design*sponge at home: the evolution of a book cover

I’m so excited to take a quick time out today to share another behind-the-scenes look at Design*Sponge at Home! Before I dive into everything happening between the front and back covers, I wanted to talk about the cover itself. The design of the book was one of the most exciting — and stressful — parts of the book process because it meant so much to all of us working on the book. While the content took up the vast majority of my working time, the cover started to feel like it was its own mini-book because of all the brainstorming and revisions.

Try as we might, judging a book (especially a design book) by its cover is sometimes inevitable. So trying to come up with a cover that was beautiful, eye-catching, current-yet-timeless and still managed to encompass all of the content (home tours, DIYs, before & afters and flowers) felt like a Herculean task. But thankfully, Jenny, Julia and Matt at ALSO design were up to the task. After months of ideas, tests and mock-ups, we wound up with over 25 cover ideas (and seven different themes) on the cutting-room floor and a final idea that was starting to feel right.

This post will walk you through all 30+ cover drafts and talk about the process (and inspiration) that lead to the final look. I hope you’ll join me after the jump to see how it all came together.

You can click here to pre-order Design*Sponge at Home, watch the book trailer or check out the book tour dates, starting in September.

The cover story continues after the jump . . .

[Please note: these are all mock up images that were intended to be customized if chosen as a final image. Some of these background images are from catalogs or websites. The ombre fade image below with painted objects is from Lisa Congdon’s blog]

There were several phases of book cover designs, almost all of which included multiple mock-ups and versions to fully flesh out an idea. Let’s start with phase 1:

1. Phase 1: For the first round of mock-ups, ALSO played with the idea of something that felt colorful, creative and fun — bits of paper, objects and various ephemera arranged in a way that felt crafty and feminine.

*What we learned: The cover felt too busy and didn’t convey the depth of content in the book. It also didn’t feel unique enough for me, or have that timeless quality I was hoping for.

*Total cover options mocked up: 3 (shown below)

2. Phase 2: Let’s try to make it look like the site! Dark gray, ribbons and a moodier feel.

*What we learned: The cover was way too dark and didn’t convey the upbeat feel we wanted the pages to have. We decided to leave the dark gray for the web and focus on something a little bit lighter.

*Total cover options mocked up: 3 (shown below)

3. Phase 3: The gray was feeling too dark and flat, so we wanted to go back to something that felt more 3D, like frames on a wall.

*What we learned: Ultimately, this didn’t feel special enough. All the pattern felt too generic or expected — and not handmade enough. It also reminded me of a modern design home catalog — not really the vibe we were going for.

*Total cover options mocked up: 5 (shown below)

4. Phase 4: Let’s simplify. We went back to the drawing board and tried out some simple text placement on top of room photos. This was my least favorite of the series. It felt way too generic for me and really sterile.

*What we learned: We needed those unique 3D/handmade touches to make the book feel like Design*Sponge and not just any other home book.

*Total cover options mocked up: 3 (shown below)

4b. Phase 4 . . . Part 2: The room-as-cover idea is such a trusted one in publishing that we gave this idea one last spin after seeing the options above, but this time with ribbons added. I liked this better than the plain mock-ups above (and I think several of these would have made totally respectable covers), but it still bugged me to have a photograph on the cover. It felt expected and predictable, and we were hoping for something far more timeless — so we moved on.

*Total cover options mocked up: 5 (shown below)

5. Phase 5: Before we dove back into handmade details, the publisher wanted us to try something that put me front and center, inspired by the Sophie Dahl book cover. Needless to say, I had a hard time with this one. Seeing my mug plastered on a bunch of big mock-ups was enough to convince me that I did NOT want to go through with a real photoshoot to put myself on the cover. It felt too “ME” heavy and didn’t convey what was actually happening in the book.

*What we learned: One person doesn’t convey the depth of a book’s topic unless, like Martha Stewart, your name and face are already synonymous with a subject. Statistically, buyers tend to purchase books with people on the cover, but for us, this felt too “one person” centric and wasn’t focusing on the wealth of information inside.

*Total cover options mocked up: 2 (shown below)

Hello, have we met? I’m a crazy cat lady . . .

6. Phase 6: Back to the ribbons. Ribbons have been a huge inspiration of mine for a long time now (hence the D*S site redesign), so I wanted to find a way to play with them that felt creative and fun. I asked Jenny at ALSO to make the book look like it was wrapped in ribbons, like the buyer was getting a wrapped gift. I’ll be honest: I still miss these covers. They are just so rich and beautiful. But ultimately, everyone agreed they didn’t convey “DIY, home tours and before & afters” as a subject. They read to most people as more of a craft or fashion book and less of a home workbook. So away they went. Sniff sniff.

*What we learned: Sometimes, the most beautiful ideas aren’t the most functional. No matter how badly you want them to be. (And as a first-time author, sometimes it’s too risky to rely on people guessing what’s inside your first book.)

*Total cover options mocked up: 5 (shown below)

7. Phase 7: Decorative details + character. For me, photographs were always a hard fit for the cover because D*S feels like such a highly handmade site to me. Our logo is handwritten, and so much of the website layout was done by hand. So we decided to go back to illustration as a concept.

I was inspired by these Aveeno bottle designs (image below) in terms of the two-tone illustration, so Julia Rothman went to work drawing a room that stylist Shana Faust and I created by piecing together elements we felt best represented the D*S style. We picked out the pieces together, and Julia drew a make-believe room of my dreams. We included elements from my own home (the demijohn bottle with branches and zig-zag rug) and pieces I’d love to own one day (the vintage floral lamp in the back).

To make the book feel a bit more DIY/makeover inspired, we had Julia extend the drawing from back to front, so you got the feeling that someone was making over a room by themselves. The little nails piled together on the floor still make me smile.

Once the room was designed and drawn, Jenny played with text options, and we all fell in love with the giant lettering. It felt so modern against the feminine and playful illustration. We showed the design to Artisan (our amazing publisher), and they were hooked.

We played around with colors and decided on a bold pink/red that we thought would be warm and eye-catching. I fought long and hard to get the illustration done in gold foil (inspired by the Lollia candle, image below), and finally, we won and got a sample back in the mail. When I first saw it over at the Artisan offices, I was a happy camper. And the cover was born. A month later, we got the real samples back, and I felt like the D*S book was finally finished and ready to make its debut.

*What we learned: Sometimes, you can’t say everything you want with a single book cover, but if you work hard, you can find a design that conveys elements of a book’s interior and its spirit. For us, that missing element was a hand-drawn illustration and pops of gold that made the book feel as pretty on the outside as it did on the inside.

*Total cover options mocked up: 13 (shown below)

I still run my hands over the final book cover (I have 1 of only 2 finished copies sitting on my couch) and smile. The gold shimmers in the light just like I’d hoped, and I still want to live inside the make-believe room we designed just as much as I did months ago when we developed it. I hope you guys will feel the same way when you see it in person. xo, grace

I don’t have a high-res scan of the back cover yet (gold foil is so hard to scan!), so I took a totally last-minute shot of my only copy this morning. The quality is super low, but I wanted you to view the back before you see it in person and how it wraps from front to back.

  1. @tishushu says:

    WOW! What a process! I have to agree with the final design… It’s sleek, playful, charming, and timeless… I’m a sucker for hand drawn outlining! And the gold foil? Yum! The ribbon series almost sold me, too, as did the series of you and your cat.. (I’m a crazy cat lady, too, lol) Thanks so much for sharing this tedious process with us! Can’t wait for my copy!

  2. Pammy says:

    This post is great! I’m a graphic designer so I am very used to that type of process, but it is really interesting to read the progression from start to finish. Love the cover! Can’t wait for my copy of your book!

  3. Kelly says:

    I love seeing the evolution of this, and how many different directions. I remember seeing an early cover mockup (at that point it had a photo) and thinking, how in the world can one photo represent all the diverse goodness that I’m sure will be contained in that book? I love the final. It’s classic and intriguing.

  4. Casey says:

    I FINALLY got a chance to sit down and read this post and I’m glad I did! I love that you outlined the process for us and showed images along the way. I’m sure the process must have been a difficult one – so many options! I agree about the photo-based covers. It was probably near impossible to chose just one picture try to sum-up the content/style of the book. I agree – the ribbon covers were very pretty, but the cover you chose is the most effective. And good job getting the gold in there!

  5. Jen Derks says:

    Thank you so much for this insight. If I didn’t already love Julia Rothman, I mean seriously… ridiculous awesome. I will say, I’m with Sarah.. and I hope that ALSO bid the project on an hourly rate, or “x” amounts of revisions. :) Way to stick to your guns and get the best final product out there.. it’s superb.

  6. Megan says:

    As a graphic designer I loved seeing the creative process that went on behind the scenes…I love seeing the cover comps.

  7. Corrie Anne says:

    I REALLY want to get my hands on this book! The trailer did a great job getting me excited. Yay for you! Congratulations! And you are so cute in the video!! I read Design*Sponge all the time, but I didn’t really know your face. Yay!

  8. Briar says:

    Thanks for sharing your process! I teach graphic design and look forward to sharing this with my students so they can really get the sense of how many concepts and variations it can take to really get a piece to the place you want it.

  9. Wow, amazing.. Thank you for sharing the process… Just pre ordered your book.

  10. LH says:

    I love the final choice. It has a timeless look and is the sort of book that you want to display.

  11. Wow, this is really fascinating to see all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into designing just to book cover! I really love that red/gold foil one…..awesome choice. Thanks for lifting the curtain on this, and sharing your journey with us. I have a feeling this is going to be a bestseller! :)

  12. Kelli Bradley says:

    Thank you for sharing your creative adventure. I look forward to learning more about fabulous design and the curious details that inspire.

  13. Amanda Brown says:

    Oh my! Absolutely fantastic! I love every bit of it and can’t wait for you to come to Austin!

  14. yvette says:

    AMAZING post, fascinating to see the behind the scenes process. Wish you all the best with the book! I will be buying it for my sister in law as she still misses Domino magazine…

  15. JT says:

    Is it alright for a boy to own a pink (ok, hot coral) and gold book? Good thing I don’t care ’cause I am getting a copy!

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I know I’m biased- but yes, it’s definitely ok ;)


  16. Valerie says:

    I can’t wait to dive into this book! It looks amazing and the process for designing the cover is a book in itself! I read design*sponge every single day and for the first time, I can’t wait until Mondays when I can expect a brand new design*sponge post! I’m so glad that I’ll be able to proudly display this beautiful book! Congratulations!

  17. alana ruoso says:

    Such an amazing post. This is exactly the book design process – incredibly involved and challenging. The end result is beautiful. Love the package and will definitely add to the book’s success.

  18. You’ll just have to come out with volumes to be able to use all of those fabulous designs!

  19. Hi Grace! I am an artist and graphic designer and I thoroughly enjoyed this post! I LOVE the cover you went with for so many reasons (though several of the others we beautiful as well). One of the things I love the most about it is that it reminds me so much of an antique book, but it’s completely contemporary at the same time. I recently started specializing in book covers and interior layouts and I will be sending new authors to this post to get an idea of the whole process… and to understand why a quality book cover can’t be designed for $150 lol!

    I have loved everything I’ve seen so far! You definitely have a new follower! Thanks again! :) Heather

    Heather UpChurch
    Art & Design Studios

  20. Cathy S. says:

    Really interesting post – thank you for sharing. Gorgeous options… fantastic final choice!

  21. Kimberly says:

    This is incredible. Thank you for putting this together. Very interesting, and I love the cover you chose. Brilliant


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