Judging A Book By Its Cover

Sarah Young for VDES24178 Visual Design 1: Form & Content

Design Statement

The purpose of this project was to redesign a book cover based on a book of personal significance to me. I chose three books and came up with several concepts and iterations before narrowing it down to my final refined sketch of The Bell Jar cover. In Indesign I used the guides and grids to help create a textual layout which would compliment the cover. My goal was to create a book jacket which would illustrate the themes of the book well. I also wanted to make the cover interesting enough for someone to want to grab it off the shelf and read it.

Rhetorical Tropes

Using rhetorical tropes is a way to make the design more visually interesting and conceptual. The Bell Jar had some strong rhetorical tropes embedded in the story so I wanted to exhibit some of them in my cover. I used the metaphor of the bell jar as it is often mentioned in the book and it is also what the book is named after. The bell jar is a metaphor for the societal expectations that the main character feels entrapped by. Another trope that is demonstrated by this symbol is simile. This is because the depressive state that Esther Greenwood often falls into likened to being trapped under a bell jar. I used the silhouette of the bell jar in my design to demonstrate these tropes. I also wanted to use a visual hyperbole of swirling lines to exaggerate how one feels when they are swirling out of control as the main character often feels throughout the book. The combination of these rhetorical tropes used in my cover design helped to illustrate the underlying themes of the book.

Final Design

Here is the final design. I believe that it achieves the goals of demonstrating the book’s themes well as well as being visually interesting.

Digital Mockup

Here is a digital mockup of the cover photoshopped onto a book. This shows the cover in use in a realistic setting.


The three books I chose to explore redesigning for this project were The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. These books have all had an impact on my life and have personal significance to me.

The Bell Jar

Synopsis: The Bell Jar follows the story of Esther Greenwood. Esther is a college student with a promising career as a writer. She spends her summer interning for a magazine as a guest editor. Esther struggles with the idea of pursuing her ambitions or marrying her boyfriend and becoming a conventional house wife. She breaks up with her boyfriend and returns to her small town home where she discovers she was not accepted to a writing course she wanted to take. Slowly Esther starts to lose sight of her ambitions and starts to fall into depression. After several suicide attempts her mother admits her to a mental institute. Slowly she begins to improve after being given treatment. Once she feels ready, she petitions to leave the mental institute with a seemingly better outlook on life.

Personal Significance: The blunt and unsettling nature of this book has resonated with me ever since I read it. This book introduced me to concepts such as severe depression and feelings of isolation. Becoming more familiar with these concepts has helped me to be able to confront situations with depression and anxiety in my own life whether its my own feelings or helping support others. Esther lives her life feeling trapped by societal expectations and this has been something I can relate to. Learning from her experiences has helped me be able to confront my own and to pursue my own personal fulfillment with less fear of failure.

Rough Sketches:

Refined Sketch:

This is my revised sketch for the bell jar. At this point I felt like this cover had the most potential so I worked more on thickening the lines and adding the author’s name. I received a critique that the lines made it look a bit like Dr.Seuss, so I tried applying black and white and uneven lines to make it more unique and give it the appearance of spiralling like what the character goes through in the book. I feel like this design represents the book well while still remaining elusive.

Pride and Prejudice

Synopsis: Elizabeth Bennet is the second-born daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet who live in rural England in the early 1800’s. Her sisters are often excited by the prospect of new eligible bachelors coming to visit their town. Elizabeth, however, is not so eager to enter into a relationship solely to support herself and family. She meets Mr. Darcy who is a wealthy individual whose prejudice causes him to remain standoffish to those outside of high society. Although Elizabeth begins to gain the attention and respect of Mr. Darcy, she declines his proposal of marriage despite the fact that he would be a very advantageous match. This is because she does not admire his seemingly prideful and standoffish character. However, through various events they come to realize that they have misjudged each and they begin to see each other in a new light not blinded by pride or prejudice.

Personal Significance: After being moved by the movie version of this book, I quickly made a resolution to read the book myself. Although the language was harder to understand than most books written today, the message was clear and impactful. Pride and Prejudice taught me an important lesson about inequality and how we should perceive others. There is a clear distinction in the books between high society and the lower class, and that is that is what first divides the two main characters. Although not as obvious today, these social barriers still exist and affect how some people in society are treated. This book caused me to reflect on how I perceive others and the importance of avoiding feelings of prejudice towards others.

Rough Sketches:

Refined Sketch:

This was the Pride and Prejudice cover I felt represented the book best while still remaining interesting. Some critiques I received in the previous version were that it would be interesting to have them facing each other and have one look down on the other. I tried that and I think it is also an interesting way to express the themes of the book. With this version it would be interesting to play around with the lines and different colours.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Synopsis: This book is about a boy called Harry Potter. Harry Potter has lived his whole life being mistreated by his Uncle, Aunt and cousin who he was left with when his parent’s died. He gets a letter of acceptance to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and finds out that his parents were wizards and he has inherited the same trait. Upon arrival at Hogwarts, Harry is sorted into Gryffindor, one of the four houses, and makes two friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Together they investigate the mysteries behind the suspicious events at Hogwarts, confront villains, and discover more about Harry’s past.

Personal Significance: Growing up with the Harry Potter stories, it played a significant part in my childhood. It was an interest I was able to share with some of my friends and we would often be united by it. The books allowed me to be transported to a different world and use my imagination to think outside of what I had experienced. The creativity of the Harry Potter world inspired me to think outside the box and inspired me to be more imaginative. Like Disney or other magical story avenues it helped me develop my imagination and creativity, which, as I grew older, translated into other outlets such as art and problem solving. Today, the books still resonate with me and the stories and values displayed in the book still impact my life.

Rough Sketches:

Refined Sketch:

With this cover I worked more to make the book more specific to the sorcerer’s stone rather than just using elements from the whole series. To achieve this I included one of the iconic white owls flying above Hogwarts and carrying the philosophers stone. Although I like this version better than the original, I still think the other designs are more interesting.

Grid Analysis

To better prepare for creating my cover I conducted a grid analysis on some successful pre-existing covers. I chose one cover with photo manipulation, one with a historical/vintage photograph, one abstract/unconventional one, and one general cover. Seeing the grid layouts on these covers will help me apply grids to my own layout.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Shopkeeper by Steve Dancy
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
1984 by George Orwell

Further Process

Here is a screen shot of working in illustrator to go over the lines in my refined sketch. After going over the lines I cleaned some of the up and continued them on for the back cover.

After going over the lines, I inserted come text for the title using a similar font to what I had sketched. Then I used the envelope distort tool to warp the text to follow the baseline of the lines I had drawn.

After receiving some critique and playing around a bit I decided to move the author’s name to the bottom and move the title up to make the composition more balanced.

Next, I brought the cover and back designs into Indesign and started to insert text. For this I relied upon the grids, guides, and margins to create the layout. At this point I also noticed some issues with the cover designs such as when I moved the title higher the lines on the front did not meet up with the lines the back cover so I had to go back and fix them.

Then after I few finishing touches and shifting things to meet up with the guides I finished my design.