Oliver Munday’s book covers are wonderfully simple. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but take one look at Munday’s cover designs and you’ll see what I mean. He has an incredible talent for minimalist design; with playful and unconventional use of typography, bold colors, and imagery, Munday creates covers that can’t help but catch your attention on a shelf. He does it all with the good old adage of, “Do more, with less.”
We recently caught up with Munday to talk about his minimalist style, how he uses typography and colors, and even a little bit about how you, too, can break into designing book covers. Here are the design tips that emerged in our chat.
1. To Break into Book Design, Create Something Similar First
Oliver Munday’s first love was poster design. When he realized that would be a difficult way to make a full-time living, he set his sights on books. That didn’t prove easy at first. “Trying to break into that world ostensibly from the outside was a little bit of a process,” he says. “It’s one of those things where no one’s going to give you a job if you haven’t done a cover before. It’s tough to break in.” The key: “You have to show things that have the same sort of graphic quality or something similar to a book cover,” explains Munday.
2. Try to Create a Book Cover That’s Unlike Other Book Covers
Munday’s minimalist covers aren’t what we’re used to when it comes to picking up books to read. That’s the idea. His approach often revolves around a central mission. “The challenge is: how do you design a cover in an original way? I always say, ‘How can I make this not look like a book cover?’”
He finds that this question pushes his creativity in exciting ways. “Sometimes it can really force you to dig a little bit deeper and come up with something that’s more interesting. I think when you can do something that really deviates from the standard, that’s exciting.” That’s not to say he doesn’t love more traditional cover designs. He just aspires to do a bit more when he can. “As much as I love book cover design and covers, I try to do things that really leave the boilerplate way of designing.”
3. Don’t Just Use Typography. Explore It.
Munday’s style involves a lot of playful use of typography. He sprawls letters across a cover, tilts them, and uses a wide range of types. It’s not hard to tell he has a love for it. “I think typography is my favorite aspect of design,” he says. “There’s just so much to be done with it.” He’s not against more straightforward approaches, of course, but he finds himself continually drawn to type’s creative potential for exploration. “It’s nice to work with type in a similar way to someone that’s into pottery — kneading and moving and trying to shape it around something,” he says. “There is so much energy to type, and there are so many things that you can evoke, just with typography. It’s worth exploring that from time to time.”
4. Minimalism Doesn’t Mean Lack of Consideration
It can be easy to look at a minimalist cover and assume it was slapped together with little thought in a matter of seconds. That’s far from true, Munday says. Take his seemingly simple cover for Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog. “There’s a lot of deliberate choices that were made,” he says. That sentiment applies to a lot of Munday’s work. He’s continually intent on making very specific choices to encourage a reader to engage with a cover. “It’s simple, but those few decisions that are made, consider whether the cover does its job in conveying what it needs to for the book and drawing people in. Those are not just arbitrary choices.”
5. When Choosing Colors, Let Your Instincts (and Accidents) Guide You
The colors for The Dog cover are an instance where Munday made very deliberate decisions. But especially with the vibrant colors he uses, that isn’t always the case. “There’s so much with color choice that’s almost arbitrary. Sometimes it’s just an accident. I’ll be looking to change a color and something comes up on the screen, like a luminal phase between a green and a red. So you just never know.” Those accidents and instincts are things to seize. “Sometimes there are colors where I just think they look good together, and it’s as simple as that.”
6. Be Sure That Your Minimalist Design Still Says Something Powerful
“We can say so much more with less,” says Munday. “While I enjoy completely filling the book cover space with lots of craziness, I also enjoy that same space with a lot of room for something to breathe and to exist.”
The result is that the elements in your design take on new importance. He gives an example of a design dominated by letters but supported with secondary parts. “The interesting thing that happens when you have something like big simple letter forms and secondary details that are completely different, is they inform those letters. They give them a little bit more of a reason for being plain, because you have something to compare the plainness to.”
When there’s less on a cover, he notes, the design elements that are there take on more meaning. “They inform each other and give each other power,” says Munday. “Every design decision becomes crucial because there’s nothing to hide behind. There’s this unapologetic, ‘Here it is!’ aspect to a lot of simplicity that just inherently has a certain power.”
7. Think More, Design Less
One major design rule that Munday lives by sounds simple but isn’t always: think more and design less. Why does he stress that? “If you spend a lot more time thinking about an idea, when you actually sit down to design, it’s complete. You have less work to do there.”
8. Book Covers Aren’t About Filling Space, They’re About an Idea
Munday believes that book-cover design shouldn’t be about, as he puts it, “filling something arbitrarily with decoration.” What advice would he give someone trying to create a great book cover? “Conceptual, smart, and strong cover design is not about style; it’s not about decoration; It’s about an idea and a clear way of communicating that idea.” That, he says, will ensure great work. “The design that can stay fresh and timeless is the design that is clear and smart, and the idea came first.”
Top image: Weapon of the Strong book cover