French book covers aren’t known for their striking designs or colourful jackets that draw the reader in. On the contrary, the tradition of book covers in France leans towards a minimalist presentation of the bare essentials – title, author’s name and publisher (see below).
However, the trend of some French publishing houses seems to be moving towards the anglophone tradition of attracting attention with graphic cover art, some of which even win awards such as the British Book Design and Production Awards and the thebookdesigner.com e-Book Design Awards.
We took a stroll through the gigantic Salon du Livre book fair in Paris this week and kept an eye out for the publishers taking the lead in this new wave of contemporary book design. As you’ll see, some of them aren’t quite as experimental as the books you find in anglophone countries but they’re getting there.
It’s also worth noting that translated books seem to be more adventurous than those written by French authors. I’m not sure if this is because foreign authors are more open to the idea of colourful covers or if the perceived seriousness of minimalist design may make a book more likely to be considered for an award in France. Let us know if you have any thoughts on the subject in the comments below.
Zulma are the masters of the graphic cover and act as something of a transition between traditional and new French book design by pairing minimalist text with adventurous backgrounds. These images don’t really do the covers justice because they look much more vibrant in person without being flashy, and have a subtle texture that feels beautiful in the hands.
Colour, images and more than two fonts on a cover? This madness has been embraced by Finitude and we’re a fan of their design work. Despite introducing relatively daring covers to the French market, the publishers have kept things neat, simple and clean – something we definitely respond to. I particularly like the phrenological head with the golden cockroach. I might have to place an order for this one..
Monsieur Toussaint Louverture is easily one of the most progressive and design-oriented publishers in France at the moment featuring a modest but beautiful range of books that all have a common, unmistakable design style. Each book is different but a mixture of materials sets them apart from most other binding-methods in France, such as textured craft paper for Mailman and an embossed cloth-like cover for Vilnius Poker.
These books feel contemporary, fresh and very high quality despite being paperback (hardback books are essentially non-existant in France). I hope other publishers take note of this “new” style of book binding and create a trend for books such as these that are as beautiful as they are interesting to read.
These books may not feature the most ground-breaking design but they represent a significant departure for France because they feel like they belong somewhere between the traditional cover designs and the livre poche books which are similar to inexpensive Penguin classics.
The bright and even eye-catching covers from Au Diable Vauvert are very unusual in this market and serve to show how even rather run-of-the-mill anglophone cover designs can be considered a little daring in France.
Graphic and abstract with a pop of colour, these books by Les Éditions Noir sur Blanc are all visually striking and embody a little of the off-beat French humour that occasionally permeates the design world.
These books are a great example of the way French publishers create a style for themselves that becomes instantly recognisable. This method of branding isn’t quite so pronounced in anglophone publishing with the exception of the orange Penguin classics and other smaller publishers such as McSweeneys. Even the spines of French books follow a specific design style and when you’re at a bookstore or a book fair like the Salon du Livre you can easily identify specific publishers and even collections within publishing houses.
French publishing may not be the most design focused industry but despite all this talk of contemporary book design, there’s something to be said for the role of traditional design too. The classic books really do look beautiful and certainly lend a certain air of seriousness and importance to the books themselves, forfeiting visual appeal in place of letting the book speak for itself. This is well and good but I think there’s room for both on our bookshelves.