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Book Cover designs by Coralie Bickford-Smith

I don’t mind admitting that walking into a bookshop or a library can be a visually thrilling experience. Seeing an array of books covers appeals to me as reader and graphic designer. With the dwindling of high street bookshops to online retailers, fewer second hand bookshops and local libraries closing, this experience of seeing a lot of book covers in one go is becoming a much less regular occurrence.
I recognise that I’m in danger of fetishizing the book as an object here, and I’d be the first to advocate greener ways of communicating information. However, the idea of the bookshop is difficult to replicate online. I’m not talking about finding an equivalent way of buying books on the web, but of experiencing a lot of different and perhaps unexpected books at the same time.
Browsing online is not the same as browsing in a bookshop or a library. Search engines are tools designed to help you find what you want, while most online bookshops reflect your previous choices through similar items. Browsing in a bookshop gives you access to things you didn’t know existed. It also allows you to see what’s currently available, and to get a sense of what this range looks like alongside one another, in other words, what are the dominant visual approaches to book design at the moment.
Picking random books from a shelf can be a great way of broadening your knowledge or developing a lateral approach to ideas. Sooner or later you’ll find something that will connect to your current project or thinking and hopefully it will make links in unexpected or creative ways. Library browsing supports this kind of activity quite well, however the range of possibilities are limited by the scale of the library. The internet on the other hand offers vast possibilities but browsing can often feel like a process of drifting from one hyperlinks to another.
A number of graphic design and illustration focused bloggers have been dealing with some of these issues by helping to mediate the internet’s content and present a range of book designs that appeals to the traditional browser. These blogs offer collections, samples, random snapshots, or ephemera that have been collected and scanned, or gleaned from the growing range of online archives and museums. You might not be able to physically engage with these books but at least they offer the opportunity to see book covers together, make connections and to find things you didn’t know existed. Below are some of the blogs I’ve come across so far:
The Book Cover Archive is an archive of book cover designs and designers dedicated to the appreciation and categorisation of book designs:
BibliOdyssey explores the dustier and often overlooked corners of the internet to present a cabinet of curiosity of archive material from existing museum collections. Interestingly the blog has now been published as a book by Fuel Publishing.
50 Watts is a rich and unexpected archive of book-related graphic design and illustration. http://50watts.com/
Flickr offers a number of book groups or individual bloggers interested in collecting and documenting genres of book covers, such as : http://www.flickr.com/groups/bookcovers/
Penguin Paperback Spotters’ Guild
Design Observer regularly blogs about books and book covers from a graphic design perspective: http://designobserver.com/books.html
Book Cover Lover A personal collection of vintage Swedish book designs
Or a search of Pinterest might offer a range of bloggers choices of designs
Awful library books picks up some of the more bizarrely conceived or designed books from the forgotten shelves of libraries: http://awfullibrarybooks.net/
If you find any other book cover related blogs or resources perhaps you would like to share them within the comments section below?

Posted by author: Christian Lloyd
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5 thoughts on “Just browsing

  • That’s a cornucopia of treasures for me to explore Christian. I love browsing ‘real’ books and am particularly interested in design and covers at the moment. Thanks.

  • Thank you Christian. I very much enjoy browsing Book Cover Lover and 50 Watts, and Pinterest too, and shall look up the others that you mention.
    And another, on the flipside – http://causticcovercritic.blogspot.co.uk/ – is usually exactly what it says, critical & caustic, but really makes me think twice/carefully about some of my ideas (I occasionally do EP/CD covers) and shudder… So not exactly pleasurable browsing but useful and sometimes life-saving!

    • Thanks Gilly, I’ve not come across Caustic Cover Critic before. It looks very interesting, especially in making connections between borrowed ideas, though as you say, not always pleasurable if you think you’ve developed a unique design all of your own!

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