By Lia Tjandra, UC Press Art Director, with Jessica Moll, UC Press Senior Editor

There is a special kind of excitement I feel when designing a book series. It’s more challenging than designing a single book and also more gratifying: when united by a coherent design, the books look amazing displayed together.

When designing a series, many things need to be considered and planned for in advance. The design should be able to accommodate long or short titles and subtitles as well as different kinds of images. More importantly, the design should function to identify all future books as being part of the same series. Each individual book should also be smashing as a standalone.

Here are a few tips and examples from my recent adventures in series design for UC Press.

  • Create a design concept for the series as a whole.
    Think about both the cover and the interior and what elements can transfer over between them. Use the same typefaces from one cover and interior to the next. Keep to the same color palette, but change the main design element. Or, keep the use of the main element, but change the color palette. Keep specifications, such as trim size and paper choices consistent.

The World Literature in Translation collection includes new translations of classics and reissues of UC Press backlist books repackaged in a modern and elegant look. The first titles featured one-name ancient authors. I thought, here’s my chance to finally design a series with large initial letters as the main design element!

As the series gains popularity, sticking to initial letters was no longer enough. So far I’ve expanded the design to include symbols in Greek and Hieratic, as well as punctuation marks. 

Another example is the Criminology Explains series on our our criminology list. Here, the solution is simpler. We used the same image and general layout, changing only the color of the main title for subsequent books in the series.

  • Place the series name on the cover (or in this case on the vellum jacket).

Studies on Latin American Art is a series on our art history list. Because of the nature of the subject area, art history books are often allowed more unconventional designs than books published in other fields. When I proposed a design that featured no text on the front cover or back cover—no text at all—nobody batted an eye. I was ecstatic, as this decision allows the art pieces featured on the covers to appear uninterrupted. The text is instead printed on the medium-opacity vellum jacket. The opaqueness of the vellum mutes the intensity of the art pieces, so the text is legible and there is no conflict between text and art.

The name of the series is displayed in large type on the front cover, but in a typeface consisting only of ultra-thin white outlines, so this text is unobtrusive. The series name is repeated on a much smaller scale on the back cover and on the series page in the frontmatter.

  • Choose an illustration style that is adaptable yet specific.

In an ideal world, the designer would be given all the titles and complete information on the series in advance. Most of the time I’ll start designing a series using one or two titles, then as the series grow I’ll have to get extra creative to keep the look coherent.

American Studies Now is a series on our history list that highlights recent happenings and movements in the United States. Because the topic of each new book is timely and therefore unpredictable, I wanted the main illustrative element to be something striking yet versatile. I chose black silhouettes because they can be put together quickly from various stock images.

Designing a series is a special and interesting challenge that most book designers love to sink their teeth into. I, for one, am looking forward to the next series!