Books, Art, & Visual Culture


Writing and design by Melissa Hill, graphic designer.

Bookshop visit: Kinokuniya, November 2018

My husband and I were in Sydney recently, so we took the opportunity to pop into Kinokuniya since we don’t have one in Melbourne. While my husband immersed himself in their huge comics section, I had a wander around to see what new covers caught my eye. Looking through these images, I seem to be drawn to a certain level of boldness at the moment. Whether it’s bright colours, striking patterns, or brash typography, I think I’m hankering for some fun and liveliness as we move into summer. Considering I just wore a leopard print jacket out to lunch, I think this aesthetic craving is seeping into other parts of my life also.

This is what appealed to me this time:

1. Roar, by Cecelia Ahern. I love the play of type in this design, the layering of serif and sans serif typefaces and the rotation of the letters themselves. It creates a lot of energy and festivity whilst still functioning as the book title. This one was designed by Ellie Game, but she doesn’t seem to have a website (if you can find one, let me know!)

2. The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories, edited by Jay Rubin. I still can’t get over the combination of pink and blue even though it’s been uber trendy for a while and is probably going to look fairly dated soon. I feel like this take on it is still quite fresh though – the pink is just the right cheery shade of candy pink and the blue is that amazing bright reflexy blue that you can’t actually achieve without printing it as a spot colour. However, set against the white and green and understated type treatment, it achieves a lovely spring freshness the really appeals to me. Designer Matthew Young seems to be having trouble with his website so I’ll link to his Twitter instead!

3. Destroy All Monsters, by Jeff Jackson. OK, I love that this is a novel about rock and it is double-sided like a vinyl. How cool is that? I’m not at all surprised to see that designer Thomas Colligan has “Zines” as a section on his website, because this cover design has a real zine-y feel to me, from the raw illustration style to the cut-and-paste feel of the title treatment. I especially love the pink/red/yellow palette of Side A… actually I think I need to buy this one.

4. Penguin Moderns. Although the colour palette is a lot more subdued on this series than the rest of this selection, it’s the joyous (I think it’s joyous anyway) use of Avant Garde that got my attention this time. These little books are meant to tie in with the Penguin Modern Classics series and give readers a bit of a taste of some of the authors in that selection without the time or cost commitment of longer works. Therefore, to keep the price down, the cover designs were pared back to simple colour and typography. No complaints from me! I really appreciate that they haven’t shied away from some of the uncomfortable letter pairings and fascinating tension created by using the ligatures available in this typeface; it’s a wonderful showcase for what Avant Garde can do. You can read more about it here.

5. Shakespeare’s Sonnets Retold, by William Shakespeare & James Anthony. Fluoro yellow. Do I need to say more than that? Well, I’m also a big fan of a diagonal split (that’s just how hipster I am) and I like how designer Luke Bird has represented the old and the new with the serif/san serif pairing. Simple, but effective.

6. Women Talking, by Miriam Toews. I think I’m enjoying this one in the same way I enjoy the Destroy All Monsters cover: I like how raw and hand-made it feels. Simple shapes and bold colours that feel like an old-school screen print and chalky handwritten type. Actually, the energy of the type suggests that the “talking” being done in this book probably involves a lot of raised voices and urgency. Faber and Faber senior designer, Jonny Pelham describes the design process for this cover.

7. Rosewater, by Tade Thompson. Wow, what a transformation. I thought this was a brand new release, but it looks like Rosewater has been previously published by indie publisher Apex. Hachette’s imprint Orbit has now released this edition and I think the redesigned cover is a huge step up. I think the original cover design was too old-school sci fi which really narrows down the potential readership. Of course this new design (by designer Charlotte Stroomer) doesn’t say “sci fi” at all, but it is much more intriguing and approachable than the previous design. Again, I really like the bold use of type, full of movement. The patternwork is suggestive of energy waves and African art (the book is set in Nigeria) and the result is a design that is exciting and powerful.

8. The Brain, by New Scientist. How can your attention not be grabbed by this crazy cover? I feel like this uber-bold design by Nicky Barneby is trying to hypnotise me.

9. Killing Commendatore, by Haruki Murakami. This is a beaaaautiful book, with a lovely uncoated dust jacket die-cut with little holes that reveal a play of colours on the cover beneath. The book is about an artist so this cover plays with the circle element that appears on all Murakami’s books and makes it more organic and inky, complemented with a hand written typeface for the title. Designer Suzanne Dean talks about her process for this project… have a read!

As usual, there’s some gorgeous work out there. What are your thoughts? Have you spotted anything I should have a look at?