One of the great advantages to designing book covers is that you don’t ever have to have an idea, much less a thought, ever, in your head. That is the author’s job. Through a manuscript, he or she will give you all the ideas and thoughts that you could possibly need to design a jacket.
If you’ve heard of Chip Kidd before, the phrase “the closest thing to a rock star in graphic design” will probably ring a few bells, if not a huge gonging irritation for the inordinate ubiquity of the quote. That said, Kidd is probably one of the few contemporary designers well-known both in and outside of the design world. This monograph collects his work from the last 20+ years designing book jackets at Knopf, as well as many freelance books and projects, with his own commentary and testimonials from the various authors — at least a few mention having “Chip Kidd clauses” in their contracts specifying he’s the only one who will design their jackets, which I suppose is pretty darn rock star.
His design for Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is certainly one of my favorites ever, and stories/letters around his various collaborations with Chris Ware — who illustrated the interior mechanisms of the wind-up bird on the cover, overprinted in a shiny varnish — provide some of the most entertaining insights in the book.
A common thread throughout Kidd’s annotations is how he chanced upon some element that ended up being the core piece of the design — whether it’s a photo he found and held on to waiting for the project it belonged with, or it’s the promotional postcard that happened to show up at the right time with the perfect image for something else. His successful designs are therefore partially attributable to his ability to glean well from the world. As much as the quote above may be true, there obviously is a little bit more to designing books than just reading them.