Who Says You Can’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover?

By Nicholas Vanderschantz and Claire Timpany.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

They say that first impressions are everything, so what impression do our books give us by the cover they have? Can we make a generalisation or gain a basic understanding of the content of a book from this first impression? There is much debate over the future of the book, with much of our understanding of how an electronic book should look and feel coming from generalisations about what a ‘book’ is and assumptions about the needs of those that read them. Little evidence exists regarding the physical properties or the use of a book to support these generalisations and to guide the development of future books. The printed book comes in an almost infinite number of proportions, sizes and variations, depending on the content which it must hold, or maybe depending on the whim of the designer. With hundreds of thousands of new printed books being published each year it is hard to generalise about what the ‘average’ book might be with the current paucity of research to support this. The data used in this research is sourced from a wider data collection sampled to give a broad impression of what our books “look like” and how we use them. Based on this audit of 880 books we are able to examine the age-old adage that one cannot judge a book by its cover. The design elements of type, image and colour all play a role in conveying an initial impression to the potential reader about what the volume may hold. Thus we ask, what does a book’s cover tell us about its use, its audience, and how it fits within an academic library classification system?

Keywords: Book Design, Cover Design, Typography, Illustration

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp.1-17. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 624.320KB).

Nicholas Vanderschantz

Lecturer, Computer Graphic Design, Department of Computer Science, School of Computing and Mathetacial Sciences, University of Waikato, Hamilton, Waikato, New Zealand

Nicholas’ area of research focus has been in children’s on-screen learning. These investigations have looked into typographic design and interaction design for children’s reading and learning. This area of exploration saw him graduate with a Masters in Computer Graphic Design from Whanganui School of Design, New Zealand in 2007. Nicholas is a lecturer in Computer Graphic design at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. As a central part of his teaching and research at the University of Waikato Nicholas pursues his interests in design for children’s and adult’s information behaviour with digital documents, ebooks and digital libraries, as well as socially responsible graphic design and graphic design education.

Claire Timpany

Lecturer in Computer Graphic Design, Department of Computer Science, School of Computing and Mathetacial Sciences, University of Waikato, Hamilton, Waikato, New Zealand

Claire completed her Masters in computer graphic design at Wanganui School of Design in New Zealand. She is currently a lecturer in computer graphic design at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, teaching both print and screen based papers. Her main areas of interest and research are typography, print design and physical interaction design. Because of her love for both printed books and interactivity, this is where her research interests lie. Her research is currently focussed on the way in which people interact with printed material, and how the benefits of electronic media can be applied to traditional media, such as print, to aid it in developing and become more beneficial and keeping up with the digital age.


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