Anatomy of a Book Cover: But is it Hip?

In a new installment of our “Anatomy of a Book Cover” series, Creative Director Cathleen Ouderkirk ponders the meaning of hip jacket design.

“We want a hip feel for this book jacket.” And I confidently go off to a designer and ask for a hip look. Sometimes I get it, sometimes not, and sometimes I think a design is ho-hum, others on our design team think is tres hip . . . and visa versa. Hmm, maybe I need to clarify “hip” better.

Let’s start in the capital of hip — NYC. As I walk along the streets, I inevitably brush shoulders with many hipsters The most obvious sign is that they’re stylish. But it’s not simply stylish — it’s front-lines stylish . . . they’re wearing stuff I’d never conceived of.  A boot sandal? A bra over your shirt?

That brings up a second component — hip has an unconventional flavor. No matter how gorgeous and snappy your Ann Taylor outfit is, it’s never going to be hip.  It’s just too Ann.

So we’ve got unconventional and stylish — but that combo could result in wild and dramatic. Hip is rarely dramatic — it’s usually understated, even a bit “inside.”

Okay, so I’m going to take a stand. Hip is the confluence of three qualities: new, unconventional, understated. You may SO disagree, but that’s where I’m at.

Now, can a business book be hip? Sure, otherwise I wouldn’t enjoy going to work every day. Let’s take a look at some recent AMACOM book jackets that I think have a high hipitude quotient.

Jacket image, Wiki Management by Rod CollinsHere’s Wiki Management. The name is already hip (never heard that phrase before, it’s snappy, but it’s also low-key).

  • Understated: Main title is treated in a really formal, quiet way with a very conventional square shape to the title/subtitle combination.
  • Unconventional: The designers at Faceout Studio break that stolid square with the path of interlinking strings. (which neatly imply the “collaborative” in the subtitle).
  • New: Never seen strings that way before.

Jacket image, I Hear You by Donny EbensteinNext up: I Hear You — It feels completely unlike Wiki Management — light and playful, but it’s hip as well:

  • Understated: Simple rectangular structure in the title.
  • Unconventional: Manoa Design breaks the repeated formal title with almost goofy hand-drawn arrows.
  • New: Arrows are new and so are the fresh-feeling colors.

Jacket image, The Economy of YouThe Economy of You with its sunny disposition.

  • New: Never seen a title treated quite that way before.
  • Unconventional: The Big YOU.
  • Understated: Yes, it’s dramatic, but its only two colors. Faceout Studio put all its eggs in one basket.

Jacket image, The New Corporate Facts of Life by Diana RivenburghThe New Corporate Facts of Life — woof, woof.

  • Unconventional: A Dalmatian have his spots blown off? And on a business book?
  • New: Ditto the above.
  • Understated: Designer from Toprotype created a simple modern title, almost no color, and one strong image.

Jacket image, Supercommunicator by Frank Pietrucha

Supercommunicator — just so low key, but that’s a strong way to present a long, complicated word.

  • Understated: So few elements.
  • Unconventional: Designer Sam Tallo’s choice of a simple but playful title font on a lime green background. Not your usual business book look.
  • New: dialogue bubbles have been done before, but it just feels new. I think it’s the font again.

Jacket image, Marketing to Millennials by Jeff Fromm and Christie GartonMarketing to Millennials — how fun is this t-shirted guy?

  • Understated: That’s easy, so few elements and so few colors.
  • New and Unconventional: Designer Pema Studio’s choice to make the title all lower-case, but more importantly to embed it in a “cloud” of words that define millennials.

As I finish up, I’m left with an uneasy feeling that the mere act of defining hip is very un-hip.

Oops.

Cathleen Ouderkirk is Creative Director here at AMACOM. With us for over 20 years, she started as a copywriter and then moved to producing catalogs, sales sheets, and direct mail pieces, before moving on to design. After secretly designing on her own book jackets and showing them to the acquisition editors, her work evolved into overseeing all of our jackets today. Visit our website for freelance design inquiries.

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One response to “Anatomy of a Book Cover: But is it Hip?

  1. Sam did a great job with the Supercommunicator cover! I loved it the minute I saw it… Its a very clean design, but still has texture to make it interesting.

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