Hardcover or paperback, Libby or Audible, the age-old question about book design remains the same: what makes a successful book cover?
Although we were all raised with the cliched adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” it’s also human nature to make quick inferences based on visual information, especially during an era in which our attention spans have withered away to next to nothingness.
Alas, we all judge books by their covers, and luckily for us at PRINT, we have the excuse that it’s our job to do so. Like all design industries, book covers experience the ebb and flow of trends, with a certain look and style suddenly sieging every bookstore shelf. While the book blob dominated the discourse for the last few years, we’ve recently identified another trend splashing its way across new releases: the recurring symbol of doorways, open windows, and mysterious portals.
While many of us reach for our phones to mindlessly scroll our way out of reality, others still turn to books as a means of retreating from the real world and diving into another. Media of all kinds has always been humans’ favorite refuge and go-to distraction. And who can blame us? Real life is hard. Times are tough. Eggs are now over $7.00 for a dozen! This compulsion for escape has now manifested visually onto book covers themselves, in the form of forbidding door frames, whimsical archways, and romantic passageways, all beckoning exploration and evoking the idea of a place we’d rather be.
The portal motif is being depicted in a variety of aesthetics, ranging from abstract and gestural to more literal and realist. Many of these covers also incorporate imagery of the sky and clouds, underscoring the themes of breaking free to an imagined world outside of one’s day-to-day mundanity.
The image of a doorway to an unknown destination is inherently rich with symbolism. It’s at once enchanting and compelling, yet simultaneously threatening and ominous. These covers no doubt vaguely represent ideas addressed within the pages of the books themselves, but they are also meant to lure in readers, offering an entryway into the world of the book. “Come take this journey with me,” invites the outstretched hand appearing in the circular portal on the Scattered All Over the Earth cover. “Read me and you too will be transported to a world beyond your wildest imagination,” calls out the silhouetted airplane flying through the cover of Eleutheria.
Birds and flight are often incorporated into these depictions of portal motifs, conjuring notions of freedom, possibility, and the sense of fleeing up, up, and away— for both characters and readers.
The portal motif also transcends genre, tone, and audience, due to its vast metaphoric value and its range of interpretations. Intrigue. New beginnings. Running away— the list goes on and on. But where do we land on the trend as a whole? Anytime we start seeing the same thing repeatedly within an area of design, it can feel a bit uninspired or formulaic. The book cover portal is no different. Don’t know what to design for a cover of a book? Let’s just throw an open door on a colorful backdrop leading to some clouds and call it a day.
Is a trend just another term for cliche? The ubiquity of the portal motif has reached a level that feels like a visual platitude; what does it actually mean? The point at which we look to something to represent everything, is when it actually means nothing.