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Your Brief is to design a stunning a contemporary cover for one of the 20th Century’s most acclaimed authors, HG Wells.

This exercise asks us to practice our research and development skills to create three paperback covers for HG Wells. We are asked to:

  • Identify the research needed and any knowledge gaps
  • Identify any primary research and secondary research
  • Use mind maps to explore keywords
  • Explore the most obvious and most radical solutions

Finally, we are to make rough drawings or sketches to show our ideas.

Below are the first pages in my sketchbook.  I have tried to break down the brief and explore who the client is, who the audience is, what I am being asked to do and why, and how I’m being asked to do it. I also look at the keywords.

Sketchbook 2 Page 1

One of the first things I needed to do was choose the three books. I think the brief is worded in such a way that leaves it open to interpretation – much is made of his social novels, so I’m not sure if this means we must include one of these or perhaps even exclude his speculative work completely.  Presumably, in a real life situation, you would be told which books to design for, but in this scenario I feel I would need clarification.  For the purpose of this exercise, I am leaving myself open to any of his fiction.

Knowing very little about H.G. Wells and his work, the first thing I went about doing was listing all of his fiction writing. This took a while, but taking the time to write each one down made me really think about each title, what they could be about, and actually sparked ideas I would later explore.

I think one of the primary areas of research for me would be reading the books, however, given that there are 3, this is not feasible and is a good opportunity to see how well one can do a project like this without having read the source material. In lieu of reading the books, I would need to rely on what I could find on the internet, and so I made my way through the list of novels and used wikipedia to make quick notes about the ones that stood out. I found some possible resources for more research (places where I could find plot summaries and analysis, for example).

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I undertook some more secondary research by reading some articles on the British Library about H.G. Wells and some of the themes in his work.

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I wrote down the books that most appealed to me, and that I thought I could generate the most ideas from. I chose Ann Veronica, The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. I also did some visual research, using mainly Pinterest, the screen grabs/links are below.

I looked a lot at the work of designer Chip Kidd and it got me thinking about the use of photography in book covers. This is something that I am keen to avoid. Somehow Chip Kidd uses photography very well, but I think with the limited photography and skills I currently posses, it would be easy to create something that looks “cheap”, or dated. In my research I found this great read by Tim Kreider for The New Yorker about contemporary book design that echoed these thoughts.

I realised that even though I am surrounded by books , I don’t often give much thought to their covers, unless they are obviously stunning. Primary research could involve digging into my own bookshelves to see what inspires, what works and what doesn’t. It would also be a tactile experience.

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Wells book covers

Pinterst Web Link

Pinterest cont. book covers
Pinterst Web Link


I brainstormed each title (being careful to reference the keywords form the brief) and then got to work thumb-nailing different ideas. I tried to look at literal and obvious design solutions and then more radical ones.  Unsurprisingly, Ann Veronica was the trickiest of the three and the ideas I have for this cover all fall into the obvious category.

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I refined some of the thumbnails and made a mood board, but then, instead of drawing my larger rough sketches with a pencil and paper, I decided to use Adobe Illustrator to rough out my ideas. This was new for me as I don’t usually go into Illustrator without a specific idea of what I wanted, and my thumbnails were still pretty vague. In some ways these digital sketches were useful, because I could visualise things more clearly. However, they were also time consuming and I found it very difficult to actualise the vision I had. Or perhaps the vision I had just wasn’t good enough, and seeing them in Illustrator highlighted this. When I look at a pencil sketch, I can imagine what it would look like, but when I see a digital image, it’s much more difficult for me to not see it as “finished”, and so to be disappointed. The results look very stark and not at all like what is in my head. They are certainly not “stunning”.


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I think the monotone book jacket could really work, but it’s very difficult to demonstrate. It would only really work if the paper was as I imagine it to be, which is with a velvety smooth finish. A  glossy paper would look awful with this design. I like the two planets idea. At the bottom you can see I tried to demonstrate how the illustration, like the text would be a sort of foil. At the moment I am using the colours in the monotone book example as seen in the screengrab. I would look to change these.

I like the typeface. Originally you can see I was using Goudy Old Style and I thought this would be perfect. I was also pleased that it was designed in 1915. However, it looked a little too “fantasy novel” and so I opted for Caslon, which I think is more sophisticated. For The Invisible Man I very much like the white book with the black text disappearing and a blank cover. I think that this is both the most obvious and the most radical solution. However, it would look odd amongst the other books in the collection. I opted instead for an illustration of the visible spectrum, though depending on one’s knowledge of physics, it is perhaps a tiny b it abstract. I can’t tell. I think it works either way. The gold foil effect was difficult to achieve with my resources, so I cheated and used a gradient for most of these.

I am yet to “sketch” the Ann Veronica cover. I have decided to post regardless and update when I can.  One of the reasons I have not completed the exercise is that I am so far disappointed with my results and am wondering if I need a radical rethink.

It’s made me wonder what exactly people mean when they say words like contemporary and timeless. I’m even wondering what other people mean when they say stunning. My designs looked too modern and stark for my liking. I added ornamentation, which I think, when done well, can look elegant without looking too fussy or dated. However, in my design I think it looks ugly. I purposefully attempted to add elements of hardback covers, but I think that even with this perfect velvety smooth paper I have imagined in my head, I think maybe this may have been too ambitious.

To me, these Penguin covers by Jessica Hische are the perfect example of stunning, timeless & contemporary. I’m curious as to whether other people would agree. Perhaps they would see them as beautiful but old-fashioned.

I will come back to the Ann Veronica cover soon. However, the main focus of this exercise was to practice our research and development skills so I would like to reflect on this for a moment.

I think I identified key areas of research I would need to undertake. I did some of this, to enable me to make sketches, however, I would definitely need to do much more. In particular, I would need to research contemporary book design as I’m less aware of it than I thought. I would also do more research on the books themselves, reading the in depth plot summaries I found on study websites. I found some very handy links to books and audio books that were in the public domain, that could be useful in the future.

I always enjoy exploring initial ideas with thumbnails and I love the way unexpected ideas can pop up from this and the mind maps. What I don’t think I’m so good at is turning these into rough sketches. With the pencil, I think I fool myself into thinking I have a good idea. But the leap to digital is a bit of a stretch, and I think it’s because even with initial sketches, my ideas are too vague, something I hadn’t realised until just now. It means I am experimenting a lot in Ai and Ps. This results in a lot of time wasting and unpredictable results. I need to work hard to really think about what it is I actually want to achieve, visually and try to see this in my head before I put pen to paper/tablet.

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