UK vs US: book cover design

‘Ding-ding, round one’

That’s how this is usually perceived; a fight, a competition. UK designers ‘versus’ US designers. However, the winner is almost always decided in advance by whoever organised the fight – which surely means the fight was rigged from the beginning.

That’s because, just like each individual market on either side of the Atlantic, design is judged by opinion. Sometimes objective but almost always subjective. In truth, there is no winner… there isn’t even a competition.

Recently, a few book cover designers (including myself) were asked our opinion on ‘The difference between UK and US book covers’ – which, you will note, is a little different from ‘versus’.

I won’t go into detail about the article or the journalist. However, I feel that the article was much more combative in tone than billed and that my thoughts were taken out of context.

Here it is should you wish to read it: Click here

With this in mind, I feel it’s important to set the record straight. It is unfortunate that an article, in a very popular newspaper which is being shared around the world, describes a process so different to the truth as this isn’t how our industry works.

So, what is the truth?

Covers are designed towards a book’s market, any differences between a UK and US design of the same book is down to that and the designer. Broadly speaking, an individual designer will take a brief and use their skill, experience and knowledge of the book’s market/genre to create a cover which will make someone want to pick it up.

That same brief will be interpreted in a kaleidoscope of different ways depending on the designer, their background and their skills. Some designs will be more beautiful, some will be more commercial, some will have hand-written typography, some will have a clean aesthetic… you get the picture.

All concepts are then filtered through a myriad of processes along the way. From the editor, through marketing, the sales department, to the author and the sales rep (not necessarily in that order). Of course, great concepts can be lost. As a designer, you have to pick your battles. We always fight for our ideas but sometimes you just have to accept the decision and move on to the next brief.

And then there are the UK and US markets. The enormity of the US is already reason enough for our designs to have differences; their market is arguably more complex than ours in the UK – what sells in one city, in one state, may be harder to sell in another due to culture and politics.

The article used Hillary Clinton’s What Happened as an example of our differences in design style – claiming one was better than the other – but we don’t know the reason why each publisher and designer chose the directions they did.

I do know the UK version fits very well in our market – photograph of the author with a nice bit of type – not unlike Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope (which sold extremely well). The US cover is aesthetically simpler but it has a huge amount of confidence.

It is unfair to compare them. Arguably, this book is much more important and, potentially, divisive for the US. I can’t say whether this effected the way it was designed, but it is a good example of how different cultures and politics can play a part in the design process.

The truth is there isn’t a competition, one design is not better than another. They are just different. If you prefer one cover design it is just your opinion and taste – it really is that simple.