Book Cover Design: 6 Lessons Learned

We’d like to share some tips on book cover design. Obviously ours wasn’t designed by a software engineer ūüėČ 99designs.com made it possible – they run ‘contests’ in which artists propose designs, receive feedback and the winner gets a bounty. We’re very happy with the result and want to share some lessons learned. What went well?

  1. 99designs estimated 30 designers would join a contest for¬†299 CHF. We decided against an additional blog listing (probably crowded) and instead messaged several veteran designers who had food-related book covers in their portfolio. It also seemed fair to¬†‘guarantee’ the contest and ensure¬†a participating designer receives the prize.¬†As a result, 33 designers joined in.
  2. We knew that writing good feedback would take lots of¬†time. Painfully aware that many designers would only gain experience from the contest, we made a strong effort to provide feedback on every single design (over 230). That ended up taking 3+ hours a day before and after work. We also decided against a¬†blind contest, so everyone could see each others’ designs. Some designs were ‘similar’, but enough variety remained.
  3. The secret to good software, prose and design seems to be iterative refinement. In the initial contest phase, some designers made 7 versions and achieved very strong results. The winning design evolved through 35 rounds of feedback.

There are a few things we’d do differently:

  1. Our food photos were mediocre and scarce. Good cookbooks are very visual and sub-par images really dampen a cover’s appeal. Initially we only provided a few pictures before realizing that more is better. Resorting to stock photos seemed dishonest, so we cooked up more desserts and took new photos.
  2. A more detailed brief could have accelerated the process. We didn’t want to impose too many requirements, but sharing our backstory and goals helped. We ended up with about 2 pages of background info. It was particularly important to suggest exact phrasing for some of the cover text/callouts because some designers weren’t native speakers.
  3. We forgot to mention that e-books only need a front cover, whereas printed books also need a back and spine. A few designs used the extra space and needed to be changed. On the plus side, we did ask for a specific pixel size (the book size at 300 dpi), which avoided resizing/rescaling.

Overall, this was a positive and enjoyable creative experience!

Author: jj

Jan is partly fueled by chocolate. 14 years ago at the age of 18, he realized that moving to university would require another food source. His mother wrote a starter cookbook, leading to many sociable gatherings in the student dorm kitchen. A tasty demo convinced the group to invest in an ice cream maker. Happy years of plentiful frozen desserts, baking, Frisbee, and dancing ensued. After moving out, finishing an algorithm engineering PhD and one too many visits to the dentist, he shifted focus to healthier desserts. A keen interest in nutrition, stoked by hundreds of research articles, led to major changes. Motivated by a desire for continual improvement, Jan tested and tweaked each recipe at weekly cooking get-togethers. He is eager to share the delightful results and hopes to adequately communicate the why and how. Jan is joined in his passion for cooking by his wife Jaya. With a combined 30 years of kitchen experience, they bring together the best of East and West.

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