November 6, 2013

A new awards show for British book design


Design competitions have always been controversial affairs—after all, the standard for excellence is so subjective that the results will always be skewed by the personal tastes of whoever the judges happen to be. Still, in much the same way that the Academy Awards serve to highlight the importance of the film industry, design awards forefront the important role graphic designers play in our culture and push for ever more beautiful and surprising work.

In recent years, book designers in particular have had a hard time making their case, especially since the AIGA, as part of its ongoing shift in priorities away from design excellence and toward corporate culture, suspended its 50 Books/50 Covers competition in 2011Design Observer has admirably assumed sponsorship of the nearly 90-year-old awards in the meantime, giving them a scrappy new spirit, but there’s no question that 50/50 has diminished in stature after the loss of its traveling exhibition and AIGA imprimatur.

In the UK, book cover designers have never had a dedicated outlet for their work, but Jon Gray and Jamie Keenan aim to change that by launching the Academy of British Cover Design and its own competition, the Book Cover Design Awards. The first installment, open to any cover created by a British designer in 2013, will be judged only by other cover designers, who have a greater appreciation of the constraints faced in the real world, as Gray told Creative Review:

“We have to use quotes and make them large; we have to mention prizes, shortlists, author’s previous books,” he says. “There is a lot of information to be conveyed in a small space. Managing that and still creating something new is difficult. Getting that through a publishing house, an author, an agent and a supermarket, all of whom have their own ideas is even harder.

“It means that when it comes to design awards the work often just doesn’t fit. If it’s judged using the same criteria as an art book with two lines of carefully spaced, minute Helvetica, then it doesn’t really stand a chance.”

Entry will be free, and the inaugural awards show will be held in February 2014. For more information, follow @ABCoverD on Twitter.


Christopher King is the Art Director of Melville House.