With global conflict, a continuing climate crisis and a dawning recession, the world has had its share of gloom. But if you’re looking for escapism, 2023’s book cover design trends seem determined to banish the darkness. Bright shapes swirl, flowers blossom and wild creatures strut their stuff. Elsewhere, designers look back, finding beauty in punk’s angst and pleasure in pop art’s playful simplicity.
As you’ll see from our picks below, several of this year’s trends overlap. A common feature is typography that—despite sometimes being so big it spills off the cover—is often happy to play second fiddle to lively images and patterns. This year feels less about the words and more about the feeling: it seems like it’s time to forget guidelines around hierarchy and decorum and just let rip. These are 2023’s big cover design trends.
The 7 most inspiring book cover trends of 2023
- Abstract blends
- Big type, busy backgrounds
- No hierarchy
- Pop art minimalism
- Punk-style collage and ripped pages
- Bold flower motifs
- Close to the edge
How do you produce a striking cover that’s great for social media traction, but also keeps a sense of mystery? For many authors and designers, abstract blended covers are the answer. These bright, dynamic designs mix color and texture, suggesting randomness and creativity, and rejecting neatness, order and realism. Given many people have experienced much change in their lives or are exhausted from the global upheavals in the last few years, it’s unsurprising to see authors and designers breaking the mold when it comes to book cover design.
Though there are many vibrant patterns swirling on these book covers, this trend isn’t totally abstract. Figures often emerge from the swirl that suggests personal transformation, or a way we build pictures in our minds as we read. But, unlike covers with photographic or photorealist front covers, these books rarely feature an identifiable face, making them particularly suitable for books with multiple interpretations, or those (like self-help titles) where readers may see themselves as the main character.
It’s hard to know where to look with this trend. Great letters, usually in block capitals, stretch across the cover. But just behind them lurk bold, captivating images, often showing animals or plants. Sometimes, the text is obscured by part of the image, like the snake’s body coiling through the twin arches of an “M” in the cover below.
These covers scream “look at me,” giving the impression that the work within is wild and unrestrained. It offers a way to escape into another world at a time when many of us need it most. The layers and overlapping visuals create an interest that blurs the line between text and visuals, which makes these covers a great fit for designers and books that want to lure in curious readers.
Cover elements are often arranged in a hierarchy, with the title dominant and the artwork, writer’s name and other details given less importance. Designers have been playing with this hierarchy for years, with Paul Bacon pioneering many covers in the 1950s in which the title was given serious weight. In 2023, we’re seeing less text hierarchy on covers, where the title and author name are in the same font and size.
These covers can make it harder to tell which text refers to the writer and which to the title. If you’re a recognizable name, readers should still be able to make out your name fairly easily. But less well-known writers are increasingly taking the same approach. Part of the appeal, in line with other trends we’ve seen in book covers this year, is the desire to mess and push back against established practices.
This trend also suggests that the reader isn’t just making their purchase based on the writer or the title, but based on the cover as a whole—an approach that can help make a cover stand out on the shelves or on social platforms.
When pop art emerged in the 1950s it was seen as fickle and kitsch: a genre that would be here today and gone tomorrow. It’s proved remarkably enduring, and covers that mix bright, retro images with big, blocky fonts are widespread this year. Pop art worked against the idea that “high” culture is more important than popular culture in a rejection of hierarchy that chimes with the creativity and rule-breaking we’re seeing across multiple designs in 2023. Designer Kostis Pavlou notes that the “vintage revival feel and boho aesthetic” is often given a contemporary twist with “very beautiful modern touches.”
But, with superhero movies still the biggest show in town, it’s also unsurprising for some designers to take inspiration from comic book panels, which inspired the likes of Roy Lichtenstein in pop art’s heyday. This trend of pop art minimalism provides a neat contrast to the blended covers and busy patterns we’re seeing on some books this year.
From the torn jeans of the Ramones to the safety pins worn by the Sex Pistols, the first wave of punk rock that broke in the 1970s ripped things up, then patched them back together in a style that looked careless but was often pretty artful. Punk’s look and philosophy never really went away. Nearly 50 years on, with anti-establishment movements gaining ground and dystopian design making a comeback in fashion and design, punk is influencing a new wave of graphic and book design.
This year’s book covers use torn covers, rough textures and collages to suggest something revealing or transgressive. The approach couldn’t be more different from the rounded minimalism that has grown to dominate the digital content we read thanks to modern app design. The designers of these covers say, here is something raw and real.
Yet these designs lack the nihilism that characterized the original punk scene: often rips and collages reveal beauty rather than darkness. Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Case Study has a great rift in its middle, but the handwriting beneath has a spidery elegance, while Over the Sirens reveals an impossibly pristine wave, like a sweet melody carried by a wave of punk feedback.
Flowers are bright but fragile. They show plants caught in a moment of beauty, but it’s hard not to think of the nurture that took them to this point, and the fading blossom that will follow. That mixed emotion underpins many of the bold floral arrangements seen on product packaging this year.
Some of this year’s plant-based book covers describe actual botanical techniques, while others suggest contemplation or the importance of nurturing ourselves and those around us. Floral covers allow designers to use bright colors in images that feel natural and unforced.
The emotional connection is key too: perhaps the rise in flowery covers was always likely given a post-pandemic period in which many people treasured pot plants or time spent outdoors. More and more research is coming to the same conclusion as Psychology Today, which notes that “people who surround themselves with plant life and other forms of natural beauty, indoors and out, experience emotional and mental health benefits.” Perhaps these books can do the same?
Every designer has tussled with a tight layout, but this trend makes a virtue of it, using large text that rubs right up against the edges of the book or even drops right off it. It’s an eye-catching look that can turn—like several book cover trends this year—towards abstraction, like the way in which Don’t Do D*ck‘s text rolls over the cover to leave a pleasing pattern of half polka dots on its spine.
But this trend isn’t just eye-catching: it carries multiple meanings that designers can play with. It can indicate that the book’s content is too wide-ranging and ambitious to fit into the confines of a normal cover. But it’s also suggestive of being pushed beyond the norm, mirroring the exhaustion that many people feel in a world of constant connection and blurred work-life boundaries.
Its use in self-help books, meanwhile, is telling, suggesting that by helping readers reach beyond themselves, a book can help them find new spaces and connections and change their lives. Which message comes through is down to the designer: the weight, color and font of those cover letters are crucial here—even if you can’t see every last one of them.
Ready for book design trends in 2023?
The digital world may be getting more and more ever-present but—despite promises of an ever more immersive multiverse—book sales have held up remarkably well in recent years. The right cover can be a window into another world, and 2023’s book cover trends show designers pushing boundaries, revisiting old classics and playing with text and images to attract new readers. There’s plenty of inspiration in these trends, but every book is different: we can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings.