Design & Art Direction

Book Design Heroines

The Book-Nerd Designer

When I was a kid my oldest sister seemed to consume books (up to three a day). She was always head of her class, and  I idolized her. To me, she was the smartest person alive. She talked about things I’d never heard of, continents I never knew existed, and politics that I still have trouble with as an adult. I was just her baby sister who lacked focus. Clever at best, I was clownish, distracted, a real daydreamer.

Soon my sister figured out that I’d do anything she asked (that’s the job of a goofy side-kick). She decided to improve me, in her nerdy way, and gave me assigned-reading. She assigned, we read, and we discussed. These weren’t normal conversations, they were no-holds barred debates. She debated easily and decided I could too. She wanted me to wield ideas, just as she did. But big sis was smarter, six years older, with a razor-sharp mind that easily recollects names and dates.  She was Goliath and I was a timid David.  

My saving grace was that I WAS good at one thing, connecting dots. In books authors string together events and dialogue that lead to their conclusions. If you can follow these dots you can solve the book's meaning. The fact that I could follow the dots easily meant I could argue with my brilliant big sis. I'm not saying I convinced her . . .  but I held my own and THAT is how I became a book nerd. 

Last year I was asked to design a book about a hyper-nerdy, super smart, and competitive girl. She was immediately familiar. I eagerly created a nerdy cover, and to my surprise people loved the nerdy cover. The nerdy cover was picked and printed and this was all really validating to my pro-nerd world view. 

Yes, girls (and women) can be nerdy, and we can have covers that show us that way. How cool is that?! 

All that nerd celebrating made me ask myself, do other women in book design have favorite nerdy books or book covers? So I asked two of my favorite book cover designers . . . Do you have a favorite nerdy book cover? A cover you love that is nerdy either in design or content?


Jen Wang is a designer who works in print and digital, creating work that ranges from creating book covers to shaping user experiences. 

A People's History of the United States  Cover design by Tom Lau

A People's History of the United States
Cover design by Tom Lau

Jen’s pick: A People's History of the United States

“Definitely A People's History. Nothing more nerdy than history and Zinn is gold. Really formative in molding my perspective as a designer and human. Though it [the design] is unassuming, I appreciate the authoritative tone of the cover. It really lends the book the gravitas of historical scholarship it deserves. The official nature of the design is a fine tribute to all those underrepresented and outright erased by historical "winners". I also love how the seemingly stolid design belies the passionate and fiery prose Zinn employs in communicating his perspective on historical facts and relaying the under-told stories of every day people."


Emily Mahon is an art director at Doubleday, her work has been honored with awards from AIGA, The Type Director's Club, The Art Director’s Club and The New York Book Show. She has been published in 50 Books/50 Covers, TDC Annuals, Communication ArtsGraphis and Print, among others.

Angelmaker   Jacket design by Jason Booher

Jacket design by Jason Booher

Emily’s pick: Angelmaker 

“I think that Angelmaker, designed by Jason Booher, could be described as a nerdy book cover. I'll never forget working with Jason and him describing to me the very intricate code system that he had developed for the cover design of this book. Not only did it encapsulate a message, but it also was just so visually interesting. I couldn't believe that he took the time to create this entire system, knowing that most people who picked up this book would never even realize there was en encrypted message.”


The Social Animal  Cover design tk  (coming soon—I've foolishly loaned out my copy)

The Social Animal
Cover design tk
 (coming soon—I've foolishly loaned out my copy)

My pick: The Social Animal : The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

The Social Animal is huge fat book about personality and social theory. It might bore anybody who wasn't into psychology or sociology, but I geek out reading it. I especially like the cover because of its childlike simplicity, which makes it very inclusive, inviting, and clear. The paperback edition is bright and fun, the book takes complex ideas and uses just two characters throughout to simplify big ideas into short narratives. People are always surprised that it’s one of my favorite books because it's not "light reading", but I like a good challenge.” 


P.S. The nerdy-girl book that inspired this post is called ENTER TITLE HERE. I designed the jacket to show the main character’s journey of “self-editing” in a type-nerd design. It was recently featured by Spine Magazine

PPS. I was also inspired by ON GENDERED BOOK COVERS AND BEING A WOMAN DESIGNER written by  JENNIFER HEUER. In it she discusses getting assignments based on her gender, rather then her body of work.

PPPS. You can see more of my favorite covers on my Book Design Heroines Pinterest collection. visit it here.


Maria EliasComment