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The Psychology Behind Good Book Cover Design

[1]They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do it. Covers are like that first handshake between strangers; there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it in order to make a positive impression. We’re happy to have an expert source on book covers with us today–owner and creative director behind the international book cover design company Damonza [2]. A little more about Damon:

After spending 18 years in the design and advertising industries, and having launched several successful businesses during that period, Damon Freeman began to dabble in book cover design part-time in 2011. Damon’s entrance into the industry fortuitously coincided with the explosion of self-publishing, and by 2012 this side project had turned into a thriving business. After initially doing his best to hold down a full time job and simultaneously run Damonza, Damon eventually found out that he disappointingly wasn’t a cyborg that could run 24 hours a day without sleeping, and decided to concentrate on his new venture full time. After finding some amazing designers that had a similarly deep passion for cover design, Damon has since taken on the Creative Director role of the business. No cover leaves the Damonza offices without first being approved by Damon, ensuring the firm’s exacting design standards continue to be upheld. He has created beautiful and engaging covers for hundreds of authors, including multiple New York Times bestsellers. 

You can learn more about Damon and his services on his website [2], and by following him on Twitter [3] and Facebook [4].

The Psychology Behind Good Book Cover Design

The adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” does not necessarily hold true in the literal sense. We judge books by their covers all the time. In fact, the cover can often make or break the selling success of a particular publication all on its own. Thus, it is important to understand the role psychology plays in cover design and how it can influence potential customers.

What Makes a Good Book Cover

There is no specific formula for designing a good book cover. As a designer, my goal first and foremost, is to create a polished, professional look for each cover. Beyond that, the design should match its target audience.

According to a recent marketing study [5], 70 percent of people make up their minds about a product within a 90 second span. The color and aesthetics of the product’s packaging are largely responsible for swaying potential buyers in one direction or the other.

Think of the cover of a book as its packaging. It must be captivating, and it should offer a glimpse into the book’s content. It needs to catch the eye of prospective buyers.

To create an appealing cover, I rely on the psychology behind design, visual traction and branding.

The Psychology of Color

The color of a book cover plays a large part in how the book is perceived. No two people will interpret your book cover in the same way based on its colors. However, you can alter the target audience’s perception through color association.

Research shows that people associate colors [6] with temperature, smell, and taste. These associations turn into feelings, which then turn into perceptions.

For example, an individual can associate yellow with citrus fruit or the sun, which then creates a perception of happiness. Therefore, if we want to hint that beyond the cover, a book is lighthearted, we opt for a yellow background.

Color perceptions are determined by gender, age, and even cultural background. For instance, in women, red might evoke warmth and excitement, while in men it might be associated with anger or power.

When choosing colors for a book cover, I keep the following questions in mind: [7]

A dark blue design on the cover of a romance novel might not catch the eye of its intended readers: women ages 25-55. Nor would this design give a glimpse into the book’s tone: warm, upbeat and with a happy ending. A safer bet for a romance novel is a yellow or pink hue. Both colors convey warmth and appeal to a feminine base.

For books of fiction, warmer colors tend to work best. According to a marketing study [8], warm colors evoke a sensory-social response, which hints at an emotional read.

Reference books and other nonfiction can benefit from cooler colors such as dark blue or brown. Dark blue conveys a functional message, while brown suggests an air of high quality in this context.

The Insight of Image

A book cover’s image is a window into the story behind it. At a glance, the reader should be able to understand what the book is about without peeking at its description.

You don’t need to replicate a scene from the book to grant the reader that all-important glimpse. An image depicting the subject of the book will do.

When choosing an image for a book cover, I recommend maintaining a careful balance between suspense and insight. The picture should be uncluttered, but detailed enough to entice the reader to open the book.

The Z-Pattern Layout

There is one sure-fire way to make a book cover appealing. Design your cover using a layout that the human eye can follow naturally.

The human eye naturally tracks visuals in a Z pattern. This is most evident in how we read: from left to right and top to bottom. Like the letter Z, the eye tracks information starting at the top left corner of a page, moving across, then down at a diagonal, and finally from left to right again.

On a book cover, this layout is best represented with text across the top and bottom. The image should be framed in the middle at a slight angle.

Although symmetrical layouts are also appealing to the human eye, they don’t naturally stand out. A good book cover stands out on a bookstore shelf, causing a potential reader to gravitate to it instantly.

The best way to create an outstanding cover is to incorporate the isolation effect [9] into its design. Using bold contrasts such as incongruent font and contrasting colors makes a book leap off the shelf in the visual sense.

In Conclusion

Great skill and talent alone cannot guarantee a good book cover design. To create a successful design, you must rely on the psychology behind color, patterning and visual preference.

Have thoughts about covers? What attracts your eye or, alternately, repels you? Do certain colors pull you in? How do you feel about models on the cover–good for you, or not? And, for good measure: What genre(s) do you generally read? Are your personal tastes over covers changeable depending on those genres? Over to you.