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June 11, 2021
By Katie Lundin
A marketing and branding specialist looks at trending cover designs

Pandemic lockdowns have inspired people to embrace reading as a safe form of recreation and an excellent way to keep children engaged and learning. According to NPD BookScan, print book sales rose 8.2% in 2020 over 2019.

But, if you’re an author who wants to compete in this growing market, it’s not enough to write a great book. Your book must also have a great, eye-catching cover that can amplify your marketing strategies.

Book cover design is more critical than ever. With so many buyers purchasing online, cover design is one of the most direct and consequential selling tools you have.

Let’s look at six important book cover design trends for 2021, with examples from Crowdspring book cover designers. Read the full analysis of the top 8 book cover design trends for 2021.

1. Creative title graphics

The book title is essential. It serves to capture potential readers’ attention and tells them something important about the story or content inside. Finding unique and creative ways to draw focus to the title is a graphic designer’s primary goal for cover designs. In 2020, we saw book cover designers replacing single (or multiple) letters in book titles with photo images, icons, and illustrations.

Those “in-title” images help to draw viewers’ eyes to the title and share insight into topics, themes, or characters in the book when chosen wisely. This versatile design trend can make a cover more noticeable and help people better understand your book, two crucial steps that help convert browsers into buyers. That’s why we expect to see more author and book cover designer teams embracing this book cover design trend and relying on bold typography to bring attention to the cover.

2. Illusions of depth

Artists have embraced trompe l’oeil (creating art to “fool the eye”) since Zeuxis and Parrhasius duked it out in ancient Greece. And today’s book cover designers still know that fooling viewers’ eyes with a compelling illustration is a great way to get their attention. But designers are continually pushing boundaries and innovating. So don’t expect to see only run-of-the-mill hyper-realistic forms of trompe l’oeil. Today’s designers are putting their spin on the classic while maintaining eye-catching visual impact.

In 2021, look for illustrations that appear to break the cover’s boundaries (as you can see in the cover of Wholehearted Leadership), faux windows that seem to reveal hidden depths (like the cover of Chicago Story-tellers: From Stage to Page), or implied textures such as torn pages. Eye-fooling designs that burst through or leap off two-dimensional covers will continue to gain popularity as a book cover trend in 2021 and beyond.

3. Minimalism

Minimalism is a perennially popular design style. You’ll find it in 2021 logo design trends, packaging design trends, web design, and book cover design trends. But what is minimalism?

Minimalist cover designs feature clean fonts, simple graphics, and plenty of white space. This can be a beneficial design technique for drawing focus to your book. A calm resting point on a visually busy shelf will naturally draw the eye.
The challenge of minimalism lies in selecting just the right typography, graphics, and layout—because there are no excess frills to fall back on. You also should ensure that all elements are in balance. For example, the title should use a more prominent and bolder font than the author’s name, unless you have a vast established audience that buys every book you publish.

Every graphic and detail must communicate the right message. The ample white space (space left empty of text or images) must be arranged to draw viewers’ eyes to the critical words and graphics. No one ever said simple was easy. But, when executed well, minimalist book covers are very effective. In 2021, minimalist designs will continue appearing on book covers across the marketplace.

4. Bold patterns

Throughout 2021, brave authors and designers will embrace boldly patterned covers to stand out in the sea of minimalism and muted colors. You should never choose a bold pattern for your book cover just to be a design contrarian. But, if a bold pattern supports your book’s theme, then this may be a trend worth adopting.

For instance, for the cover of Perspective and Guidance for a Time of Deep Discord, the gradient-colored arrows point in a chaotic range of directions as a visual metaphor for the discord addressed within the book. Custom designs such as this help your readers to understand better the book’s subject matter.

If you choose to use a bold pattern on your book’s cover, it’s also important to remember to choose equally bold typography (text elements) that won’t be overpowered by  it. Legibility should always be the primary consideration, transcending trends. Do bold patterns appeal to you and suit your book? If so, then this cover trend might be for you.

5. Retro and nostalgia

Old-school design elements can inspire readers to reminisce on what used to be and even conjure positive feelings associated with those times while flipping through the pages. Whenever times get tough, people tend to look to the past with fondness. So it should come as no surprise that, in the wake of 2020—one of the most challenging years that many people have ever known—nostalgia’s power is growing. Because of this, we believe that comforting retro design elements will grow in popularity in 2021. 
But this trend isn’t for every book. If your work doesn’t address nostalgic themes or take place in a bygone era, a retro cover design may confuse your readers. We suggest handling this design trend with care.

If your book features a logical thematic relationship with a particular period, feel free to embrace style elements of that era in your cover design. But cover imagery that depicts a specific period should be reserved for works set in that period.

6. Clean, easy-to-read typography

Clean, easy-to-read typography is always in style. In 2021, it’s more important than ever. Over the past several months, people who visit bookstores in person have are shopping quickly to minimize time spent indoors in public. Many others are purchasing books online, which means only seeing tiny thumbnail images of the covers.

Book covers with clear typography are more comfortable for people to read from a distance (or in a smaller scale, such as a thumbnail image) and more likely to catch a shopper’s eye. We see this cover trend across themes, from romance books to nonfiction. Authors who are thinking about the logistics of selling their books are prioritizing clean typography for their book covers in 2021. Serif fonts are easier to read in print, and sans serif fonts are easier to read online. So choose your typography accordingly.

Turning a new page

Every year a new crop of cover trends arises. Embrace or ignore those cover trends based on your unique book and your unique readership. Most importantly, prioritize a book cover design that will help tell your story, attract new readers, and sell more books.

Katie Lundin is a Marketing and Branding Specialist at crowdspring, one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services. She regularly writes about entrepreneurship, small business, and design on crowdspring's award-winning small business blog.