The Art of Book Cover Designs With Anne Pettigrew and Bart Rouwhorst

Earlier this month, LiteraryGlobe hosted a discussion on the Art of Book Cover Designs, featuring award-winning Scottish author, Anne Pettigrew, and acclaimed Dutch graphic designer, Bart Rouwhorst. They covered the elements of a ‘Great Book Cover’ from iconic designs to ingenious techniques and trends, laying bare a few little-known but fascinating facts.

Anne set the scene, presenting the extraordinary histories behind book cover design. From ancient ceramic cylinders needing none to medieval books swathed in handmade silk or leather covers embellished with gems and precious metals, for centuries most books were religious, held in churches and monasteries, lovingly scribed and adorned. But since the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century, books have been made more speedily, even more so after the Machine press in 19th century which cut their cost. Books became more profane, novels appeared in the late eighteenth century and covers progressed to board with cloth or leather overlay, and eventually accessible to all when mass-produced with paper covers. Publishers became aware of branding and the need for a cover to entice a reader to look at the blurb on the back cover and take it home. Today, bookshops are crowded with hundreds of books and cover designs are aesthetically created works of art that must stand out. We saw current trends like bold text, cartoon graphic, hand-written font and snippets of newspaper cuttings and noted how humans are visual creatures emotionally triggered by shapes, shades and images.

Next on the panel was Bart, whose profound understanding of the power of good design became more evident as he showcased some of his remarkable creations -each demonstrating how powerful good graphic art can be. The most powerful cover was for a Bible, which has been included in the permanent collection of the Stedelijk Museum in the Netherlands. Bart contended attractive cover designs are crucial to selling the stories to booklovers and revealed his five commandments for a good book cover – “Collaborate, Be Playful, Be Striking, Be Simple, Be Surprising!“ He concluded by saying that the use of fonts, specific colours, and striking, simple images have one main function- to sell the book. Our other Panellist, Scottish poet, and author Leela Soma, highlighted the bookseller’s dilemma of where to place books and whether covers need always conform to a trope for genre. This special session closed with questions from enthusiastic participants. Can a book cover persuade a reader to buy? Are there favourite fonts, foreseeable trends and does a graphic designer need to read a book before attempting a design? There was general agreement that a good book cover must be designed to appeal to a book’s target audience. As consumers are faced with even more choice of titles, designers will have to push boundaries to draw the attention of potential readers.

The Art of Book Covers

If you would like to hear more about book covers and what they can convey, you can download the full discussion here:

About our Panel

Scottish author, Anne Pettigrew is a former doctor, journalist and author of two critically acclaimed medical novels, Not the life Imagined and Not the Deaths Imagined and is a book reviewer and blogger interested in anthropology, art, history and travel.

Bart Rouwhorst is an acclaimed Dutch graphic designer of book covers, posters, house styles, illustrations, websites, exhibitions and events. He has received numerous awards, including some during his 15 year his time collaborating with colleague, Ron van Roon. He is based in Amsterdam.

Leela Soma from Madras, India, now lives in Glasgow, Scotland. She has had many poems, short stories and three novels published and was appointed Scriever (poet laureate) in 2021 for the Federation of Writers, Scotland.