The common adage warns against judging a book by its cover, but when you’re judging book covers, it’s only appropriate. This week, AIGA (the American Institute of Graphic Arts, a professional association for design), announced the winners from its 2020 book cover competition. AIGA has held a Fifty Books of the Year competition since 1923, but the competition changed to 50 Books|50 Covers in 1995. The 2020 edition yielded 696 book and cover design entries from 36 countries.

This year’s competition was juried by Gail Anderson (chair), Jennifer Morla, Paul Sahre, and Kelly Walters, who weighed entries on factors including concept, innovation, and visual elements such as typography, illustration, and information design. The winner’s gallery features an array of approaches, from minimalist to typographic, to a particular emphasis on hand-drawn covers — attributed to the sanctions placed on photoshoots by COVID-19 restrictions.

Penguin Vitae 5-Book Boxed Set, one of the AIGA 50 Books | 50 Covers winners for 2020

Penguin Classics snagged a prize-winning spot for a five-book box set of lynchpin works by Audre Lorde, Kate Chopin, Nella Larson, Reinaldo Arenas, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which juror Jennifer Morla described as, “Typographic eye candy: a horizontally oriented, colorful carousel of a series for Penguin.”

Tokyo Ueno Station (Riverhead Books) by Yu Miri features a hand-drawn cover in jewel tones, of the sort that exemplifies the adaptive hand-drawn trend of 2020 with engaging simplicity. Black Futures (Chris Jackson, One World, Random House) is a groundbreaking text in several respects, but earned acclaim in this context for its stripped-down black matte cover punctuated by holographic lettering, as well as its interior design — all courtesy of design firm Morcos Key.

“The design of Black Futures beautifully captures images, text, and essays into a contemporary non-linear experience. The editorial layout invites a playful exploration from start to finish,” said juror Kelly Walters.

Of course, art books are at the forefront of a competition for artfully designed books. “Delirium” (Spaceheater Editions) by Philip Zimmerman features spread after spread of halftone illustrations that flirt with interpretive biology like an esoteric microcosmic riff on Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (Art forms of Nature) (1904). And internet sensation-turned-coffee-table-book-du-jour Accidentally Wes Anderson (Voracious / Little, Brown and Co.) by Wally Koval compiles real life photographs that, in the words of juror Paul Sahre, “captures the Wes Anderson ‘thing’ perfectly.”

These are just a few standouts from an already outstanding field. Those with an eye for design should browse the winners’ gallery with care — while the cover might not say much for the content, the power of these covers to engage might be irresistible for aesthetic bibliophiles.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....

One reply on ““Typographic Eye Candy”: 50 Standout Book Covers From 2020”

  1. I enjoyed the article on AIGA annual book cover selections. However, not all covers have credits – to either designer or design office. One of Hyperallergic’s admirable attributes is its editorial commitment to equity and it seems that these omissions are at odds with assuring visibility for all content/media creators.

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