The Overlooked Art of Designing a Book Spine

Senior Designer Allison Weiner weighs in on her favorite book spines, and offers a peek inside the design process.

Designing a book’s spine can be a somewhat unglamorous step in the book design process. You have a narrow rectangle to work with, and often there’s barely enough room for the essentials: title of the book, author’s name, and publisher’s logo. But a well-designed spine has real impact. After all, in a bookstore or a library, one’s first introduction to a book is usually through the spine, and a striking spine might make you pull one book off the shelf instead of another. Here are some of my favorite Chronicle Books spines:

Spines with Cool Type

From top to bottom: The Bar Book, The Bldg Blog Book, Fashion Illustration by Fashion Designers

The Bar Book’s spine, with its shiny, extra-large, and embossed title, easily stands out from the crowd, and I’ve heard it also looks great on a bar cart. The next two books flout convention by filling their spines with extra text. The Bldg Blog Book spine features the entire table of contents, capturing the idiosyncratic, brainy spirit of the blog. And in Fashion Illustration by Fashion Designers, the title repeats again and again, filling the spine with an eye-catching pattern.

Spines with Pictures

From top to bottom: The Greatness of Dads, Take-Away, 360 Sound

These spines use photography in interesting ways. The Greatness of Dads features a photo of a dad throwing his child into the air at the beach. When shelved, only a sliver of the image is visible, and one wants to pull the book off the shelf just to see the rest of the picture. Take Away, a photography book about street food, has dozens of tiny photos on its spine that hint at the breadth of the photography inside. And 360 Sound, a history book about Columbia Records, takes advantage of a wide spine to extend the front cover image, resulting in a handsome, unified package.

Spines with Rainbows and Patterns

The spine of Paddle Against the Flow features a bold graphic pattern, which is a simple way for a spine to say “look at me!”. Most spines have a single dominant color, so the use of the full color spectrum on Meringue Girls and A Colorful Home really makes the spines pop off the shelf.

Spines with Interesting Effects

From top to bottom: Streetwear, Art Made from Books, Well-Read Women

Usually we save special effects like foil stamping and spot gloss for the front cover, so it’s extra fun when we get to use those effects to make the spine shine. Streetwear, a street fashion bible, has a cloth tag that mimics a clothing label peeking out of the top of the spine. Art Made from Books, a showcase of just that, draws attention to the structure of the book with an exposed spine. And Well-Read Women, featuring portraits of female characters from famous novels, has a three-piece case with a pattern stamped onto it in colored foil. A three-piece case is when the spine is covered in a different material than the front and back covers; in this case, the spine is cloth.

Spines with . . . Fur???

In this best-selling series of pet poetry, all the spines are covered in close-up photos of fur. It’s a small detail that unifies the series and at the same time is ridiculously cute.


Judging a book by the spine has never been more fun. Do you have any favorites?

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