Mark Robinson, Reviving 1984

When Mariner Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, sought to reissue the popular Orwell classic, 1984, they contacted designer Mark Robinson to come up with a jacket for the hardcover. The final product is quite striking. Here, Robinson details for Spine his process for creating the eye-catching cover.


On a Friday in early February of 2017, the creative director of Mariner Books, Christopher Moisan, was asked to come up with a new hardcover design for George Orwell's classic novel, 1984. The sales of the book had spiked in the two months previous. Christopher asked me to work on it as well. We both worked independently. There wasn't much direction given, just to create a design that would be compelling enough for someone to choose to pay a bit more for the hardcover versus the massmarket paperback. The deadline was yesterday. We had just a few days. The sales department wanted to strike while the iron was hot.

 
  Approved Cover

Approved Cover

 

I knew the book well. My 11th grade history teacher, Miss Keck, had given me an original 1948 edition. She was getting ready to retire and I was the lucky recipient of a closet cleaning gift. I had already read the iconic Signet Classic paperback edition, with its 3D comic book type in middle school.

 
  Concept Cover

Concept Cover

  Concept Cover

Concept Cover

 

My first thought was to research other editions of the book, to see what other designers had done with it in the past. My second thought was to not look at anything — which is what I did. In the book, Winston Smith — and everyone else in the world of 1984 — is constantly under the watch of Big Brother. I started playing with eye imagery. For my other designs I pretty much stuck to type treatments, most of which were somewhat inspired by totalitarian regime design of the 1920s and 1930s.

 
  Concept Cover

Concept Cover

  Concept Cover

Concept Cover

 

By the following Wednesday we had over twenty designs between us. We showed them at an inhouse meeting on Thursday. The final cover was among them and was chosen. Just a few weeks later, the books were printed. A couple of weeks after that they were on store shelves.

 
  Concept Cover

Concept Cover

  Concept Cover

Concept Cover

 

It was a much quicker process than what I'm usually used to, but sometimes these rushed, brief projects end better than projects that you pour endless time into. One of the best parts of our new hardcover jacket is the price: $19.84. Credit for that genius goes to our Mariner editor, Ken Carpenter.