Telling Typography: The Growing Importance of Typography in the Ever-Changing World of Cover Design

As vast as the range of styles for book covers may seem, there is one element that binds them all together, a common thread: typography. Today, typography is almost unrecognizable from typography of the early days of the printing press. It seems choices are unlimited and more are created every day. With these ever-expanding options comes a new need to distinguish one’s typography style, to both follow the trends and set them.
When printing was new and each letter had to be created individually, had to become a material object pressed to each page, meticulously set, typography was something entirely different than what we know it to be now. Just as everything else in publishing has evolved since the creation of the printing press, so has typography. It’s no longer a simple question of size, spacing, and serif versus sans serif. While these are still factors to take into account, there’s so much more to be considered. The type on the cover is not simply meant to convey title and author; it is a design element unto itself.
For a book to stand out in the marketplace, the typography element must be as important as all other aspects of the cover. All of the pieces must work together to cultivate a feeling or message about what one can expect inside the book. According to an article by Standout Books, “The job of book cover typography is first and foremost to communicate to onlookers the title, subtitle (sometimes left off of fiction books), and the author’s name. However, unlike the text of the book, it’s not only there to be read, but to accentuate the overall feel and style of the composition.” If a book deals with dark or violent themes, it wouldn’t be fitting to have a cover that’s bright yellow. Nor would it make sense for the title to be in a playful font.

For example, when comparing two of Ooligan Press’s books, we can easily see the difference in style between them and how style may be indicative of what the reader can find within the book itself. The cover of The Ocean in My Ears features splashed watercolor, etched mountains, and a penned VW Bug. Over all of this is the title. The title is textured and colored in a way that makes it stand out from the other elements of the cover, but not to the extent that it creates a stark juxtaposition. The font style is reminiscent of writing with a marker. It’s nostalgic and gorgeously rendered, just like the story itself. In contrast, At the Waterline‘s cover is simple: Two main colors separate the the top third from the bottom two thirds. Against the top creamish color, there’s a silhouette of some buildings and a boat, all in the same green color that makes up the bottom portion of the cover. The green deepens lower on the cover like the water it represents. The text is done simply: sans serif, all capitals. Next to the buildings, in that same green, are the words “At the,” and below the buildings, in the contrasting cream, is the word “Waterline.” The simplicity of the design hints at dark themes for an older audience. It’s almost eerie in its simplicity.

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