BEST OF THE BEST: TOP 5 Illustration Award BOOK COVER Design winners

Word and Image
January 25, 2016

How do you sum up a 400 page novel in a single image? How do you design an object to be both a work of art and a consumer-good?

Continuing with our Best of the Best series of V&A Illustration Award winners, here we list 5 of our favourite Book Cover Designs. Since its introduction in 2004, some stellar artists have won the Book Cover award. But for sheer imagination, creativity, and the ability to walk the line between art and commercialism, these 5, we think, are the Best of the Best.

2010 Winner Cover Design Marion Deuchars Burmese Days

(1) 2010 WINNER – Marion Deuchars, Burmese Days, by George Orwell, Penguin, London 2009.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just another photographic illustration. Below its simple surface, there’s a lot going on. For a start, note how the rose-tinted image of elephants in the background is echoed in the shawl of the figure in the foreground. The heirarchy of letterforms draws attention to Orwell’s heavyweight status whilst evoking, in the red and green brushstrokes, the politcs of Burma in the dying days of the British empire. In this clever application of colour, text and image, Marion Deuchars has compressed the essence of a complex book into a visually stunning composition. Image © Marion Deuchars. Read Marion’s Bio

2012 Winner Cover Design Matthew Richardson The Outsider

(2) 2012 WINNER – Matthew Richardson, The Outsider, by Albert Camus, Folio Society, London 2011.

The cover for this brilliant offbeat novel could only have been designed by a brilliant offbeat mind. Matthew Richardson is known for his somewhat surreal photographic collages that have featured in The Guardian, The New Yorker and won him the V&A  illustration Awards TWICE. His cover for Camus’s The Outsider is a strange photomontage composed of b&w images, hand-drawn forms and a red dot. We love it, even if we don’t know what to make of it. Image © Matthew Richardon. Check out Matthew’s portfolio at the Heart Agency

2015 Winner Cover Design Yehrin Tong The Book of Strange New Things

(3) 2015 WINNER – Yehrin Tong, The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber, Canongate, Edinburgh 2014.

Nothing is random. Every line, every dot, every circular geometric element has its place in this vector-drawn composition of a single tear drop. It’s brilliant for abstracting an entire novel into a simple visual metaphor. But there’s also a commercial awareness at work here. Note how the author’s name – Michel Faber – forms the dominant typographic feature, prominently placed to emphasise the publisher’s focus on name-brand and retail positioning within the competitive book market. Image © Yehrin Tong. Follow Yehrin @YehrinTong


2006 Winner Cover Design Tim Moore and Xiao Mammals

(4) 2006 WINNER – Tim Moore and Xiao, Mammals, by Pierre Merot, Canongate, Edinburgh 2006.

If you’ve read Pierre Merot’s book, you’ll know that the phrase ‘darkly comic’ is the perfect descriptor of this tale of isolation, cynicism and mid-life dissolution and debauchery. In its red-black combination of tones and the application of so-called ‘tribal art’, Tim Moore and Xiao effortlessly embody the mood of the text. But the comic fonts in the blurb don’t sit well with the straight-edged letterforms in the title. It’s an otherwise brilliant composition painfully let down by the wayward typography.  But it’s wacky and strange and yeah, it works.  Image © Tim Moore and Xiao.


2004 Winner Cover Design Sara Fanelli Pinocchio2

(5) 2004 WINNER – Sara Fanelli, Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi, Walker, London 2003.

Ideas. Humour. Offbeat inventiveness. You never know what you’re going to get with Sara Fanelli! Her cover for Pinocchio is a collage, composed of pictoral elements from different contexts, assembled and juxtaposed to create a sort of visual remix. But it’s not just a visual delight, it’s also a tactile one. As you pull the book out of its slip-case, Pinocchio’s nose grows longer and longer. The most memorable element of this popular story is captured in a single image and a simple gesture from you, the reader. Gotta love Sara Fanelli.  Image © Sara Fanelli. See the rest of Sara’s Books

Check out our Best of the Best: Top 5 Illustration Award EDITORIAL Winners

VILLA logo blog

Entry to the 2016 V&A Illustration Awards is now closed.

Shortlist announcement – April 2016.

2016 Awards Ceremony and Private View  – Monday 23 May 2016.

Display opens to the public – Tuesday 24 May 2016 until 21 August 2016

The judges’ decision is final. Artwork by previous winners is held in the Library at the V&A.

1 comment so far, view or add yours


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