Delightfully Material

Ebooks are always made of pixels. Variety is provided by their ability to be interactive, to move and change and react. But there isn’t much variety in the actual material of ebooks. Physical books, on the other hand, have the freedom to experiment a little bit more. And as more focus turns to the physical book as an objet d’art, designers are having more fun with their materials.

Here’s some  fun, inspiring examples of book designers thinking outside the box:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451, Matchstick

Designed by Elizabeth Perez (see her portfolio), who describes her simple design: “The book’s spine is screen-printed with a matchbook striking paper surface, so the book itself can be burned.” I especially like this because it almost challenges the reader to burn the book, which is a disturbing idea, and in doing so really uses material to make the book’s ideas come to life.

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea, 3D

On Such a Full Sea, 3D

Designed by Helen Yentus and MakerBot. Award-winning author Chang-rae Lee’s new novel “On Such a Full Sea”  debuts with a striking, 3D-printed slipcase. Only 200 of these custom 3D slipcases will be sold, with the signed limited edition hardcover books.

The author Chang-rae Lee commented on the covers: “Content is what’s most important, but this [3D edition] is a book with a physical presence, too. Of course I hope what’s inside is kinetic, but the physical thing isn’t normally meant to be. This edition feels as if it’s kinetic, that it has some real movement to it. It’s quite elegant as well.” Lee noted, “It’s all about changing the familiar. That’s ultimately what all art is about. That’s what we all do as writers.”

Good Ideas Glow in the Dark

Good Ideas Glow in the Dark 1

Good Ideas Glow in the Dark 2

Good Ideas Glow in the Dark 3

Report designed by Bruketa & Zinic for Adris Group. Like the Fahrenheit 451 matchstick design, the materials of this book cover are a direct embodiment of what it’s trying to say. And I’m sure this unusual design choice helps the book stand out on the shelf!

Shopping in Marrakech by Susan Simon

Shopping in Marrakech embroidery

Designed by Jessica Hische (one of my favorite designers, see her portfolio). Says Hische: This fun guidebook was especially fun to design. I developed the lettering first in illustrator and spent three days embroidering the cover for this book (the original now hangs on my wall). The interior is also decorated with bead and embroidery ornamentation where possible to make for a very rich design reflective of the wares you might purchase in Marrakech.”

I’ve also seen the delightful tactility of embroidery used in the Penguin Threads series I wrote about in Awesome Children’s Book Cover Design 2.

“Analogue/Digital” artwork by Evelin Kasikov

Analogue/Digital embroidery

Print embroidery book

Embroidery artist Evelin Kasakov (see her portfolio) describes her work: “A tactile interpretation of different modes of representation. Four paper objects mix print and screen formats. Pixels and dots, single elements of digital and printed image, become physical using hand embroidery. The project visualizes analogue versus digital theme, an on-going obsession in the creative industry today.”

Traveling Clock Book

Traveling book clock

This last example comes from when books were so expensive to make that they really were objets d’art, although this one is particularly unusual.. This traveling clock in the form of a book was made in Europe, ca. 1576.

Awesome Children’s Book Cover Design 2

Between my love affair with books and my life of design, I am always keeping an eye open for cool book covers. Here’s another selection of interesting children’s book covers, this time focusing on the use of unusual materials with the six Penguin Threads covers and the Hitchhiker’s Guide DIY Sticker Covers. Enjoy!

Penguin Threads:

Penguin Threads: Emma, Black Beauty, and The Secret Garden

Penguin Threads is a beautiful series of books where the cover art was created through embroidery. The first three books—Emma, Black Beauty, and The Secret Garden—were commissioned from Jillian Tamaki (read her blogpost on this project). They detail is absolutely beautiful, and I feel like sitting there and just staring at these covers for a half hour, absorbing every little thing. It’s almost a little bit overwhelming! And while I love the color palette and design, I must admit the Emma cover reminded me a little bit of Milton Glaser’s famous poster of Bob Dylan, which is an amusingly strange connection to make.

Jillian Tamaki embroidering

Penguin made an effort to make the covers as enjoyably realistic as possible by both embossing the thread design, and on the inside of the covers showing the back of the embroidery:

The Secret Garden: Interior cover with the back of the embroidery

The Penguin Threads series is described on their website: “Commissioned by award-winning Penguin art director Paul Buckley, the Penguin Threads series debuts with cover art by Jillian Tamaki for three gift-worthy Penguin Classics. Sketched out in a traditional illustrative manner, then hand stitched using needle and thread, the final covers are sculpt embossed for a tactile, textured, and beautiful book design that will appeal to the Etsy(tm)-loving world of handmade crafts.”

And for those who have already seen and loved these first three, there’s good news. Penguin has continued the series with three new titles—The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, and The Wind in the Willows—this time with embroidery illustrations by Rachell Sumpter. If anything, these compositions are even more crazily detailed; I’m still trying to decide if I think the chaos in the Little Women cover, inspired by embroidery samplers, is fantastic or too much. Despite the chaos, they are definitely still gorgeous book covers. Tempted to get the whole series!

Penguin Threads 2: The Wizard of Oz
Penguin Threads 2: Little Women
Penguin Threads 2: The Wind in the Willows

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy DIY Sticker Covers:

I first stumbled across these on Faceout Books’ great blog on the process of book design (read their post on Hitchhikers). These Hitchhiker’s covers, designed for the books’ 30th anniversary, have a simple concept: the title and author are printed at the bottom of an empty image of the universe. Inside the cover are a sheet of awesome/ridiculous stickers that relate to the book’s plots in various ways, and readers are encouraged to make a “DIY” cover by creating their own layout and design. Totally awesome. What a great way to get people, especially kids, to get excited about reading (and hopefully get hooked on a great series of books!).

As if it was needed, these DIY covers come with an added bonus. They have been incorporated into the ebook iPhone app, so for those of you into reading your books digitally, you can still have fun playing around with these awesome interactive covers. Unfortunately these seem to only be available the UK, as far as I can tell. Hopefully it will be available for American audiences soon!

Hitchhiker's iPhone app with DIY cover