How I Designed A Book Cover

Collecting Hip Hop Memorabilia: The Center Of The Movement

“We’re going to publish the best collection of hip hop memorabilia in a book and since I know you’re creative and a lover of hip hop I thought I’d ask if you would be interested in designing a cover for us.”

I received this email from my good friend, Rosella (hereafter referred to as cuz), explaining the situation.

Cuz, you had me at ‘hip hop.’


After researching the authors and the incredible work they have done leading up to this, I decided to go all in. Khalid el-Hakim and Dr. Derick Jenkins have truly outdone themselves by contributing this amazing resource to the hip hop community. Take a second to visit their site and see for yourself:

Being a HUGE lover of hip hop I was thrilled for this opportunity. I knew this was a project I absolutely had to take part in.


…is long. The Center Of The Movement: Collecting Hip Hop Memorabilia. “Dam son 9 words, 18 syllables, 49 letters, two parts separated by a colon, heavy words like center, movement, collecting and the all important hip hop… and I gotta fit all this on the cover?!” I asked myself.

This comes after reading a book entitled Alone Together, which never took more than half a breath and a full second when referencing it in casual conversation. However, the title of this book is a feast for the eyes. I had to rock my chef cap and chop it into digestible as well as presentable (shot out to my Japanese cuisine influences) portions.

Immediate intuition told me to focus on the word ‘center.’ Therefore my first draft of the cover (gray version a few pictures below) was mostly A-symmetrical and heavily text-based revolving around the word ‘center.’

I also sketched up ideas based on the word ‘collection’ and brainstormed what kind of visual cues represent it.

I did the same for ‘movement’ but felt it wasn’t aligned with the content of the book as strongly as ‘collection’ and ‘center.’

center of the movement

Using concentric circles in attempts to visually convey the idea of ‘center.’

center of the movement

Here I divide the circle into quarters – one for each element of hip hop (by classical definition). Each quarter representing a corresponding element. Played around with the balance of each element and how each would play a part in the overall composition. (I really wanted to have breakers on the final cover! Perhaps next edition 🙂

center of the movement

Trying to add the breakin element of hip hop into the composition somehow.

Here we see the birth of the safe. After all, a safe is where one collects valuable things. Open a safe = access to valuable things. To open this book should be no different.

Yes, I love doing graffiti art. No, I didn’t want to make a burner of the phrase ‘hip hop.’ The reason is quite simple. This book, it’s authors and those involved collectively reflect passion and hard work so I felt I should at least match their effort and not take the ‘hip hop’ written in graffiti approach – which has been done 53 million trillion times.

Having something been-there-done-that on the cover gives the impression the content is the same. Although admittedly I really wanted to do some kind of burner! All said and done it ended up being a simple tag. Here’s the tag that ended up on the cover.

the centre


My job as the cover designer is to deliver a visual message. Within less than a second you should:

1) Get a feel for what the book is about: genre, culture, generation, ect.

2) Want to pick it up


– This is a book about hip hop. There can be no room for doubt. Hands down.

– Feeding the immediate attention span of the viewer, this image should simultaneously satisfy longer in-depth examination.


I got the above email on March 13th. I committed to the project on March 20th and promised a working model by the first weekend of April.

After the second weekend of April I had the first working model.

CENTER of the movement

First Draft. Scholarly look and feel revolving around (literally with the text) the word ‘CENTER.’

2nd Draft. B.I.G didn't make the final cut.

2nd Draft. B.I.G didn’t make the final cut.

Lots of communication back and forth for the next couple weeks until the final cover (pictured at very top) was decided upon on May 12th.


Zoning in on one project from start to finish is difficult for a creative person. It’s like letting a kid surf the net and asking her to only stay on one page.

As is the case with creative juice, things in our head are ALWAYS on simultaneously. I’m currently practicing how to efficiently manage the constant, never ending flow.

While working on this project I had a full-time job as an English ALT and on top of that I had lots of filmmaking related work. When I manage to find time outside of doing these two things I tried to do things like sleep and eat. Needless to say, it was impossible for me to finish this project in one sitting yet I still couldn’t let go of the idea that the longer I sat in front of my computer screen the sooner I’d finish.

What ended up working for me was dedicating a slot of time specifically for working on this book cover. 3 hours here, 5 hours there, and so on. Basically, take a 25 hour task and break it down into manageable chunks and stick them into your day as your schedule allows. In time, mentally switching between different tasks will become easier.


spectrum analyser

OK, so I made the horizontal element in the upper third of the final piece look like the spectrum analyser you see on monitors/speakers. This plus the MC (upper left) covers the MCing element.


This image on the right half of the spectrum analyser represents the graffiti element. (As well as one of the authors of this book! There’s Derrek on top of his Hip Hop 101 Mobile Museum.)

 The DJing element is represented by the record-looking safe as well as the needle on the bottom of the page. I realise that this creates a conflict. Just what is this?! A safe? Record player? The handles tell me it’s a safe, but then the needle and the record looking concentric circle pattern made to look like a vinyl record… um?!?

Yeah, it’s all of that.

Oh, and what about the breakin element of hip hop?!

No, none on this cover.

I simply couldn’t do everything I wanted to. I did, however, give Derrek and Khalid something to package their amazing work in!

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