Newsletter 9: We always judge a book by its cover

We always judge a book by its cover. Image of paradise bird proudly showing off

Hellooooo there, we can’t believe January is finally over!

Like the poet Brian Bilston, we really thought the month would never end.


Thirty days has September,
April, June and November.
Unless a leap year is its fate,
February has twenty-eight
But all the rest have three days more,
Excepting January,
Which has six thousand,
One hundred and eighty-four.

Be a bird of paradise! How we design a cover

An exciting combination of creativity and basic design guidelines goes into designing a publication cover. Often this task also involves navigating an organisation’s CI as well as finding a way to fit in (sometimes ugly) sponsor logos. It is always hugely exciting to take our client’s brief and add in our own brand of imagination and creativity, and produce a final product that reflects the contents of the publication in an ingenious and relevant way.

Designing a cover involves the following broad steps:

  • Understand the parameters

A briefing meeting is essential at the start of any project – even in the time of Corona, it helps immensely to be able to chat about ideas and expectations face to face (whether in person or via Zoom). This allows us to gauge your expectations and budget, and find out what restrictions there might be to the cover design. Are there logos to accommodate, for example? Is there a really long title, and are there multiple authors? Is there a colour scheme to be followed? Do you already have a cover photo in mind? If we have not yet had sight of the text, at this meeting we can at least find out more about the content of the publication, its purpose and its intended audience. We would also establish here whether the publication will be part of a series (or if a series could possibly come out of this at a later stage), or if it is a stand-alone publication. Will it be printed, or is it for digital release only? This is always an invigorating and informative meeting, and we invariably leave feeling excited about the project.

  • Establish what actually needs to go on the cover

Below is a list of elements that our clients often need to have on a cover, quite apart from the image/graphic/beautiful element. It is vital to establish the ‘hierarchy’ of importance of each of these elements, so that the design does not look like a patchwork quilt.

  • Title – which may have to be in several languages, and very long
  • Author name – or the names of multiple authors
  • Multiple logos (often in a specific order and size)
  • Acknowledgement banner and/or colour scheme for a specific organisation
  • Strapline, if required, to further explain the purpose of the publication
  • Catch the reader’s eye

No one has ever been inspired to pick up a book with a boring cover. We just can’t help judging a publication by its cover – it’s in our nature! An important part of our job in designing a cover is to find a way to make each publication stand out in its own right – while remaining appropriate to the content and target audience. Just as the male bird of paradise in the image above uses the colour of its plumage to attract a mate, we make use of eye-catching techniques, such as the combination of colour, textures and graphics, to create strong compositions with perfect design symmetry. A beautiful, striking and high-quality cover should set the tone for the entire publication, and make the reader want to dive in.

  • Consider your audience

Being mindful of the target audience will assist with making the right design choices that keep the cover relevant. Always have a clear idea of the audience: this allows us to use concepts that make the reader see, feel and think about the subject differently – the pause you need to capture and hold their attention long enough for them to open, read and remember your publication long after closing the covers.

Example of all of these elements coming together: 

Example of cover elements coming together – IPSS front cover – Youth participation in Post-school provision – Report on a research project

This report was the result of a research project undertaken by the Institute for Post-School Studies (IPSS) of the University of the Western Cape, and funded by the Ford Foundation.

We were able to select an appropriate, good-quality cover visual that spoke directly to the publication’s content. It is simple, modern and clean, and makes you stop long enough to try and interpret its potential meaning. The title is bold and clear, and the hierarchy correctly supported by the subtitle (the same level a pure author title would occupy). We included the line drawing technique graphics to set the tone for their inclusion in the text design inside. The three logos are well supported and integrated with the visual, making them feel part of the design instead of an awkward addition.

For an electronic copy of this report, please contact the IPSS, at

… And for more information on the importance of design in general, click on the image below to go our recent newsletter on the matter.

Compress Newsletter 2: Design matter! Hand holding megaphone blasting "design matter!"

How can we help you?

Please do < contact us > for a free quotation for assistance with translation, copy-editing, graphic design, layout or proofreading of any of your corporate publications. Have a look below to see how we can help you with your next project. We can work with any sensible budget or timeline, and are keen to reach out especially to those who need our help during these exceptional times.







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021 852 7093


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