If you’ve read Layout Part 1: Rule of Thirds & Diagonal Scan for Book Covers, you have a foundation from which to build designs for great book covers. In fact, you have everything you need to design a professional looking book cover. For those of you seeking a more comprehensive understanding or additional layout options, this section is for you.
Two Book Covers: Step-by Step
Below are two different examples of book covers that demonstrate how you can make a book cover using the layout guidelines you’ve learned so far.
Two Book Covers, Example 1: First Ladies
The initial concept starts with three horizontal color blocks that divide the page roughly into thirds. A bold title is placed near the center to create what will become a secondary focal point. Visual interest is added with two relevant head shots. The images are placed over the lines that would divide the page into thirds, vertically. In the upper-left and lower-right corners, the faces provide a strong diagonal scan that carries our eyes right through the title words, as we seek to make eye contact with each of them. (Note that gazes look onto the page.) The images provide more information more quickly than the remaining text, so the subtitle and additional copy are placed in less prominent areas of the Gutenberg Diagram.
Two Book Covers, Example 2: War
A poignant photograph was the initial inspiration for this cover design. To ensure that the horizon line falls across the top third of the page, the picture is cropped and repositioned. A black color block, placed in the bottom third, makes a nice home for text that’s well contrasted.
Bright/dark contrast draws the eye to the title, while the large size and position of the text dominate the landscape over which it is placed. This serves not only to create the focal point, but to illustrate a theme of the book. The title is placed on a dividing line (horizontal thirds), rather than within a row, increasing the tension.
The woman and child fall near a Rule of Thirds intersection and have enough bright/dark contrast to form a secondary focal point, which contributes to preferred diagonal scan.
Layouts for Children’s Book Covers
The same rules apply for children’s book covers. Contrast and isolation make each of the titles below easy to read on a thumbnail. Additionally, the book covers leverage preferred diagonal scan, and many use faces as focal points and convergence tools.
The Golden Mean for Book Covers
Roughly related to the Rule of Thirds, and closely related to the Fibonacci sequence, is a mathematical concept known as the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio (1:1.6). It was discovered in math and physics long before its value was applied to art and architecture, but the Golden Ratio has since become a valuable design tool.
The two sides of a Golden Rectangle have a 1:1.6 proportion, meaning the long side is 1.6 times the length of the short side.
When a line is drawn through a golden rectangle to create a square (as shown in the first image below), a smaller golden rectangle is created.
The new rectangle can then be divided into another square and Golden Rectangle, and so on.
After demonstrating repeated examples of 1:1.6 proportions in the human body, geometry, and mathematics, Pythagoras became somewhat obsessed with the Golden Ratio. His passion for it influenced art, architecture, construction, and even small detail decorations.
The proportions of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Parthenon, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, and Michelangelo’s David conform to the Golden Ratio.
Modern day examples include the United Nations building in New York and the CN Tower in Toronto. In 1989, a scientist found the ratio present in his study of the physics of black holes.
Based on scientific research, some experts believe the human eye can interpret an image featuring the Golden Ratio faster than any other. True or not, the Golden Ratio has inspired more thought and study than any other number in the history of mathematics.
What does this have to do with designing great book covers? The Golden Ratio is believed to be the most aesthetically pleasing proportion to the human eye, and 5′ x 8′ book covers happen to be Golden Rectangles (1.6 multiplied by 5 equal 8).
In the cover to the left, the continual division of Golden Rectangles eventually converges on the face of the subject, for a captivating focal point and a great cover design.
If you want to use the Golden Ratio on your own book cover designs, you can move the image and position it so that primary and secondary focal points sit at convergent points (as was done for the cover on the left).
The Golden Ratio can be identified in several proportions of the human body, including the hand to forearm ratio and the ratio of the height to width of the face.
Triangle Layout for Captivating Book Covers
Once you’ve mastered the Rule of Thirds and Preferred Diagonal Scan for your book covers (described in Layout Part 1: Rule of Thirds & Diagonal Scan), another composition tool, to add to your collection, is the triangle layout. Triangles offer a creative solution to graphics and text placement while creating movement and complexity. In addition, a triangle can work as a convergence tool when positioned to point at other text or objects. Triangles can create symmetry and balance or they can be used to make a book cover more dynamic.
Book Covers: Layouts in Action
Now we’ll take at look at how professionals have used the same layout concepts you learned in Create A Focal Point that Gets Noticed, and Layout Part 2 to design book covers for some of the bestselling books of the decade. You’ll get to see how each of the covers draw on the same design principles you’ve learned so far.
They each have a focal point that catches the eye and draws our attention. Faces and directional gazes are used effectively to capture interest and direct our focus, and convergence tools point toward key text or imagery. Preferred Diagonal Scan is never reversed and is often embraced, and triangles are abundant, as is attention to the Rule of Thirds.
Left The copy lies predominantly in the upper-left corner, where the Western eye first enters the page (Gutenberg Diagram). The angle of the figure’s body and the robe pull the eye to its preferred exit at the lower-right corner. Though very small, the face manages to capture our attention. The outstretched arm and the direction of the gaze work as convergence tools that direct our eyes toward the title.
Left The dark/bright contrast of the forearms against the background catches the eye and funnels it into the center column (Rule of Thirds), where the title and symbolic imagery are found. Unlike most successful book covers, the title is not large, but is highly contrasted and isolated inside a triangle. It can’t be missed. Finally, the triangle formed by the arms and apple pull the eye to the author’s name, before it leaves the page. (Notice that your eye naturally enters the page at the left forearm, not the right one.)
Left The circular wax seal grabs the eye for five reasons: It creates the pinnacle of a triangle, it is contrasted with its background, and it is placed on top of a horizontal line of thirds. It’s also centered and somewhat isolated. The weight of the triangle (formed with a darker color) brings the eye down the page and plants it in the words of the title, which are large and contrasted. Key text is placed in the upper and lower thirds of the page. Less significant text is placed in weaker areas of the Gutenberg Diagram.
Left The eyes of the Mona Lisa are so captivating that this design (a book that sold over 80 million copies) requires an actual, physical diagonal line to pull our focus away from them. Limited to the middle third row, the upper-left to lower-right line creates a strong Preferred Diagonal Scan while it brings our attention toward the title.
Hope you enjoyed Book Covers and Layout Part 2. Thanks for reading!
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By Stacie Vander Pol