Competition The great James Joyce cover-up

Fri, Jun 8, 2012, 01:00

To mark Bloomsday, and to be in with a chance of winning €250, we’d like you to design a cover for ‘Ulysses’, and here are some tips to get you started

THERE HAVE BEEN many jacket designs for Ulysses, in many languages. But how would you illustrate James Joyce’s epic book?

In advance of Bloomsday, we’d like you to design your own cover. The winner will receive €250. Just send your design to by 10am on Wednesday, June 13th. Terms and conditions are available from

But how do you know where to start? Here are five tips from leading Irish book jacket designer Niall McCormack.

1 Decide what imagery you actually want to use

“You can design a cover with no image, photography with type, or a drawing, or an amalgam of a few things. Do you want to go with a photographic cover? Illustrative? Typographic or a mix? That’s the first choice. It’s much better to come at it sideways. There’s been a real renaissance of illustration on book jackets. Photographic covers were in vogue since the 1970s, but illustrations have come back in a big way. They can be a more ambiguous way of playing with an idea.

“A photo is very descriptive and literal unless you start playing with focus and shadow. Illustration can have so many different moods.”

2 Conceptual or literal? “Other choices are whether you want it to be conceptual or literal or ambiguous in terms of the message.

“With Ulysses, because it’s a modernist novel, the covers tend to be modernist. There was no attempt to be literal with a picture of Leopold Bloom walking down the street or something. So you have to decide, do you want to go for something vague or something obvious?”

3 Avoid cliche

“Cliche is the big thing. When you’re designing a book cover, it’s important to avoid cliche, but sometimes there is no choice. A certain book will demand you to pick an image or style that’s lodged in people’s minds, because it’s shorthand for people for what you’re selling them. There is a balancing act of a new way of looking at something without alienating people or running the risk that they won’t get it.”

4 Be careful with your colours

“Horror is red, black, dark. Chick lit is pink or light blue. Thrillers tend to be a bluey colour. But with a literary work you’re really much more open. Red signifies danger, green is calming, so colours have meanings beyond their colour value, so it’s important not to use inappropriate ones. Then combinations of colours have other meanings. Part of that is being visually aware.

“Outside of colour theory, it’s more about setting the mood. The main thing is that the cover should give some sort of feel for the content.

“It shouldn’t be telling the story, but giving you a feel.”

5 Brush up on basic designer dos and don’ts

“Think of all the designer-y things, like don’t use comic sans, try not to use free fonts, don’t stretch things. There are set things you just shouldn’t do in computer design but in terms of a literary work, all bets are off.

“It doesn’t fit into a genre, so it’s outside the scope of a ‘normal’ book brief that a professional would get.”

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