the users screen;

the resolution the users screen is set to;

what device the user is viewing on.

There are numerous ways to calculate the fold line. As many as the myriad of online viewing scenarios but, essentially, web design ‘above the fold’ lies where the user begins to scroll.

What lies ‘above the fold’?

Whether you are using web or print communications, virtually, the same principles apply.

The hierarchical list of what you want to communicate for your visitor begins with:


WHO are you?

Positioning Statement

WHAT is your content/subject matter?


HOW do I move around and what information can I find?

And now comes the all important…


Communications is about engaging customers.

How do we engage visitors so they scroll down and move about your website?

As in any design, it is important to put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer. What are they looking for? Beyond the most important elements listed above, you can begin by making a hierarchical list of what your customer finds most important in relation to your business. List the reasons they are coming to your website. Define the questions new customers ask. Taking into consideration your specific intents will help you with your thought process, but be sure to think like your customer!

The principles of space usage, typography, and other elements of effective hierarchical communication are essential to both print and web design, but the methods of achieving these principles involve different skill sets and considerations for your viewer.

Visually Leading Your Viewers With Intent

How do we get your customers to pay attention to your message?

As designers, we strive to lead viewers attention through your important communications by using …

contrasting size (scale), color, and page position.

large, bold display type and/or graphics to direct them.

varying visual weight, intensity, and color, applying appropriate focus.

We like to make it easy for viewers to read,
so we organize elements using …

a grid system to arrange elements coherently in the space.

multiple columns to help place text and visuals into smaller, more easily taken in bytes of information- such as, text divided into two or three equal columns. Text the full width of the page loses a reader. Optimal reading line width has a standard ratio that is relative to the overall width of the page. A single wider column with a smaller column for pullout quotes and other types of supporting content also works well.

left aligned (unjustified) text to create visual relief while managing the “rag” or sentence breaks.

increase leading (white space between lines) to lighten the look of the page.

White space…. Yes! It has a purpose!

White space helps differentiate the different elements in the space and gives the readers eyes a break. It is a fine balance. Too much material and the page will appear cluttered and viewers eyes are confused as to where to go. Too much white space and the page will appear empty, again confusing our viewers. But it is better to have too much white space than not enough.

We use white space when …

we want two elements to look distinct, using the appropriate white space between them provides focus.

an element needs to be highlighted, increasing the amount of white space around it draws attention.

optically balancing the space – leaving a little more white space at the bottom of a page relative to the top of the page and nice margins on left and right so nothing appears crammed on the page.

we create a wide margin with the purpose of directing the viewer’s attention into the copy or image area.

Our goal with visual communications is to invite the reader into the page and have them leave with your message.

IBM’s New Identity

Excellent April Fools! And I fell for it!


One of the most recognized logotypes in the world is changing… IBM.

A quick look at IBMs logo history.

The agency, Forty, has helped IBM rethink their brand identity. Read the full story here.

Excerpts from Fortys website written by Shaina Rozen, Marketing Director:

Forty says “their first step was to develop an in-depth brand metaphor for the new IBM. They brainstormed new keywords to propel IBM’s verbal and visual strategies, and developed a new tagline to drive home their refreshed brand.”

Brand keywords:

• Youthful: young, fresh, enthusiastic

• Energetic: lively, dynamic, vibrant

• Hip: trendy, popular, sharp

• Accessible: approachable, friendly, pleasant

• Forward-thinking: progressive, bold, pioneering

• Transparent: clear, honest, upfront

New tagline is “Intelligence Redefined”.

“IBM’s purpose, as isolated and refined by Forty, is simply “making people smarter.” This can happen through technology, training, communication, and any other type of knowledge-transfer interaction, all of which fall within IBM’s core competencies as a solution provider.“The visual strategy of using the rainbow pinwheel ”represents the world’s diversity unified into a thing of beauty. IBM is truly a global company, and this sense of diversity is present in everything they do. (Each one of these colors has a specific cultural significance in the countries where IBM envisions doing the most business over the next 100 years.)”

The new logo will be integrated slowly with completion projected by the end of 2011.

The new IBM design follows current trend of using lower case letters. This, combined with softer rounded letterforms, the dot icon of the “I” and a brighter color palette offers a more relevant, meaningful, contemporary, friendly and pleasing look. Ones eye and mind finishes the cut off ascender on the letter “b”.

It is well thought out, appropriate, timeless and obviously created by top level professional brand designers.

This is a pretty time-consuming April Fools! Hats off to Forty. This serves as an ingenious self promotion!