Amid a pandemic, my expectations of a book cover became simpler. It either needed to signal the book’s intent to explore mortality, which we spend our lives struggling to make peace with, or it had to take the opposite route and remind a prospective reader — loudly, if possible — that the possibilities of curiosity, wonder, exploration, beauty, art and life still mattered in a year roundly dominated by hand sanitizing while doomscrolling.
For a designer, moving in either of these directions is harder than it sounds. Though much of what used to be the normal day-to-day stopped cold this year, the barrage of updates, warnings, flashes, posts, tweets and links featuring compounded local and global emergencies continued apace, often with accompanying images, all competing for our attention, all the time. The covers that made lasting impressions this year did so on account of each one’s ability to survive in the mind just as we all sought to survive 2020. That the cover of a book — something produced with a finite shelf life — could grip us throughout such a bitter, caustic year is either a triumph of artistry or a sign that our collective alarm bells are still not ringing loudly enough. Maybe it’s both.