How to Design a Book Cover

Design Jul 31, 2020

Last winter, I got the task to design the covers for a friend's doctoral dissertation. Here's how I worked.

Decide a concept

The client hoped to have some visuals hint about joint replacement surgery, so that the book's topic would be apparent without reading the title. First, I looked at some reference photos of joint prostheses.

My first idea was to make an illustration like seen in medical books, but with less realism and more artistic textures. I looked at some references and drew an illustration of a knee prosthesis with my iPad and Apple Pencil. This step took a few hours. I used a watercolour-like brush to have some of that effect.

The finished illustration

Make some drafts

The client immediately liked the illustration and wanted to see some example book layouts. I made some really basic versions for him to comment.

First work in progress drafts

Make more drafts

The WIP designs don't look amazing, but with explorations like this, we were able to decide the font. I didn't like the solid backgrounds so I made some textured ones with ProCreate.

The client really liked this direction and style.

I also wanted to design a more commercial-looking alternative. I made some vector art resembling an X-ray of a knee prosthesis, and laid out the text in an interesting way.

Versions of a different concept


After some more explorations, I sent a shortlist of ideas to the client. He was quick to decide his favourite, and I made a set of versions based on it.

Shortlist that I sent to the client
Versions based on the winner of the previous phase

Tweak and publish

From here, I only needed to make small changes until the client was happy. Here's the finished cover:

The finished cover

I then made a back cover in the same style, and the book was ready for printing!

This process was very fun and taught me a lot. In total, I made about 100 versions of the cover. This type of work is definitely out of my comfort zone, and I think the quantity helped a lot.

Kerkko Visuri

Product guy from Finland. Previously @ Wolt and BCG. I like distance running, good books and cooking.