8 of the Best Book Covers of 2021

…As chosen by 10 of the best designers in publishing today

“Just one.”

So went the particularly cruel prompt that we issued a medley of designers from the publishing industry as 2021 drew to a close. Following a year jam-packed with powerful covers and jackets, we asked a roster of 10—Nicole Caputo, Rodrigo Corral, David Drummond, Janay Nachel Frazier, John Gall, Anne Jordan, Emily Mahon, Gustavo Piqueira, Arsh Raziuddin, and Sarahmay Wilkinson—to choose one of their favorite covers from the past 365 days for this piece. Just one.

Their selections form a kaleidoscopic view of the year in publishing that was, and here we present them with each designer’s thoughts—beginning with a book cover so well-executed it was chosen independently by three different creatives.

Mona, by Pola Oloixarac

Cover design by Thomas Colligan

“To me, this cover could have been designed five or 10 years from now, or designed 20 years ago. There’s a craftsmanship that requires someone who spends a lot of time both drawing and designing. Being able to do both takes things up a level. There are no compromises; you don’t get something from an illustrator and work with it. It’s one process that you own, and the outcome can be great.”

Rodrigo Corral, creative director, Rodrigo Corral Studio/Farrar Straus & Giroux


“This cover is so stunning and unexpected. I marvel at the shapes and colors, and the arresting visage of the illustration. Every time I look at the face, I see something new in the art. The type and illustration are so complementary—they’re both so strong they could exist as separate entities. The fonts encapsulate so much personality and flavor. I love how the spirit of the book is projected so vividly.”

Emily Mahon, art director, Knopf Doubleday Books


“This cover is evocative, strange, and just plain gorgeous. The type and collage feel of a piece; the bold color and stark composition create a striking whole. The partial portrait emerging from black possesses an almost intoxicating beauty, and I’m immediately intrigued about Mona and the world she inhabits.”

Arsh Raziuddin, creative director, Bon Appétit, and freelance designer

Stranger to the Moon, by Evelio Rosero

Cover design by Janet Hansen

“This cover is such a beauty and intrigued me instantly. You can tell you are moving into a book that is a bit strange, perhaps fabulistic, but there is a sophistication to the palette and the typography and the materiality of the cover that feels deeply human, dark, and literary. I love how my eye is controlled and drawn to the bright, bold, fully open eye at bottom that looks reptilian and human at the same time, and to the title below it, then back up the cover as the eyes change and eventually close, appearing simply as a shape—leaving you with so many questions that you must crack the spine and start reading.”

Nicole Caputo, creative director, Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull Press; co-founder, She Designs Books

1984 & Animal Farm, by George Orwell

Cover design by Jack Smyth

“Jack Smyth takes ‘type-only’ covers to a different level. He has done many of them, and they are all virtuousic in their sheer inventiveness.”

David Drummond, principal, Salamander Hill Design

Please Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes, by Phoebe Robinson

Cover design by Dominique Jones

“Dominique Jones’ work on Please Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes by Phoebe Robinson is absolutely stunning! I love the way the type tucks perfectly into Phoebe’s silhouette. Dominique created a beautiful combination of type layout and bright and bold color relationships. Truly an amazing cover.”

Janay Nachel Frazier, senior designer, Penguin Random House

After the Sun, by Jonas Eika

Cover design by Lauren Peters-Collaer; art by Dorian Legret; art direction by Helen Yentus

“Lauren, Dorian, and Helen have created a stunning cover that references the novel’s beach and desert settings in an innovative way. No cliche palm trees or sand, just stunning color and form. The abstract image is surreal: sunset-like, but hyper-saturated, as if we’re seeing the world through a filter. A few tiny birds flying through the sky anchor the image into reality just enough, without taking away from the fantastical quality of the image. I love how the sharp strokes of the type cut through the painterly image, subtly referencing the juxtaposition of man and machine. In short: Wow. This is a cover I can’t stop looking at.”

Anne Jordan, book cover designer

Foucault in Warsaw, by Remigiusz Ryziński

Cover design by Daniel Benneworth-Gray

“This design articulates very common elements (the dotted pattern, the antique oil painting landscape, the human silhouette) with extreme simplicity and originality, forming a cover that manages to be at the same time very beautiful and very disturbing. Last but not least, it pays homage to Polish posters, directly referencing them without just mimicking.”

Gustavo Piqueira, graphic designer and writer

Harrow, by Joy Williams

Cover design by Kelly Blair

“I have said it before, and I will say it again: Kelly Blair consistently creates some of the best book covers in town. 2021 has been no exception for the designer; Harrow, The Ghost Variations, Morningside Heights, and Stones are all total stunners. Harrow in particular stopped me in my tracks. The tension between the black foreboding frame and warm green canvas drew me in. Then a floating, and simultaneously frantic, horse held captive by a black oil slick, the gasp of the tongue and terror in the eye strategically cast in a contrasting blood red?! A classical layout and type treatment juxtaposed with such a surreal image recalls the trickery and play of Magritte. How delightfully disorienting. I adore it—and Blair’s entire body of work.”

Sarahmay Wilkinson, art director, W.W. Norton & Company

LaserWriter II: A Novel, by Tamara Shopsin

Cover design by Tamara Shopsin

“I love covers that are both obvious and completely unexpected. Tamara Shopsin wrote this wonderful novel and designed its brilliant cover. The book is a love letter to a bygone Apple repair store, and for the cover she shows us the beauty in one of the most banal things on earth: the laser printer test sheet. 

“I’m just guessing here, but I think that since Tamara Shopsin does not design book covers exclusively for a living, it allows her to come into a project like this with a truly open mind—unencumbered by baggage the rest of us carry around about what a book cover is supposed to look like. This honest, clear-eyed adherence to concept and detail is what makes it my favorite cover this year.”

John Gall, creative director, Alfred A. Knopf

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