The Resurgence of Yellow Book Covers

Yellow’s hot, people—unsurprising, as we collectively swelter our way through the taxing brilliance of overly-hot times. The Wall Street Journal confirmed my own recent observations, idling through book stores, was no fever-dream but An Actual Thing Now. (If you can’t breach WSJ’s pay-wall, this friendly video recaps the article’s primary points.) The Reading Room and The Millions double-confirmed the trend, so here we are: blazing deep into the bright money-tunnel that is yellow book covers.

The book that launched a thousand yellow covers: 2008's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The bestseller that launched a thousand yellow book covers: 2008’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Further reading: Check out essential book cover design tips from Peter Mendelsund, who designed the cover for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

In a (gilded) nutshell, the logic driving the trend make sense. Eye-catching book cover designs drive sales—of course. But increasingly those book covers must catch the wandering eye not across a book-crowded store but in a context infinitely more crammed with visual distractions: the Interwebs. An excellent book cover must convey its message forcefully, even when squeezed down into a tiny thumbnail. Yellow hollers appropriately at every scale. (And here I must admit my own weakness for the acid-yellow of Marlon James’ book, pictured here. I love this highlighter-yellow color so much, I penned a love letter to it here in Print.)

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James won the 2015 Booker Prize. Its acid yellow book color suits the bracing subject.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James won the 2015 Booker Prize. Its acid yellow book color suits the bracing subject.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, UK edition

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, UK edition

Interestingly, Your Heart is a Muscle The Size of a Fist sports a yellow book cover in the US...

Interestingly, Your Heart is a Muscle The Size of a Fist sports a yellow book cover in the US…

...with a wholly different, if similarly bright, color palette in the UK.

…with a wholly different, if similarly bright, color palette in the UK.

Most webpages use white as their background, which means white book covers ghost their way into commercial oblivion. Next! In bold contrast, yellow is famous for its high visibility—check! Check me out! Over here!—and pairs nicely with any hue darker than itself for legible lettering—another check. It’s also gender neutral and agreeably malleable in meaning. To quote Lucy Feldman in the Journal, yellow “can signify anything from sunshine and optimism to a danger warning, making it a strong choice for a variety of genres and topics.”

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. This yellow book cover design underlines a juicy tie-in with its title, plus uses pale lettering to thrilling effect.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. This yellow book cover design underlines a juicy tie-in with its title, plus uses pale lettering to thrilling effect.

As the author of ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color, I’d further argue yellow’s capaciousness for meanings. Taxis got daubed canary-yellow for exactly the same reasons now cited by book publishers: yellow is highly visible and politically neutral (as true now as back in fifteenth-century Italy, where one Francesco Tasso made this crucial observation). Pencils are yellow to evoke the dusty-golden aura of Emperor Huang Ti, the so-called Yellow Emperor, sun-worshipper and apocryphal inventor of writing. Yellow runs the gamut from joy to toxicity, to a toe-curdling void to brass-tacks entrepreneurialism.

From ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color. Illustration by Oliver Munday.

From ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color. Illustration by Oliver Munday. (Click to enlarge)

Now for the unscientific follow-up questions, like: are yellow startup logos Also a New Thing? After all, mobile apps must visually shout from an even tinier smartphone screen. Sadly, based on woefully un-rigorous research I must conclude yellow apps have yet to shine forth as a coherent trend. Either that, or they’ve already flamed out. Top iOS apps at the moment included only two primarily-yellow app logos, Snapchat at #3 and the game Temple Run 2 in the number-83 slot. I am a lot less familiar with things Android, but this popular roundup of best Android apps in 2016 included not even one wholly-yellow app logo for Android. (Quite a few burnt-orange apps, however: duly noted.)

Snapchat's yellow logo

Snapchat’s yellow logo

Stepping away from the smartphone screen and considering startups more broadly, we have Brand New covered startup ZocDoc’s logo switch from a forgettable teal to a spicy-yellow new logo. Curiously the employee benefits company Personal Group, no longer a startup, executed the very same color-palette switch lately. More proof-positive that teal, along with burgundy, is the new corporate blah color.

ZocDoc's logo switch introduces bright yellow

ZocDoc’s logo switch introduces bright yellow

Personal Group's new yellow logo

Personal Group’s new yellow logo

Back to books. Are all these yellow colors destined to become literally flash-in-the-pan? What’s yellow’s staying power among the classics? And here, my color-fan-chickadees, I give you today’s golden nugget prized from the Internet’s vast maw: Marcus Stenberg’s Pinterest wall devoted to yellow book covers is a visual feast of saffron, lemon and all the glorious rest of yellow’s many shades. A small collection on its own, it’s also a shiny porthole into all manner of other book-cover-enthusiasts’ sites, including quite a few pages similarly focused on yellow book covers. Confirming the more recent trend, you’ll find plenty of classic texts updated in all-yellow covers to grab us, yet again, by the lapels.

The Great Gatsby's sunburnt yellow book cover

The Great Gatsby’s sunburnt yellow book cover

An updated edition of Oliver Twist offers a yellow cautionary tale.

An updated edition of Oliver Twist offers a yellow cautionary tale.

Happy reading amid sun and sand, everyone.


 mds_ultguidecolor-500For more information, check out The Ultimate Guide to Color Collection—13 resources for color lovers:

There’s no doubt that color plays a crucial role in every design project. Despite its importance, many designers find color to be the most frustrating aspect of their work to get exactly right. In this ultimate collection of all things color, you’ll find thirteen resources for helping you rediscover inspiration and creativity in your color design work. From palette-building techniques to color theory, this collection will give you a comprehensive library of resources you can use time and time again. Through the books and videos in this collection, you’ll be able to take a look back through the major milestones in color history and then see how they affect current color communication and trends to make sure you’re making the right decisions in your work. Whether you’re a color enthusiast or simply looking for ideas for your design projects, this collection has something to inspire you. Learn more. 

COMMENT