The 2017 Australian Book Design Awards: Mel's Top 5


This year was the 65th Annual Australian Book Design Awards, and if this doesn’t excite you, that’s probably because you’re not a total design and book nerd like myself. Nothing makes me quite so happy as a downright gorgeous book. This years winners did not disappoint, so I’m going to show you my top 5 picks out of this years winners!


2. The Art of Reading by Damon Young

Next up in my top picks was The Art of Reading, written by Damon Young and designed by Mary Callahan, the winner of Best Designed Non Fiction Book. This cover takes a very different approach for a different audience, choosing a simple and open design that suggests a lot more than it shows. I love this for a number of reasons. As a designer myself, it’s always heartening to see negative space appreciated and used effectively. The aesthetic of the cover aligns with my own ideas of reading, in which there is space for the mind to expand in. Reading is a peaceful moment in which ideas are suggested, and you are given room to draw new conclusions and internalise ideas. The lack of exposition, or outright illustration of every feature in this cover appeals to my sense of open-mindedness that most readers attain simply from a large portion of time spent reading. As for the style of illustration, the colours and patterns are both childlike and aspiring towards something more adult, which hints to me, at the importance of reading while young and throughout adolescence. The suggested posture of the figure is also quite cosy and relaxed, which makes me want to curl up with a book just so, with this book for that matter. The Art of Reading is also now on my to-be-read pile.

1. Lots by Marc Martin

My top pick this year is Lots, written by Marc Martin, and designed by Bruno Herfst & Marc Martin. This beautiful book won Best Designed Children’s Illustrated Book (sponsored by Penguin Random House). Despite entirely different illustration styles, this cover design reminds me of a childhood spent poring over the works of Graeme Base. The intricate and seemingly endless details create an extended experience for the viewer, inviting them to look closer and longer, and discover the stories camouflaged by the chaotic splendour. What I also really love about this design is the very effective balance that is achieved by the typography. The title isn’t lost in the the colourful mayhem that surrounds it, and yet it doesn’t distract from it either. By having the title any more bold or obvious, the eye would always be drawn to that instead of being allowed to roam. The textural consistency of the typography with the illustration style of the rest of the design allows it to blend, but through it’s large size and the deep black, it still stands out well enough to identify the book. The colour scheme is also reminiscent of an old favourite, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which has struck me with it’s vibrancy since I was a child myself. The nostalgia drew me in instantly, and Lots went straight onto my to-read pile.

  Image sourced via twitter

Image sourced via twitter

3. The Wisdom Tree Series published by Inkerman & Blunt

My third pick, awarded the Best Designed Series, The Wisdom Tree Series was published by Inkerman and Blunt and designed by Sandy Cull. This series intrigues with dark patterns that fill most of the space to the brim, giving the viewer a sense of being overwhelmed and overpowered by a writhing mass. This sense is present in the illustration of all of the covers - which are created in black and white with patterning of different styles - the only colour being the splash of vibrancy of the title. The overwhelming impression builds up with the books, and the consistency throughout has impact. Once again, I appreciate the sense of correlation between the design and the title. “The Wisdom Tree” for me, evokes the idea of amassing knowledge, which is humankind’s most influential commodity. In our present information age, we have gathered so much information as to find it truly overwhelming. These covers elicited a powerful emotional response in me, and I can see why Cull has won the award.


5. Magrit by Lee Battersby

And lastly on my list comes Magrit, written by Lee Battersby, and designed by Amy Daoud, for the Best Designed Children’s Fiction Book, and Designer’s Choice Award for Best Designed Children’s/Young Adult Book. This design is compelling, like Lots, in it’s details. At first glance you see a skull, at second you see the title, then your eye is drawn down, through the silhouette of a running girl, past some mirrored rodents, to the author. It is then lured around the skull, through insects and bones and leaves, up to the crown of the skull which appears to be made of tombstones but also looks like a city skyline at night. And so, something that at first looks simple, actually has a great deal going on. Another interesting sense I get is a notion of blindness. The empty skull eyes, and the filled in spaces in the typography, creates a closed sensation, within a design that uses space very intentionally. I could be talking nonsense, but these design choices intrigue me, and make me highly interested in the story. Another for the TBR list. This is why design is important, it's what makes you want to pick up a book.

4. The Redacted History of the Institute of Contexualism

My fourth choice in this list is The Redacted History of the Institute of Contextualism, written by an Anonymous author, and designed by an Anonymous designer. This book won Best Designed Independent Book. I thoroughly enjoy the consistency of concealment in this cover. We don’t know who has written it, designed it, and the faces of the persons lounging on the beach but looking towards the camera are obscured by obnoxious yellow circles. The content of this cover is blatant in its message, and does exactly what it sets out to do, conjuring curiosity in the reader, just as redacted and censored content always has. I also enjoy the combination of the worn textures, retro colours and styles with the image content, which correlates with the content of the book. It gives the reader a sense that old secrets will be spoken, bringing to light mysteries that have been decades in the making. All in all, the cover design of this book creates a desire to know those secrets which someone, somewhere, did not want people to know. I don’t know anything that sells so well as a great and dangerous secret.


And thus we come to the end of Mel’s top five picks for this year’s Australian Book Design Awards. Overall I am inspired to read, design, and to think for myself, which attests to the success of these wonderful designers I can only aspire to work alongside. It’s an admirable skill, to encourage people to read a great book, and it’s always wonderful to see designer’s being recognised for the incredible and important work that they do. I wouldn’t deny the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” as many a book has a cover that doesn’t do it justice, but the good ones, they really make a difference.

Thanks for reading my little geek out about pretty books, I hope you enjoyed it! Which was your favourite? Feel free to bicker with me in the comments!


Melissa Coates

Melissa is a genre-junkie, graphic designer, and illustrator. She’s a firm believer in the power of imagination and creativity, and loves getting parcels in the mail. She’s super keen to send happy little bookcases to excited binge-readers like herself. You can find her illustrations on most social media and Etsy @TheLittleInkery