A book cover is a time capsule. It crystalizes, in compact rectangular form, the visual whims of graphic design. Covers are not immune to trends—in fact, they often define them. This year’s crop of winners from the 50 Books | 50 Covers competition, as chosen by judges Silas Munro, Lisa Lucas, and Hilary Greenbaum, includes a wildly varied group of designs, from bold, oversized type treatments to clean-lined minimalism to eye-popping neon. No two covers are the same, but there are some visual through lines that stand out. Below, we round up the best of the book cover trends that we’re seeing this year.
Iridescence! Shimmer! Foil!
Few things are as eye-catching as a well-executed bit of glimmer. Holograms, foil stamps, and metallic touches are a major theme in this year’s winners. Some covers, like Neo Life, designed by Jennifer Morla, are explicitly designed to be grabby. “The design of the cover, printed with a holographic foil, was designed to entice and engage a larger audience than the scientific community through bold typography and innovative printing techniques,” the designer explains. Others, like Laura Coombs’ cover for the book on the New Museum exhibition Nari Ward: We The People, with its splotchy copper pattern, tie its metallic roots to history. “Ward’s copper plate works reference copper plates found in Georgia churches along the Underground Railroad network,” judge Silas Munro explains. “Copper plates with ‘breathing holes’ were placed in the church floorboards, concealing spaces for people to hide along their journey to freedom, while allowing them to breathe.”
Somewhere along the way flowers became a thing on book covers. The legacy of the “bouquet book” lives on today through covers splashed with bright flowers, ripe fruit trees, and photographic odes to nature. So what’s the deal with so much nature showing up on books that are not necessarily about the natural world? Perhaps it’s a form of escapism. Maybe it’s as reductive as designers following a customer-approved trend. Some people have speculated that the gravitation towards excessive expressions of nature is a deliberate rebuttal of the minimalism trend that’s run rampant through all vectors of graphic design in the last half decade. That might very well be, but not every trend is a simple reaction to the last. The books in this group run the gamut from a cover plastered with work from the OG supporter of bright, floral prints, Gere Kavanaugh, to more subtle nods to the natural world on books like the Claire Orrell-designed After Nature.
The beauty of a book cover is that there’s plenty of real estate to play with. Sometimes the most compelling way to use that real estate is by hardly using it at all. A handful of covers in the winning group are anchored by little else than vertical type stretched up the side of the book. It’s not minimalism for the sake of minimalism. Rather, the bold, vertical type treatments are a way to draw out something else deeper into the book. In the case of Parks, designed by Order’s Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, the vertical type was a contextual choice. “We decided on a vertical type treatment as a nod to the Unigrid map system designed by Vignelli Associates in 1977,” Reed explains. “The yellow cloth was chosen as a reference to the early NPS brochures, specifically one from 1929 called ‘Glimpses of our National Parks.’ The combination of these old and new visual components produced the final cover design.”
Few graphic choices communicate as strongly as using neon, but the winners show how varied the use of ultra-saturated hues can be. Whether it’s a cover printed in a solid sheet of terminal green like Tony Eräpuro’s work on Tatsuo Miyajima Sky of Time or the rainbow of bright colors on the Karlssonwilker-designed book for Maryland Institute College of Art, the purpose of deploying neon is usually pretty simple: It’s meant to catch your eye.