Book Cover Design

The brief for this exercise is to design a stunning and contemporary cover for one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed authors, HG Wells.

The keywords that I identified from the full brief were: “Stunning”, “Contemporary”, “Science fiction”, “HG Wells”, “Writing”, “Social novels”, “timeless fiction”, “paperback”, “cover designs”, “a set”.

It is obvious that research is central to creating a successful design for this brief. The cover of a book will not only visually attract the audience to pick it up but will also cause the reader to form a judgement of what the novel is about. It is important therefore to be familiar with the genre in which the author is writing and with the defining elements of the story. HG Wells is a well known author and his books have been published many different times with many different cover designs… it is important to research what designs have gone before.

I made some notes about the different types research I could undertake both in a general way and specific to this brief.




I then divided my research ideas for this project into categories:

Primary Research

  • Visit a bookshop/library for examples of contemporary design styles and characteristics of a “set”
  • Ask my friends opinions of what makes a successful book cover

Secondary Research:

  • Find out about HG Wells and the theme of his works
  • Choose three HG Wells novels and explore their themes and key concepts
  • Research existing artwork for each novel on the internet
  • Research contemporary novel covers on the internet
  • Explore the science fiction genre – keywords, images and fonts
  • Research fundamental principles of book cover design

I found out from my research that HG Wells was a British author, journalist and sociologist who wrote in many genres most famously science fiction. His novels often acted as a voice for his political and social commentary. Wells deeply distrusted human self-satisfaction and believed that modern life (he was writing in the late victorian period) would lead to apocalyptic changes initiated by science and exacerbatebated by human ignornace, greed and smugness.

I chose his three most famous novels and did some mind maps of things connected to the novels. I also made a Pinterest board for HG Wells book cover designs and images and art associated with Science Fiction.

The Time Machine

The War of the Worlds

The Invisible Man




I generated a list of keywords connected to the science fiction genre to help with my imagery:

“shapeshifter”, “mutants”, “aliens”, “clones”, “metephysical”, “invasion”, “colonisation”, “genetics”, “starship”, “exploration”, “Android”, “Beam”, “blaster”, “cryogenics”, “cyberspace”, “dystopia”, “force field”, “extreterrestial”, “futuristic”, “cyborg”, “fourth dimension”, “teleport”, “time machine”, “UFO”, “planets”, “apocalyptic”, “teleportation”, “worm holes”

Once I’d established what novels I was going to design covers for I started some more general research into good book cover design. Jo Sabin’s article entitled ‘Beginner’s Guide to Book Cover Design’ on was very useful and offered tips about visual credibility and communicating a concept through visual elements.

I made a Pintrest board of contemporary book covers

and developed a list of characteristics of contemporary cover designs:

  • Use of block colour
  • Use of symbols and silhoettes
  • Handwritten quality to the typography
  • Use of symbolism
  • Neutral expanses accented with pops of primary colour

The website gives numerous examples of redesigned classic book covers and it was interesting to compare these to some of the more traditional styles. It seemed that typography was a major tool for giving a modern and fresh feel to the overall look. Taking this a bit further I researched some possible fonts which would work well for communicating the genre of the novels. I found some interesting examples using heavy, rounded, geometric and condensed lettering.

I also visited my local bookshop and looked on my own bookshelf to look at the science fiction novels currently available. The brief mentions that the cover designs should work as a set and my visit to the bookshop really helped me to think about how to achieve this. A lot of the series used similar colours throughout or a similar layout with a different colour for each individual book. The ‘Game of Thrones’ novels use the same font for the titles and a central image of a cloudy sky landscape on all the novels.



Completing my research had given me a lot of ideas and I started my designing by drawing some sketches of individual images I connected with the novels (taken from my mind mapping).


I then made a collage of some thumbnails to explore different design layouts and see which worked well and what elements I could successfully incorporate. My collages use a lot of images from Shutterstock.


I decided to develop two different ideas. The first I felt was a more obvious way of responding to the brief and incorporated strong images which visually depict the themes of the novels. The font for the title is Copperplate Bold which I thought looked quite ‘techy’ and scientific. I generated the images in Illustrator and then composed the artwork in Photoshop.

I used an existing piece of artwork called ‘Orb of the North Wind’ by JP-Talma ( to generate the light effects from the central orb of the image for my rough designs.


If I was producing best copy designs I would create some light effects from scratch and they would be more free flowing and less defined in a circle shape than shown in my mock-ups. My finished sketches use three different colours for the different books.





My second idea was a more ‘out of the box’ approach to responding to the brief and I had the idea of creating book covers that could be coloured in by the reader. Adult colouring in is a very fashionable passtime and I though would give a contemporary feel to the books. I still wanted to communicate the themes and so choose black and white geometric patterns which I thought reflected the book’s content. The font I used was called Val – I thought it had a futuristic feel to it.




I found the research element of this exercise really interesting and it definitely had a very positive impact on the development of my designs and my visual imagery. I struggled more with producing rough drawings and sketches and contacted my tutor for advice….

“I’m struggling to communicate my designs at the moment as my sketching and Photoshop skills are not good enough to show what I’m thinking. I have an idea for my book covers for the HG Wells exercise but I’m wasting loads of time trying to create it in photoshop… and failing. I’m very frustrated as I can’t find a way of showing you my ideas without spending hours creating full pieces of artwork.”

My tutor suggested that I try collage or cutting images from blank sheets of paper which was a technique I used for producing my thumbnails above. I found it really helpful and it definitely speeded up the process of producing something I felt adequately reflected what was in my head. It is a technique I will use again in the future. I was concerned about collage as I wasn’t sure if it was acceptable to use other people’s images but my tutor explained that as long a I credited the source it was fine.


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