3.8 Making a mock up


The brief was to practice mocking up a book cover by deriving a brief from an existing title in order to understand any creative and technical challenges.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Mock-up a book cover
  • Choose a book title that appeals
  • Identify what the brief would be
  • Designing the cover from scratch
  • Note how well your image worked and any technical problems you had to overcome


I selected a book by Ian Rankin titled ‘Tooth and Nail’ because I’m an avid reader of his and know the content well.

Ian Rankin novels
Three books from Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series

My imagined book cover brief


The Inspector Rebus books are a series of detective novels by the Scottish author Ian Rankin. The novels, centred on Detective Inspector John Rebus, are mostly based in and around Edinburgh.

‘Tooth and Nail’ is book three in the series (currently consisting of 20 books). If you look at the currently published series, the Publisher has commissioned a book designer to create a visual approach/look and feel that is consistent across all titles.

In reality, the brief to a designer for any new titles would therefore be highly constrained and prescriptive.

My starting point was to assume that this is a completely new brief where whoever is commissioning the work is specifying key elements that must be on the cover whilst leaving the designer to provide the best visual solution/treatment.

The imaginary brief

This brief is for the new soft back edition of the book. The book will be widely distributed and is currently being republished for the X time. The readership to date is X,00000. Because of the success of the Inspector Rebus series, Retailers are likely to display copies prominently although the cover design will still need to stand-out and communicate key information clearly and quickly.

The cover of the book must contain the following information in order of priority:

  1. Ian Rankin – The authors name should be very prominent. This is what most readers will be looking for.
  2. The number one best seller – To establish credibility/quality
  3. The title of the book
  4. Any visual/illustration
  5. The strap line – An Inspector Rebus Novel

The illustration/visual treatment should reflect the content of the book in an interesting and engaging way, and give the cover impact.

Dimensions: 198mm x 128mm

Resolution: at least 300 dpi, at the submitted size

Spine width: XXmm

The mock-up

My first thought was to look at the essential content of the book. Unusually, the story takes place in London and not Edinburgh. The plot follows the detective as he tracks down a serial killer. The title is strong and visceral.

For inspiration, I took a trip with my camera to Highgate Cemetery. I’ve been wanting to visit this heritage site for a long time, and I thought the gothic Victorian architecture and ivy clad overgrown nature of the cemetery might give me a good starting point. Sadly, photography in the catacombs is not permitted; the dim lighting, receding tunnels and crumbling Victorian interior was just brilliant and very evocative.

On my journey home I sketched out some initial ideas that were informed by the photography.

I then started working in Photoshop and Illustrator on combining different photographic and hand drawn elements.

Tooth & Nail mock-up approach 01
An early experiment using photographic elements

The design process was mostly trial and error and the final approach was an accident; I turned off several Photoshop layers which left me with the beginnings of a much simpler and stronger idea.

Because the book title seemed so strong to me I thought that that should be my focus. I developed and tested number of different hand drawn visual approaches and ended up using elements from each. The nail illustration and blood, work as part of and extend the meaning of the title.

The other elements in the design used a simple grid to layout the text information.

Tooth & Nail mock-up

What I learned from the exercise

What went well

  • The visit to Highgate Cemetery was great and gave me the space and time I needed to start the work, even though eventually none of the visual elements I collected feature in the mock-up.
  • The creative process was fun, rapid and quite natural.
  • I like the reversing out of the text colour when it’s over the blood. It’s a nice visual device.
  • Choosing an author and work that I know well meant I could envisage what the brief might be more easily.
  • I did start to explore combining more direct photographic elements with hand drawn elements. In the end it didn’t get taken forward, but this is something I want to work with in later exercises. For some reason it feels like cheating – I need to get over it.

What I could have done differently/better

  • I didn’t really explore/push the research element of the illustration very far but this brief was more about exploring the process and challenges of laying out a design and creating a mock-up rather than creating a book cover illustration.
  • In hindsight, the way the nail illustration fits within the word ‘NAIL’ is slightly awkward. If I’d allowed myself more time this is something I could have fixed. The lesson is probably to ‘sleep on it’ and review artwork with a fresh pair of eyes.


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