Designing a Bestselling Book Cover

June 5, 2018

In April we published the explosive book 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph, the president and founder of Indigenous Corporate Training. The book has touched a nerve. It’s been on the Globe and Mail bestseller list every week since it launched, and Bob has been interviewed by major media outlets across the country.

Our creative director, Peter Cocking, had a couple of challenges in designing this cover:

We needed to design a cover that made a history book about what sounds like a fusty piece of legislation look contemporary and accessible, and like an important new current affairs book. 21 Things is about its current repercussions and why the act needs to be dismantled. It’s as much history book as it is cri de couer, written in plain, strong language.

 We didn’t want to use iconography particular to any one Nation, nor did we want to resort to visual stereotypes.

When we design covers, we usually present about a dozen options to our authors. Our first round of options for Bob included a few variations of this:

The type was bold and the 21 played off the forms and colours typical of West Coast art. It was abstract and graphic, so gave us the interest that an illustration would have, without the specificity of an illustration. It was suggestive of nineteenth-century wood type posters or twentieth-century boxing posters, giving us the historical look that we wanted.

We also included this option, using a powerful photo the author found of the door of a former residential school. We felt the image was too busy for a cover, and it wasn’t immediately clear what the image was from, so it required too much work for readers to make sense of it. With cover design, you want to arrest the reader and invite them to investigate the book more deeply. We didn’t feel this worked:

And we included this, which we all found striking, if stark. We were concerned about using a feather, which is an overused image used to represent First Nations culture:

In the end, we came back to our very first direction:

And recently, we were happy to add the book’s bestseller status to the cover:

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