Amazon identified trends in 2017 book covers – Quartz

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Two years ago, the aesthetic was super flat and pastel. Last year we saw a striking profusion of birds on yellow background and pencils on white. This year, the makers of American book covers were crazy about brush letters and enigmatic faces bathed in gold.

As Amazon points out In an analysis of 2017 books and the reading habits of its clients, the appearance of hand painted letters dominated American book cover designs this year. So are the orange-red covers with black and white characters and close-ups of a half-occluded face awash in gold and shadows.

At least nine popular or acclaimed works of fiction that came out this year had some type of hand-rendered brush:

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The artisanal police has been booming for quite some time now: the 2012 novel by Chad Harbach, The art of the field, and the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer in 2002, Everything is illuminated, both had the look.

Courtesy Hachette

Blankets such as The art of the fieldsays Oliver Munday, a designer who worked at Knopf for three and a half years before setting up his own studio, “had a nice organic quality and still felt big and powerful.”

“There’s only a limited number of things you can do with a title, so outside of the digital fonts available on a computer, brush processing can be bold and have that human quality,” says Munday, who designed the covers for Colson Whitehead. The Underground Railroad and that of Nathan Hill The Nix. “This is something that is often used in marketing meetings, in terms of what is missing on a cover: ‘We want there to be the’ human element ‘,” he says.

This year, cover designers have also gone for aggressive orange-red covers, apparently inspired by Mark Manson’s self-help book from last year, The subtle art of not giving a fuck.

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Perhaps because of the success of Lauren Groff’s novel in 2015, Fates and Furies, quite a few fiction books this year had a light background with a foreground title in bold white type. Smaller fonts are less and less common as art departments now have to figure out what the shrunken cover will look like on a phone. At the same time, especially in literary fiction, Munday says, publishers want the “ledger,” that elusive quality that makes a book look prominent on the shelves.

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For some reason, 2017 also had a few half-hidden faces covered in gold. “Mysterious compositions of a face, pieces of faces, it’s a proven way to evoke mystery and pathos,” explains Munday.

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Especially in large publishing houses, book covers are not produced by single designer-authors. The many stakeholders in each design include publishers, publicists, marketers, and of course, authors. Sometimes big booksellers like Barnes & Noble can even weigh in on what they think they’re selling and threaten to buy fewer books if they don’t agree with management. So it makes sense that when publishing houses see a bestselling book with a distinctive cover, the designs that follow can become terribly derivative.

“If we all had free rein to explore the covers as we wanted, the bookstore would be very different,” says Munday. “But it’s a commercial enterprise. These things have to sell. As a designer, you have to put your vanity aside.


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