What’s in a Cover?

The age-old saying is “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but I know I am personally guilty of this exact thing. There have been many times that I have been searching the shelves of a bookstore only to be pulled towards one spine among thousands because something about it has caught my attention. Similarly I have skipped past certain books (that have been recommended to me) because their design. I can’t tell you how many copies I have of Wuthering Heights based on their covers alone. So what’s in a cover?

Book cover design is a difficult process, as one must to synthesize the essence of a book into one design. This design, in many cases, must tell the reader the general tone of the novel without giving away key points. However in the case redesigns, that is not necessarily the case and is the focus of this post.

Let’s focus on a personal favourite of mine: Harry Potter. The “Series that Lived” was first published on June 26th 1997 by Bloomsbury in London, and then later picked up by Scholastic in 1998.

Harry Potter series original coves

The original Harry Potter series covers published by Bloomsbury.

These covers are everything a 90s book could be with bold colours, framed image, and contrasting type. They bear a resemblance to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps original series that ran from 1992–1997. The complexity of each cover increases as the readership grows with the characters, maturing as the series turns from innocence and Quidditch to government conspiracies and sacrifice. Each cover references key events within the series without giving too much away to the readership. That being said, looking at these covers from today’s standards, they are dated to say the least.


R.L. Stine’s wildly popular Goosebumps mirror a similar design layout as the Harry Potter series.

Fast forward to the wild success of the Harry Potter series. “Harry Potter” has become a household name and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least seen the movies, if not read the books. And with over 450 million copies sold in over 74 dialects, publishing companies have seen the opportunity behind many (many) redesigns. For the sake of space and time, I will focus on Bloomsbury editions exclusively but i highly recommend checking out all the different kinds as many of them are works of art by themselves.

Bloomsbury released a Children’s (1998), Celebratory, and Special edition of the series that all share the same focal image, colours and typeface with some minor changes. In 2008 Bloomsbury released the first ever adult version which features a photographic image of a key object (or location) as the focal point. These covers are grittier, darker, and definitely more mature than the originals and could be put on the shelf of any adult without fear of shame or guilt for proudly displaying “kids books.” The typeface is also slimmer, with less prominent serifs that also help add sophistication. The vibrancy is selective, reserved for the object itself with a greyscale, moody background.

HP Adult version

These adult versions were published in 2008, one year after the initial conclusion of the series.

The Signature editions are among my personal favourites. They are simple, yet are illustrated in such a fun and magical way that bring to life the whimsicality of Harry Potter. Throughout all the Bloomsbury iterations, “Harry Potter and the…” has always dominated the top third of the cover, with J.K. Rowling’s name bouncing around in its placement. The original covers place her name at the bottom, whereas the adult versions place her name over the title. This series revives the original style by placing her name at the bottom once again. In my opinion, these are the cleanest, most organic covers that beautifully blend the story of Harry Potter with clean illustrations and cover design.

Signature editions

Illustrator Clare Melinsky created the Signature editions in 2009 (published in 2011).

Andrew Davidson’s woodcut illustrations are paired with these bold colours that create a fresh take on the series. The layout also breaks away from the traditional potter form by utilizing the lower portion of the cover for the book title and right side for author name. The title colours paired with the backgrounds create punchy, youthful designs that definitely capture the eye.

2013 Adult Edition paperbacks

Adult Edition (2013) paperbacks designed and illustrated by Andrew Davidson.

However, if you’re more like me and prefer a less colourful adaptation, the original woodcut illustrations are to be the covers for the hardcover version coming out this autumn. (That being said, I would definitely put the Chamber of Secrets cover up on my wall.)

Hardcover adult editions (2015)

Hardcover adult editions (2015) illustrated by Andrew Davidson.

And finally, we’ve reached the final iteration of Potter redesigns (for now). Jonny Duddle’s illustrations use colour in such a magnificent way that I don’t even mind! The covers capture both the light-hearted and darker aspects that readers have come to love in the Potter franchise. Plus, because the series has been around for over 15 years and is so widely-known, the covers no longer have to tread the line of showcasing the action without spoiling the contents. These books follow the more traditional Potter layout with the title in the top third of the cover, but falls back on the 2008 adult version for author’s name to go above the title.

New Bloomsbury children’s edition (2014)

These latest covers arrive just in time for the older Potter generation to pass along to the next, a revival for young readers finding Hogwarts for the first time. That being said, these editions may just find a place on my shelf in the near future because you’re never too old for magic.

What do you think of the evolution of the Harry Potter books? What’s your favourite edition or cover? Did I miss your favourite version from a different publisher? Leave your replies in the comments!



One comment

  1. The typographic treatment on both of the iterations of Andrew Davidson’s woodcuts makes me sad. I agree that the woodcuts are beautiful and would absolutely frame them and hang them on my walls, but I think as a cover the “Adult” versions still appeal to me the most. I love the newest design but would buy it for a younger reader personally.


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