When you think about the old books from your library, you think about the stories that took you places you’ve never been before and not so much about their covers. They’re old, dusty, maybe even in slightly bad shape.
It’s different when you want to start creating a beautiful collection of books—first editions, special editions, or other unique collections—because you’ll care about their covers too.
In the last years, minimalist book covers were a trend, similar to those from the 19th century, where you would only see the title and the name of the author.
Now, besides those, designers would add a handful of extra elements on the cover that represent a symbol for the book’s theme.
A minimalist book cover design can be characterized by its simple typography and a minimum amount of visual elements, such as colors, graphics, and images, which are combined ingeniously enough to suggest the book’s lifeblood.
Therefore, if you’re aiming for simple book covers, you have to limit to just a few essential elements that can convince readers to pick up the book, look at it, and then buy it for themselves.
Let’s look at some of the best examples of minimalist book covers and learn how to create a book cover that’s unforgettable.
1. The Trial by Franz Kafka
The Trial portrays the terrifying story of Josef K., a chief cashier at a bank. He is unexpectedly arrested and must defend himself against an unspecified crime he and the readers have no information about.
The whole story can be interpreted as a critique of the excessive bureaucracy, and designer Peter Mendelsund created the perfect book cover to depict this.
Due to the combination of red and blue, the irises are the focus of the cover. The row of eyes sets a feeling of edginess and angst, precisely the atmosphere of the story, with the judges keeping their eyes on the protagonist.
2. Ulysses by James Joyce
Another notable example of minimal book covers by the same designer is created for one of the most important works of modern literature that used the stream of consciousness technique.
Although the novel is full of details and rich characterization, the entire action happens in a single day, so the book cover’s design is highly representative.
It’s like everything in life went unnoticed up to that particular day—Thursday, June 16, 1904—when the author chose to describe his characters’ lives. The tangled knot from the book cover is an excellent representation of that day.
You would think this process was easy, but the designer had multiple attempts, even when deciding what book cover typography to use for the yes in the title.
3. The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir
OK, yet another minimalist book cover design from the same graphic designer, and we’ll move along after, but his work is simply amazing and had to be mentioned. In The Woman Destroyed, the author captures perfectly the insights of three women’s lives, all past their first youth, who face unexpected crises.
What else is left to do in those moments but cynically smoke a cigarette and have that moment just for yourself?
The few details from the cover are nonetheless very lively because of the vivid colors.
4. If Darwin Prayed: Prayers for Evolutionary Mystics by Bruce Sanguin
Bruce Sanguin writes prayers for those who need a different kind of mystical experience, with the help and insights from Charles Darwin, Bruce Cockburn, Emily Dickenson, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, and Brian Swimme.
In its essence, we could say this book is a conversation between religion, science, and the arts, and designer David Drummond managed to capture the core of the book in a representative minimalist book cover.
The hand can be seen as the awakening of the body, wanting to raise them in prayer.
5. 1984 by George Orwell
This book shaped my literature taste, and it’s the one that I would undoubtedly pick if I were allowed to read a single book for the rest of my life. The story centers around the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance, and depriving the individual of everything intimate and personal.
Everything is manipulated in this fictional future happening in 1984, and no one can think for themselves because Big Brother is always watching.
The minimalist book cover designed by a Behance user is absolutely amazing. It says everything with a little something. There’s the title, and the number nine, which was ingeniously used to represent Big Brother’s always vigilant eyes.
6. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
This book is a dystopia dressed up as a fake utopia, and it’s scary in its accuracy, although it was published in 1931. The novel’s world is shaped by chemical birth control, mood stabilizers, genetic engineering, and it drifted away from natural feelings of love and sadness, intimacy, and family.
Everyone should be involved with casual flings and soma—a type of recreational drug to cure unhappiness within society. When someone dares to question these ways, they get called a savage.
The simple book cover illustrating a perfect newborn baby symbolizes the book’s idea that natural birth is not permitted in their “civilized” world because everything has to be engineered to be perfect.
7. Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
Flatland’s protagonist, A Square, had a life that was always two dimensional. This changed when the emissary Sphere brought the gospel of the third dimension.
This “romance of many dimensions” is an examination of dimensions, but also a satirical novella about the hierarchy of Victorian culture.
The minimalist book cover is a detail from Views of the Tesseract from C. Howard Hinton, The Fourth Dimension. It’s a smart way to suggest that although the title is Flatland, we’ll discover something more while reading.
8. Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up by Tom Phillips
This book is a journey through time, presenting the most catastrophic failings in history—from our ancestors to the sensational events of the present.
Yes, we’ve also evolved a lot, but sometimes humankind managed to surprise itself with remarkable mishaps.
The simple book cover design, with just a handprint taken from Alexandra Lande on Shutterstock, suggests the obvious. It’s a human print that left its shape on history.
With its evident censorship, the title is a warning sign for the witty and funny tone of voice we’ll encounter in the book.
9. Him Her Him Again the End of Him by Patricia Marx
The neurotic protagonist of the novel has a romantic fixation on her narcissistic first boyfriend for years. She manages to escape him once, but here he comes again.
Designer Rodrigo Corral did a great job with the simple, yet very suggestive minimalist book cover design that shows the evolution of the protagonist’s obsession, and with the right font combination to sustain the ironic events.
When you read the word Again, it’s like you have to change the tone in which you read the previous words.
10. No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
The novel is told in the first person throughout the protagonist’s autobiographical notebooks—a man incapable of showing his true self to others. He shows a superficial facade of a joyous man. Therefore, the book cover, designed by the same Rodrigo Corral, captures perfectly the man who is just a shade, losing his identity.
11. The Murder by John Steinbeck
It’s a short storybook, but the one titled The Murder takes the spotlight of the minimalist book cover.
The designer of the book cover does an excellent job by combining the idea of shooting from a distance and the chair that you’ll mostly find in the countryside, where the action of the stories takes place.
The Murder is about the marriage and the cultural clash between an American farmer and an eastern European woman. The cultural differences catch up with them to the point they handle it rather poorly, and the rest is, well, tragedy.
12. Special Orders by Edward Hirsch
This book of beautifully crafted poems is a combination of joy and grief that unfolds in a new phase of the author’s life.
Special orders come in small packages, and designer Jason Booher illustrates this with a simple book cover design.
It’s almost like the author’s life represented by the carton box from underneath, creating a floor that is stretching and making room for the small box that’s on it—the box that brings new emotions and experiences.
13. The Fall by Albert Camus
Camus’s philosophical novel deals with Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a successful Parisian barrister who started reflecting on his life to a stranger and came to conclusions about its hypocrisy. His ultimate fall is an allegory to man’s fall from the Garden of Eden.
The minimalist book cover, designed by Helen Yentus, is a mesmerizing representation of a fall, giving the reader vertigo. The more you look at it, the deeper you fall.
14. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
This is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf, who uses a fictional narrator to uncover women both as writers and characters in fiction.
The essay is considered feminist, and Virginia Woolf takes her readers through the history of women writers and makes sure that the reader notices how brief this history actually is.
So, the author suggests literally and figuratively that women should have a room of their own, and designer David Pearson delivers a symbolic, yet minimalist book cover design to suggest the same.
The combination of black and red in the lettering makes an association between the author’s name and the quote from underneath the visual.
15. Leviathan by Philip Hoare
Philip Hoare writes about his subjects—whales, and their ever mystical features, Herman Melville, whalers, whaling ships forming themes like history, loss, loneliness, and human connections—every time getting to the point where he mentions Melville.
The book cover designed by Leo Nikolls is precisely what is supposed to be and nothing more—a whale that looks like a drawing from a vintage animal atlas. In the front, you see its tail, and on the back, the rest of its body.
16. In The Year of The Long Division by Dawn Raffel
This book contains short stories that underline the division between impulse, rationality, and things left unsaid. The reader can delve into those poetic feelings expressed through almost rhythmic phrases.
The minimalist book cover, designed by Barbara deWilde, shows the mathematical illustration of a division that is extremely poetical described inside the book. There is sufficient space left to notice the uneven fonts, and the ruler somehow blurred in the background.
17. Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes
This book satirically describes what would happen if Hitler woke up in this modern age, with all the technology around. The people that see him on the streets of Berlin assume that he is just a performer always in character and never take him seriously. Still, his social media success helps him create a new political party.
The book’s bold and dark humor is perfectly captured by designer Johannes Wiebel.
In this minimalist book cover, just a few details outline the former dictator’s distinctive features, and the title of the book is taking the place of his mustache. The elements are enough, though, to help us recognize the character.
Image Source: quercus.com
18. The Fly on The Wall by Jason Brink
Designer David Gee created this book cover as a visualization for the expression being a fly on the wall, that passively but hypnotically participates in every conversation.
The book is about the same idea: an illustrated collection of short stories where all the private moments, encounters, or conversations are reimagined with the fly on the wall, staying neutral about one’s sins.
These simple book covers are the perfect example that great design is achieved when you say everything you need to say with the bare minimum.
A great book cover design is also the one that makes the audience curious enough to pick it up and give it a go.
Hopefully, this article was insightful and can be considered as a starting point and inspiration for your future minimalist book cover design.