This week I visited “50 Books, 50 Covers,” the AIGA’s annual exhibition of the year’s best book design that explicitly challenges the familiar expression “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Of all the product packaging I buy, there’s none I notice, appreciate and enjoy more than the packaging of a book. A book’s packaging—its cover, as well as binding, paper, typeface, and ink—have always been part of how books communicate their message. And when well executed, it can capture, express, elevate, interpret, and enliven the contents within.
At its finest, a book cover is actually the first “interpretation” that the reader encounters of the author’s work, and it provide clues to the setting, the character personalities, mood, and themes he or she finds within. But, you ask….aren’t physical books dead?
It’s true that as e-readers proliferate and the percentage of books bought and read digitally increases, we do and will continue to own and read fewer paper books. Ironically, the digital transmutation of the publishing world may end up creating a niche for the book-as-object, as paper books appear to us less as commodities and become more elevated, creative and cherished art forms. As a result, publishers, authors and artists will be challenged to push the boundaries of book design in new and exciting directions. Below are several of my favorite covers from the AIGA exhibition, ones that hint at the ways publishers and designers are already addressing the challenge to give printed books a renewed beauty, meaning and relevance:
Moving forward, the physical books we own and read will work harder in transforming their content into fully immersive visual, spatial and tactile experiences. They will become more cherished objects and more intimate expressions of our identity.
I actually think this is a very exciting time for book design. One visit to the AIGA exhibit and you’ll see just how promising the future is, and what a unique challenge awaits the designers, authors and readers of actual, physical books.