Amazon Books and Target, be they online or brick-and-mortar, display their books with the front cover out, instead of the spine. They understand the importance of the front cover in convincing people to at least pick it up off the shelf. The front cover gives a big first impression of the book and must entice someone to read it. They’re often the most visually enticing part of the book. But book design doesn’t stop there.
The spine is the other main way of enticing someone to pick up a book. Let’s be honest. Only the brick-and-mortar Amazon bookstore can get away with front covers only. The majority of the time, we see book spines before their front covers. This is mostly due to available shelf space, but the spine is then an important way of showing off the possibilities of a book.
Spines don’t just tell you basic bibliographic information or attract you to the book when it’s shelved spine-out. They change the game. They are exciting, and I miss that experience when I read ebooks.
There are three types of spines to watch out for:
Those that match the front and back. By this, I mean a couple of things. First, the spine can match with respect to color, font and other design elements. Second, the spine is one section of a larger image, wrapped around the book.
Those spines that are different from the front and back. These spines do a lot of work for catching your eye at the bookstore, library, or your own shelves.
Most that I see are eye-catching. Take the spine of Girl Code. It sharply contrasts from the front cover’s mostly-black background and its shiny pattern of code. It’s this bright yellow. Had it matched the front and back cover, it would have been okay, and it might have caught my eye if I was highly interested in the topic at that moment. But those bright, advertising-favorite colors scream, “Read me!” In fact, seeing the bright colors and then the title convinced me to look at it more closely at Barnes & Noble.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that every spine should have these bright colors, but breaking out of typical color palettes will catch readers’ attention. There can be issues if you like rainbow shelves.
Spines also have another unique purpose: they can tell you if a book belongs to a specific series, author or publisher. I’m going to only talk about series, though. A simple example of this is the original covers of The Royal Diaries series. These are all gold-toned with a little portrait of the royal person. Like this series, other series stick with having the same color pattern or design scheme.
On the other hand, some series, like thew newer editions of The Mortal Instruments series, create puzzle pieces of a single image.
The Harry Potter series has all sorts of designs to show off:
Even that first one does the giant, puzzle pieces of one large illustration. All of the others are clearly part of the same series by pattern and style.
Those spines that are unique.
There are spines that show off the structure of the book. Unfortunately, the one that I would have liked to draw attention to is no longer in my possession. It showed these horizontal strips that clamped the pages together. If a book had a skeleton, that’s what it would look like.
As we go on to love and fawn over the covers of books, especially new releases, let’s take a moment to appreciate the design of the book as a whole.
If you would like to learn more about the art of book spine design, here are some resources:
- Joel Friedlander from The Book Designer examines some spines for what works and what doesn’t.
- Allison Weiner wrote an article for Medium that looks at the various ways spines can be beautiful. She shows so many beautiful spines from foil to furry.
- Alex Bigman from 99designs wrote about cover designs for series with some sections about spines.
Have you seen cool book spines?
Note: Images of the books were taken by me and taken from Amazon and the Bloomsbury website.