Styling the Perfect Author Name: Design 101


Have you ever had the experience of tweaking and fiddling with your cover design, possibly for hours on end, only to realize you’re going backwards? All that time – time that could have been spent on writing, going for a walk, or just staring at the wall – poured into a cover that simply refuses to work.

In my experience, the best solution is to stop, step back … and review some Design Principles.

Yeah, I know. But trust me, it’s not as painful as it sounds!

Building on last week’s post

Last week we looked at how to select and style the perfect font for your Author Name, but as I just pointed out, that’s no good if you can’t get it to work with the rest of the cover. So here’s a crash course in Design Principles that should get things on track.

The 5 Principles of Design

Definitions vary, but for the most part, it’s generally agreed that there are five Design Principles:

  1. Unity
  2. Emphasis and Focal Point
  3. Scale and Proportion
  4. Balance
  5. Rhythm

1. Unity

The key to unity is organization. Humans like to recognize, understand and categorize things, the quicker the better. So remember: your reader is looking for organization, not random placement. Here’s how you can achieve it:


Group elements together to they create a shape (like a rectangle or a triangle).


Use repeated elements to reinforce an angle or shape.


Using a similar hue, saturation and/or value in the cover can really bring together disparate parts. Have you tried a color filter or overlying gradient?

‘Billionaire Christmas’ uses Proximity (grouped text) and Repetition (text and background paper to reinforce the diagonal) to create a very organized cover.

‘The Professor’ uses Proximity (grouped text at the top and bottom), Repetition (horizontal text and grass, multiple vertical lines in the image), and Color (a yellow color filter) to organize and unify the cover.

‘Lady Midnight’ uses Proximity (all text grouped towards the bottom of the page) and Color (a blue-green filter) to create unity.

Remember, the whole is more important than the parts. If you’re not sure, shrink the canvas down to a thumbnail. Does it look like random noise, or is there clear organization and cohesion?

2. Emphasis and Focal Point

Again, the human eye wants to categorize, to understand … so give it something to focus on with the following tools:


Black/white color values can emphasize what’s different.


Deliberate use of space can draw attention to an element.


Line – either literal or implied – will guide the path of the eye.

‘Lawless’ makes clear use of Contrast and Isolation to draw the eye towards the human figure and dog.

‘Cartwheel’, in addition to employing Contrast, makes very obvious use of Line to encourage focus. You can achieve a similar effect by simply placing elements (images, text etc) in such a way that their edges gently guide the eye towards something.

‘Delirium’ uses Contrast (pale background, dark item in foreground) and Isolation to tell you exactly what you should be focusing on. As an aside, note the use of Proximity (to create a heart shape) and Color to enhance Unity. I love the striking simplicity of this cover – it really grabs you, even at thumbnail size.

3. Scale and Proportion

While not as universally applicable as the first two Principles, Scale is a useful tool to add to your arsenal. Unusual scale adds interest. If your book cover looks noisy and bland, it might be because the background image is too long-range. Try zooming right in and focusing on a particular element.

‘Mania’ offers an image that immediately arrests us.

‘Milk and Honey’ provides unusual focus on insects.

‘Pretending to Dance, by zooming in and offsetting the image, provides a striking background with an emphasis on line and bold color.

4. Balance

Visual balance is very appealing. It exists on a spectrum, ranging from perfect symmetry on one end, to severe imbalance on the other. Most of the time, you should be aiming for something in the middle, using the following tools to achieve it:


Color value can divide the canvas in a way that is visually balanced, or be used to give more ‘weight’ to an element.


Perfect symmetry can be a little unsettling, but imperfect symmetry feels balanced and soothing.


A bold color draws the eye, giving that element extra visual weight.

‘Mechanic’ is an excellent example of non-symmetrical balance. The extra white space towards the top left is balanced by the bold red of the Title and the dropped stroke on the letter M.

‘The Secret Wife’ is imperfectly symmetrical. Although the house on the left and the circle on the right are positional mirrors, the latter’s dark value and size give it extra weight.

‘My Only Wife’ is near-perfect symmetry due to its geometrical nature and centered placement. However, monotony is broken by the shadow on the right, and the tiny key in the centre. It sure is an intriguing cover!

5. Rhythm

Visual rhythm is based on repetition of an element – text, shape, or line – at regular intervals. It creates a sense of movement and harmony.

‘The Girl Who Fell from the Sky’ offers a particularly clever use of Rhythm, with words from the title indicating her fall, and the author’s name serving as the ground (or water?) she’s about to strike.

‘The Teleportation Accident’ also tells something of a story … but more than that, it’s beautiful and visually arresting.

‘The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett’ uses radial repetition rather than linear. Note how the allusion to a flower shape also enhances Unity.

Getting Back to Author Name

Now these Design Principles are fresh in your mind, here’s how you can apply them to placement and integration of Author Name.

Unity: have you grouped your Author Name with another element, either text or image, so it doesn’t look like an afterthought? Have you ensured its hue and saturation works with the rest of the cover?

Emphasis and Focal Point: Do you want your name to be the focus, or not? Decide upon this, and you’ll have a better idea of where to position it.

Scale and Proportion: Similarly, do you want your name to be front and centre, or would you prefer an image to grab the reader’s attention?

Balance: Is your Author Name being used to visually balance the cover? Is the font weight thick enough? Do you need to bump up the Contrast or Color?

Rhythm: If you’re employing Rhythm in your design, does Author Name contribute to this pattern, or break it?


That wraps up my 2-part series on styling your author name – if you have any questions or comments, just shoot me a message on Facebook or Twitter!

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