For hundreds of years, the use of book cover functioned as a protective device for usually hand-made or printed pages, as well as keeping the pages together through binding them. The only aesthetical purpose of a book cover was to be a decorative tribute to their cultural authority. Back then, the design of a book cover was considered, but they weren’t engineered to market the internal material. Book covers today are used as a form of marketing and insight into the book’s content. Take a look at these examples from centuries ago –
These covers show that there has been thought put into the overall cover design, but they are not being used to market the internal value of the content. As time progressed, so did the book cover.
With the introduction of new machinery and materials, changes were starting to be seen in the 1820’s. Mechanical book-binding also began to change how a book was covered, whilst materials were also being swapped for less inexpensive items – from cloth to paper.
As techniques and materials developed, they also became more affordable due to the introduction of steam-powered presses and mechanically produced paper. Not only did book covers become less inexpensive to produce, but they were also printable through processes such as multi-colour lithography in around 1837 and half-tone illustration processes in 1852. Techniques were also evolving and being introduced into other areas of print such as poster art, and these industries gradually infiltrated into book cover design.
This is where the role of the book cover began to shift – turning from a vehicle that merely protects the pages inside, to taking on the function of advertising whilst also communicating the content of the pages inside.
Cover design began to shape itself even further during the Arts and Crafts and Art Noveau movements at the beginning of the 20th century. These movements began to infiltrate into the growing book industry through developing publishers in Europe, London and New York.
Artists from the Soviet Union were some of the first to produce radically modern book cover designs. Throughout the 1920’s artists such as Aubrey Beadsley and Alexander Rodchenko were known to create strikingly different covers, such as Beadsley’s first four volumes of The Yellow Book (1894-5).
In the post-war era, the book industry had started to become commercially competitive. Book covers were being used as vessels to express the style, genre and subject of a book and designers were still trying to push the design to its limit in hope of attracting more sales.
As in today’s world, cover design differs from country to country because of tastes that differed from country to country. For example, Harry Potter books.
Book cover design has evolved even more through the rise and growth of the Internet – it is still as important, even if it is in a two-dimensional format. If anything, book cover design is more important now than ever as you’re less likely to see a book’s spine before the front cover – a versatile tool that can sell a book to a huge audience online.