The beauty of British book design

August 17, 2005 | 4 books mentioned

If you’ve ever been to a bookshop in the UK (or to one of the few bookstores in the States that imports British books), you’ve probably noticed that the books on the shelves look stunning compared to their Yankee counterparts. At the bookstore where I worked in LA, I encountered authors who hated their American book covers but adored the British ones. Why the discrepancy? I don’t know; I suspect it has to do with the fact that books are marketed by entertainment companies as “entertainment products” here in the US, while elsewhere, books are treated simply as books. To illuminate the differences in book design, I’ve placed some American books (on the left) side by side with their British versions (on the right). (click on the images to enlarge).

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt
The American cover looks like an ad for insurance, while the British version is more vivid and features nifty pixel art.

Until I Find You by John Irving
The American version is flat and looks like a promotion for the “John Irving brand,” while the British version is slick and sexy.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
US version: as dull as a textbook. UK Version: so groovy, you want to dive right in.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The US versions of Zadie Smith’s books look nice, but they are quite pale compared to their British counterparts.

Slow Man by J. M. Coetzee
This time the US version gets the better of the British one with mysteriously iconic silhouette of the broken bicycle.

If you are interested in book design have a look at my long ago post about superstar book designer Chip Kidd, and you’ll also enjoy the book design blog Forward.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.