Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards

Jonathan Gibbs

abcd awards Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awardsLast night I turned up – all too briefly, alas – to see and vote at the inaugural Academy of British Cover Design awards, in a downstairs bar on still-trendy Hoxton Square. There were over 100 people there when I had to leave, but the voting was only just getting going, with the shortlisted covers, in ten categories, being projected on a screen and helpful design students handing out ballot slips.

I’m not quite sure how policed the whole enterprise was (as one of the organisers said to me, if you get your whole art department to turn up to vote for your entry, what can anyone do about that?) but then firstly book designers seem a genuinely genial bunch, and secondly all prize-givings are exercises in the fine art of democracy, which is as much snake-charming and nimble choreography as anything else, whether we’re talking the Not The Booker Prize or the Academy Awards.

The awards, pictured above, were a beautiful collection of battered old hardbacks, with the ABCD logo die-cut into the front – something that anyone present, I’m sure, would have been thrilled to have on their shelves.

You can look on the ABCD website for the full shortlists, but here are the ten winning entries, with my own, entirely subjective thoughts:


CharmAndStrange Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards

Sharon King-Chai for Charm and Strange, by Stephanie Kuehn (Electric Monkey/Egmont)

This is a great cover that looks refreshingly different to most children’s covers – but then perhaps it’s as much a YA book as a kid’s book. Not for the first time, getting the categories right is the hardest thing – and often impossible. Certainly, this is something you can imagine crossing over, that a teenager – or an adult  - would be happy being seen reading. Shades of Jonathan Safran Foer in the title lettering, but it’s nice having the ‘blurb’ fill up so much of the cover, and the author’s name crammed into the corner. In reality, there’s only one place you’re looking with this cover, right into the hastily scribbled eye of that nasty-toothed wolf. (I voted for this in this category. ‘ray!)

Young adult

Tinder  Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards

Laura Brett for Tinder, by Sally Gardner (Orion)

Another wolf. Ironically, this looks more like a traditional children’s book than the children’s book winner – in layout and lettering, if not in colour palette and illustration. The houses look all-age appropriate, but this time the wolf, with its claws and its we-e-ird eyes isn’t just nasty-looking; it’s evil. This one. however, brings up the issue of designer vs illustrator. As a civilian, as opposed to a member of the industry, I rather worry that David Roberts might be forgiven an eye-roll for Laura Brett’s win. How much of the distinctiveness of the cover is down to Roberts’s drawing, and how much to Brett’s use of it? Certainly, it’s possible to imagine a bad cover using the same drawing, but for me the drawing is a major part of its success.


irobot Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards

Clare Skeats for I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov (Harper Collins)

Good, clean cover. I read barely any sci-fi, but you’ve got to wonder: what do people who do read it want from their covers. This serious, elegant approach is so very at odds with what I think of as the ‘classic’ sci-fi look – those baroque spaceships sat against strange-coloured planets on 70s and 80s paperback covers. There’s obviously a lot of retro love for that look now, but looking at the shortlisted books, only half of them are sci-fi, rather than fantasy, which seems to have held onto its traditional visual aesthetic better, and only James Smythe’s The Explorer takes what you might call a contemporary approach to contemporary science fiction. Skeats’s cover could equally have been entered in the Classic’Re-issue section, and perhaps that’s where it belongs. Certainly as a design it seems to be reaching out to the general reader, rather than battling it out on the genre shelves.

Mass market

TheScentOfDeath Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards

Emma Rogers for The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor (Harper Collins)

A great mass market cover, this, using the very popular trope of the character walking away into the distance, and also the spiral that has been seen all over covers in recent years. It makes me think of the original cover of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, Clare Messud’s The Woman Upstairs and… something else that’s ON THE TIP OF MY EYEBALLS and I can’t remember. It may come back to me. But this seems very ‘now’ without seeming derivative.

Literary Fiction

Tampa Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards

John Gray for Tampa by Alissa Nutting (Faber)

Well, I didn’t vote for this. (I voted for Suzanne Dean’s witty cover for Nicholas Royle’s First Novel, which I blogged about previously.) Frankly, though it’s technically a clever – nigh on faultless – design, and John Gray is a great designer, I find this cover’s nudge-nudge approach to sexuality rather prurient. If you ask me, we’ll look back on this kind of visual gag (of which there are many, not least for covers of Nabokov’s Lolita) rather in the same way as we now look back on the soft focus nudes on the cover of those old Edna O’Brien paperbacks. Does that make me a prude? Ah, well, possibly.


tequila Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards

Tony Lyons at Estuary English for Tequila Sunset by Sam Hawken (Serpent’s Tail)

Again, rather like the sci-fi winner, this seems to be trying to break out of the crime template, rather than stay within it. Which either makes it a positive contribution, or else unrepresentative. Certainly a good bold look, mixing Day of the Dead aesthetics with the slightly gauche stylings of the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia.


Football Type book Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards

Rick Banks at Face37 for Football Type

Well, I can’t help thinking that this is an award for the book as a whole, rather than the cover – it’s a limited edition, charitable tome about the little-noted crossover between football shirts and typography. It’s simply stunning looking, not least because each of the 1,000 copies has a bespoke, hand-numbered cover. I personally preferred James Jones’s cover for A Sting in the Tale, with its dozen neatly laid out bumble bees.

Series Design

9781409147442 Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards

Sinem Erkas for F Scott Fitzgerald (Orion)

Lovely jazz age covers. Are they better than Coralie Bickford-Smith’s covers for Penguin Classics from a couple of years ago? I’d say not. (Are they as sumptuously produced? No, not by a long stretch, from what I’ve seen of these online, and the others, in the flesh. But then these aren’t awards for book production, just book design.)


nineteeneightyfour Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards

David Pearson for Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (Penguin)

Well, what you can you say? A brilliantly witty twist on the classic Penguin paperback design – that pushes against the constraints of what the marketing department might or might not allow out onto the shelves. A wry political commentary on this, and every, information age. Censorship and surveillance, how strangely these two seemingly opposed practices are intertwined. This super cover was the very first of these Friday Book Design Blogs. I loved it then, and I love it now.

Women’s fiction

InstructionsForAHeatwave Friday Book Design Blog: ABCD awards
Yeti McCaldin for Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O’Farrell (Headline)

This is a great cover (I voted for it) – full of interesting colours, using that retro palette now available to all on Instagram that seems at once saturated and washed out. The colour of memories – not sepia, any more, but sweetshop pastel.The cutting together of the three images is so effortlessly done that it takes a moment to work out that there really are three images – it all hangs other so well that it looks like just one. And the images and the text work so well together – with the couple of the beach delicately framed, and the plates in the bottom right corner, and the curtain billowing like something in a dream. A brilliant piece of work.

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