Judging a book by its cover

This exercise involves choosing a book by an author I am familiar with and designing two different covers for it, one using illustrations or photography and the other using just type.

The book I have chosen is Animal Farm by George Orwell. Published in 1945 by Secker and Warburg in London under the original title Animal Farm: A Fairy Story it is an allegorical novella which Orwell used as a means to voice his own political views on post war communism. The book satirises the events that occurred in Russia following the 1917 revolution but was also inspired by Orwell’s experience of fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The story details a revolution by the animals of a farm against their human oppressors and covers themes of socialist irony, political tyranny and the misuse of power.

The original book cover design of the first edition is in fact solely typographical, detailing simply the title and the name of the author against a two colour background.


Over the years there have been many editions published by several different publishing houses. I created a Pinterest board of some examples of cover designs.

One design I found of particular interest was by Katie Troy and combined the use of photography and illustration in a collage style effect. I felt that the use of photography worked particularly well with communicating the themes of the book to the audience.


My research had yielded numerous examples of cover designs for this book but they mainly seemed to use illustration as the primary design style. I ran a more general search on Pinterest for book cover designs that used typography.

I started my design process by sketching some possible ideas for designs in each of the two categories. The book has serious themes and was intended for an adult audience but is written in such a style that it could be read by children too. The demographic of adult readers would be fairly wide and of both sexes. The language and writing style is actually fairly ‘easy read’ but appreciation of the allegory and message would require some knowledge of the historical context and political ideas. This deeper meaning set against the idea that it was originally titled as a ‘Fairy Story’ makes thinking about a suitable cover design more complex than for some other titles. A good book cover design should communicate the content and personality of the book and set the mood for what the reader should expect. I felt that my challenge with this book was to identify the serious content while hinting at the nature of the story and the characters. Without the right balance readers could make a judgement that it is a book for children.

For my typographical design I decided to use a famous quote from the book that communicates a suggestion of the themes and I used the words to build an image of a pig which are central characters. I did this by drawing a basic shape of a pig’s face and then typing on the path in Adobe Illustrator. I then played around with the text size until the quote filled the shape. I chose the sans serif typeface Futura as I wanted quite a clean, strong feel to the type.

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 12.13.34.png

I wanted the cover to be quite simple as I feel that this can be when typography can be best used to its advantage. I experimented with different combinations of red and white for the text colour on a plain black background. Red is the colour associated with the Russian communist party and also a colour which has associations of blood and war. I felt that the main quote in white worked better as it had a better balance and identified the books title and author with greater strength.

For the back cover I decided to use the shape of the pigs face I had originally drawn as a solid colour background for the description of the book. I wanted to use a blood spatter effect on the rest of the back cover and tried two versions.

I chose the second as felt that the first didn’t have enough contrast and made the overall impression given by the whole design feel very flat and unexciting.

For my illustrative cover I chose the image of a windmill (the construction of which in the book is symbolic of the pig’s abuse of power and descent into tyranny) and a pair of scales to suggest at the division between the characters in the story. I decided to use the same colours and the background of spattered blood as in my typographical design. The typeface I used for the title is ‘Headliner No. 45’ and for the seven commandments taken from the book that are written on the front of the windmill I used ‘Babydoll’ for its handwritten and childlike quality. I felt this would reflect they style of the animal’s writing as they have only recently learnt to read and write. I drew the windmill and the scales in Adobe illustrator.

My final two designs were

for websiteScreen Shot 2017-06-09 at 11.13.20

Overall I was quite pleased with both my designs for this exercise. I struggled to add depth and visual interest with the typographical layout and perhaps am relying too heavily on the texture and colour of the back cover to lift it. I do however, like the strength and simplicity of the typography on the front. I wanted the title of the book to be slightly larger but this didn’t really work as it was defined by the proportions of the pig’s nose. I think that the quote does a good job of communicating to the audience one of the book’s main themes which was always going to be a challenge with a purely typographical solution. The combination of black and dark red conveys the more sinister emotional undertone and makes the pig look very sinister which I think works successfully.

The illustrative design is probably my favourite of the two as it is full of visual interest and I think all the elements work well together. The cartoon style illustrations of the animals contrasts with the darker colour scheme and impression of spattered blood and strikes a balance between the lighter fairy tale style of writing and the more sinister themes. I would have liked to use a more scripted typeface for an even more elementary and childlike writing style for the seven commandments but struggled to get anything more free flowing to work within the space…. I was conscious of the text being lost behind the animals and becoming redundant. The back cover is perhaps slightly simplistic but I didn’t want it to compete too much with the front.


The description of the book used on the back cover is taken from Penguin Publishers: 


The illustrations of the animals used in my illustrative cover design are sourced from FreePik.com

http://www.freepik.com/free-vector/coloured-farm-animals-collection_963774.htm’>Designed by Freepik

http://www.freepik.com/free-vector/coloured-pig-design_951835.htm’>Designed by Freepik

http://www.freepik.com/free-vector/sheep-illustration_759857.htm’>Designed by Freepik


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s