6 Lessons We Learned in Designing Our Book Cover

6 Lessons We Learned in Designing Our Book Cover

What’s the first thing you meet in a book? It’s not the first sentence. Chances are it’s not one of those awesome blurbs on the back telling you how great the book is. Nope—even in our contemporary age of the endless Amazon scroll, the first thing you meet on a book is the cover!

People tell you not to judge a book by this cover, but it’s hard not to. The cover is basically the face the book brings to the world. That’s why it’s important for the cover to grab our attention and convey the spirit of the book’s contents.

Photo of Ginny Sterpka, graphic designer for "Creative Economy Entrepreneurs"Lucky for us, we have a great in-house designer—Ginny Sterpka—to whom we turned for the shiny face of our new book: Creative Economy Entrepreneurs: From Startup to Success. 

In case you missed our announcement post, here’s the scoop on Creative Economy Entrepreneurs. The first accessible in-depth introduction to the entrepreneurs shaping the 21st century, Creative Economy Entrepreneurs shares the stories of successful creative entrepreneurs around the globe and shows you how to spark the success of creative economy ecosystems in your region.

We knew that the cover needed to represent Creative Startups values: bold connectivity, bright new ideas launching the future. Conveying those values quickly and elegantly was our challenge, and the book cover would be our solution.

The passion of design thinking—coming up with beautiful, innovative solutions and experiences to make our lives more fulfilling and interesting—is a core philosophy for many creative entrepreneurs. So we thought it made a lot of sense to share some of Ginny’s design thinking about how she solved the challenge of designing the cover of our book about creative entrepreneurs.

We learned six great lessons in book cover design from Ginny’s efforts, experiments, and explanations. Read on to find out what we learned!

Lesson 1: Don’t Give Things Away Right Away
Creative Entrpreneurs Book Cover - "Safe" Choice

Straight off the bat, Ginny knew she wanted to make something a bit different. With all the business books out there, Ginny felt that a little abstraction and curiosity would be the key to piquing interest. “You want the cover that’s like ‘oh what is this?’” Ginny explains. “It draws you in and you want to know more.”

Lesson learned? If the viewer “gets” the cover right away, their eyes will leave right away. Go for the choice that requires a little more mental processing—so long as that processing makes for genuine intrigue and not confusion!

Lesson 2: Remember What You Like

Before Ginny could get to that oh-what-is-this sweet spot, she had to have a general idea of what we liked. So we shared some of our favorite recent book covers.

Lesson learned? There are always a lot of different directions possible when beginning a design, so seeing our favorites helped Ginny focus her efforts.

Interlude: Creative Economy Ecosystems

With a general sense of influences, the most important step to coming up with the initial concept was, as Ginny notes, was “to use design elements that are in the book.” For example, we talk a lot in the book about creative economy ecosystems, and so we wanted our cover to reflect that.

So before we talk about, what’s a creative economy ecosystem anyway? We talk a lot about this concept in the book, but we’ll do a brief crash course right here. Economic ecosystems use the concept of the ecological ecosystem to describe what makes for a healthy economy, especially as it relates to startups and entrepreneurs. For the book, we asked Andy Stoll, a senior program officer in entrepreneurship ecosystem development at the Kauffman Foundation, to give us a concise definition of an entrepreneurial ecosystem:

Entrepreneurial ecosystems circulate the knowledge and the resources to the entrepreneurs who need them.

Your creative economy ecosystem, like natural ecosystems, should be rich in resources, allowing for a flow of creativity and connections, social capital and value exchange, across industries and among various players in a given economic area. These relationships encourage productivity and support myriad economic entities, from large existing creative companies to small upstarts.

The ecosystem, owing to these varied and fruitful relationships, adapts to inevitable disruptions stemming from changes in the environment and the introduction of new players, providing a resilient and adaptive environment for newcomers and old standard bearers alike.

In Creative Economy Entrepreneurs, you’ll read about successful creative economy ecosystems all over in the world, in many different kinds of economies, large and small, rural and urban. You’ll meet many different kinds of contributors to these ecosystems and learn how their interconnected efforts can help the larger regional economy thrive.

Lesson 3: Pick Symbols that Tell the Whole Story

Creative Entrpreneurs Book Cover - Eye Catching
So how do we get all that into a book cover?! Well, Ginny being the design magician she is, came up with the visually catchy and logical idea of interconnected pentagrams.

"The pentagrams represent entrepreneurs or resources or investors, anyone that would be in that creative economy ecosystem,” Ginny explains. “Each of those different organizations is connected to other organizations. That network of connections is a huge part of success for entrepreneurs.”

We love the compact efficiency of Ginny’s visual translation of the ecosystem metaphor. There’s nothing out of place; the visuals reward both the initial viewing and further meditation on how they connect back to the concept.

Lesson learned? When translating a concept into visual design choices, make sure your design captures the full range of a concept and tells the whole story in a bold and simple way.

Lesson 4: Listen to Passionate Feedback
Creative Entrpreneurs Book Cover - Valley of Death

After Ginny had this overall ecosystem concept down, she was ready to make a few mockups. These initial cover design drafts then went into a group feedback stage. We have a lot of talented creatives on our team and on our board, and we believe part of the secret to our success is our collaborative idea-sharing.

In fact, it was one of our board members who spotted what would become the final design, singling it out from the crowd even though it wasn’t the initial frontrunner. “One was more safe that we were starting to move forward with,” Ginny recalls. “But then one of our board members who does advertising and design work liked a different one. He was emphatic, saying this was the only one worth doing.”



That emphatic faith compelled the rest of the team to take another look, and sure enough, we realized the less safe choice was the better choice.

Lesson learned? Consensus is important, but trusting creative conviction often makes the difference between safety and stunner.

Lesson 5: Give the Eyes Somewhere to Stay

With the winning design in hand, it was time for Ginny to tweak and adjust, improving a good design into a great one. We asked her about what she felt were some of her best moves in the drafting stage, and we really loved her answer about depth and layers.

Basically, the design of networked pentagrams started out pretty flat. “Initially there was only one layer of the pentagrams, and they were all basically the same size and full opacity,” Ginny explains. “If you were in space, they would all be like the same kind of glass piece.” What Ginny knew was that the best book covers give the viewer’s eyes somewhere to sink, letting them roam and go deeper as they scan. “So I created a feeling of depth with varied transparency and size,” Ginny says. “And I put the whole design on a subtle gradient fade instead of just plain white.”

Lesson learned? If the viewer’s eyes can’t go “into” a design, they will pass right “over” it. Give your designs depth to keep the viewer’s attention.

Lesson 6: Experiment With Forms and Variations

Finally, we can’t talk about great book design without talking about typefaces! After all, one obvious thing the book cover has to do is tell the viewer the title of the book, and it needs some attractive lettering to do that.

Ginny stuck pretty closely with Creative Startups branding for the cover of Creative Economy Entrepreneurs, using the Futura typeface we use throughout our different publications. But she made a few tweaks to circle back around to the first lesson of making sure the cover was a little unusual and catchy.

So she chose to use Futura in a specific medium form, especially for the title itself. “If I had made the title bold or heavy, the typeface wouldn’t have had those points on the A and the V and the M,” Ginny points out. “It would make it seem like more of a normal font. Putting it in medium, with an outline, keeps it a very legible simple font but makes it a little more interesting.”

Lesson learned? Experiment with forms and variations to find the best way to tell your story. The most obvious way of catching attention—blaring out a title in a bold, heavy font, for example—isn’t always the best. 


We love what Ginny came up with, and we hope you enjoyed this glimpse into her process!

Just like those networked pentagrams in Ginny’s design, the process of making a book like this involves a lot of creative connections and collaborations between talented people. For example, we couldn’t have written this book if we hadn’t read some great books along the way!

That’s why our next blog post will look into some of the books, articles, and thinkers who influenced our journey. We’ll also be unveiling some new blurbs from leaders in the creative entrepreneur movement—including one from the author who quite literally wrote the book on creative economies!

So go ahead and join the mailing list to stay in touch and read the next blog when it arrives! And we’d love to hear from you: write to us and tell us about some of your favorite book covers and design processes.