John Gall On Book Cover Design: Clarity Of Communication

on Wednesday, Jun. 15th

John Gall might not be a name you know, but his book covers are certainly recognizable. He is the genius behind the cover of Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” and numerous other books. He is the Art Director at Vintage/Anchor Books, and instructor of Book Cover Design at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He spoke with Turnstyle about his outlook on teaching book cover design, and shared some stellar student book covers that came out of his classes. Check out his blog here.

Turnstyle: When teaching book cover design, how much do you teach specific styles and how much is developing each student’s own style?

John Gall: We talk about style and we occasionally do a style/historical based project. I think it is important to be able make historical references when designing book covers. Most of the assignments though, are idea-based where we define a concept first and see where that goes. If it eventually involves some kind of stylistic reference, fine, but I am mostly concerned about the thinking and the clarity of the communication. This is why a student can design the cover for a 19th century classic like “Treasure Island” as if it were a Google map. By not being locked in to any stylistic conventions at the outset.

TS: What does your process look like when coming up with a book cover design?

JG: Meet with editors, read book, make a list, develop idea, execute idea in cover form, present to editors, publisher, author, agent; rinse, repeat.

Each book is its own particular beast that has to be designed from the ground up. Every designer has their own way of looking at the problem and coming up with a solution. It can’t help but be personal on some level.

TS: How important is reading and connecting with the book itself?

JG: It is very important to read the book, especially fiction. There is research to be done for any design project and this is what you do when you design a book cover. It is important to hear the author’s voice, to hear how he/she tells the story. Not to mention all the little details—potential ideas—you will miss. No tip sheet is going to give you that information.

TS: Do you see book art changing or disappearing as people switch to eReaders?

JG: First of all, ebooks do not have covers. So that is a big deal. Book covers and jackets serve an actual physical function on a book. Ebooks have little pictures that you click on to download the book’ text. There are things that are going to be done with the “cover” of the book once you download it. Very interesting, interactive things that will enhance the editorial content and the reading experience. We haven’t seen much in the way of that yet—a lot of it has to do with the limitations of epub formats—but I am trying and am making it an important part of what the class will study as well.


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