Over winter break, I designed the interior for Ooligan Press’s latest novel, At the Waterline. While I was home, I tried explaining the interior design process to family and friends and was met with a string of nods and blank stares. Honestly, it happens a lot. Designing the interior of a book is a complex, detail-oriented process—from picking the right font to fixing the widows and orphans. But it’s not as bad as it sounds.
In recent years, multiple graphic designers—a few having dyslexia themselves—have created various new fonts designed to be easily read by individualizing each letter to create a smoother reading experience. This is done by creating larger openings in letters like c and e, as well as varying the thickness to make each letter distinct.
One would think these principles of cover design to be universal, and yet I’m staring at a couple Japanese novels on my desk, and can’t help but wonder if the standards of design are a little bit different (read: awesome) there. Japanese bestsellers, especially foreign titles, are often printed as bunko, which are similar in form and function to mass market paperbacks in the West. They do tend to be a bit shorter and slimmer than Western paperbacks however, and are usually only about two hundred pages long. Because of this length restriction, many Western bestsellers are often split up into multiple volumes. These criteria mean that cover designers have less space to work on per book, but potentially more books available. You might also notice an almost universal trend of more numerous and larger typographic elements on Japanese covers. As my team has been working on a YA cover, I’m specifically interested in that market. As a teaching example of YA cover design differences between Japan and America, one need look no further than America’s favorite dystopian series about ritual teen murder and bird-themed rebellion: The Hunger Games.
In 2013, a fourteen-year-old student, Suvir Mirchandani, was wondering how his school could reduce its ink consumption after receiving tons of daily handouts. He started his research by focusing on the most frequently used letters in these handouts: e, t, a, o, and r. Then he applied them to four different types of fonts—Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic, and Comic Sans—and compared their ink consumptions.
Every time someone says “don’t judge a book by its cover,” I cringe. This clichéd phrase implies that the cover of the book is useless in discerning what the book is about and that the cover has no other use than to “cover up” the pages within. The phrase was quite popular in my youth, and I recall being reprimanded by friends any time I turned down a book because I thought the cover was subpar. For years I felt guilty about being so judgmental—until a classmate introduced me to the work of Graphic Designer Chip Kidd.
If you’re of the bookish persuasion (and if you’re reading this blog post, the odds are probably good), you may also be of the mappish persuasion: when you pick up a book and discover it contains a map, a little piece of you erupts in excitement over this double-page spread that promises a literary quest is waiting inside.