Introduction to Book Cover Design for the NYCDOE 2009-10 Citywide Publication Design Competition

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, January 21, 2009

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Graphic Design

Subject Area

  • Arts

Lesson Time

Five sessions (or more if time allows)


This lesson is an introduction to graphic design with a focus on book cover design. Students will become familiar with the objectives and needs of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) and develop designs for the 2009 -10 Citywide Publication Design Competition.

National Standards

Common Core English Language Arts Strand Speaking and Listening College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards SL.1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. SL.2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally. SL.4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. SL.5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations. Arts and Communication Level IV (Grade 9-12) Standard 1. Understands the principles, processes, and products associated with arts and communication media Benchmark 1. Knows skills and techniques used in the commercial arts (e.g., basic drawings, basic design, lettering, typography, layout and design, mechanics, printmaking, illustration, interior decorating, fashion design and display, photography, sign painting, portfolio, graphic design, technical drawing, screen printing, commercial photography) Benchmark 2. Understands how the elements, materials, technologies, artistic processes (e.g., imagination, craftsmanship) and organizational principles (e.g. unity and variety, repetition and contrast) are used in similar and distinctive ways in various art forms Benchmark 3. Knows specific techniques and skills used in different art forms (e.g., dance structures and forms; script analysis, casting techniques, staging procedures, set design and construction, and theatre management in theatre; precision movement and controlled tone quality used in musical performance; the principles of design used in visual art) Standard 2. Knows and applies appropriate criteria to arts and communication products Benchmark 1. Knows and use the terminology of evaluation to make judgements about different art forms (e.g., musical and theatrical performances, works of art) Benchmark 2. Understands the process of critiquing one’s own work and the work of others (e.g., making choices, forming judgments, expressing preferences based on personal and art criticism criteria) Benchmark 5. Knows and applies criteria to evaluate industrial arts products (e.g., design craftsmanship, function, and aesthetic qualities) Standard 3. Uses critical and creative thinking in various arts and communication settings Benchmark 1. Understands specific principles and techniques used to solve problems in various art forms (e.g., using the elements of art and principles of design to solve specific art problems; using the design process to address design problems; using the elements of music and theory to resolve problems associated with music composition) Benchmark 2. Understands that art is created and revised according to artistic decisions Benchmark 5. Understands the role of criticism and revision in the arts and communication Benchmark 8. Knows ways in which different sources are used to produce art forms (e.g., personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings; real and imaginary sources; nature and the constructed environment; experimentation; events; the human senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste)  

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will:
  • Understand the guidelines and objectives of the 2009 -10 Citywide Publication Design Competition
  • Learn the fundamental differences between fine art and design
  • Learn how to listen to a client’s objectives and aid them in fulfilling their goals
  • Acquire the basic skills of graphic design for book covers
  • Learn how to articulate their design solutions to their client
  • Develop final designs to be submitted to the NYCDOE 2D Design Competition


  • computers
  • creative software: Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or other graphic design software
  • digital camera
  • printer/scanner


  • 8 ½” x 11” white paper
  • pencils
  • acetate or transparency paper
  • other art supplies depending on the students' projects (markers, colored pencils, paint, etc.)


  • graphic design: the practice or profession of designing print or electronic forms of visual information for  areas such as publications, advertisement, packaging or websites.
  • client: a purchaser of a service or product; a client looks for a designer to act as the translator between their voice/idea and their audience; the client designer process is a partnership.
  • focal point: center of visual attention.


SESSION ONE – INTRODUCTION: 1.  Start a conversation about the differences between art and design: Many students are not familiar with the fundamental differences between art and design and will need to be reminded that good design is about serving a client, getting their ideas across, and not strictly self-expression.  While their experiences as students and members of the NYC public school system and their personal style will be extremely valuable, they must remember that they are designing to meet the needs of their client and their audience (in this case, the NYC Department of Education who will be publishing this catalogue, and the students and parents who will be receiving it). Consider showing examples of fine art and design side by side and ask the class to speak about their different approaches, purposes, goals, and audiences. 2.  What is graphic design?   Ask your students to identify different examples of graphic design: websites, logos, printed materials, advertising, etc.  Leading questions: What purpose does graphic design serve? Does graphic design affect consumer choices? If so, how? 3.  Show your students several examples of book cover design (novels, text book, non-fiction, etc.).  Ask your students to look at each book cover design and guess what type of book it is, what the book might be about and who is the audience. What about the cover design, font, color or subject matter influenced their response and why? 4.  After this discussion, show the attached How to Make Beautiful Books presentation by Ellen Lupton, which will show several different examples of book cover design (slides 41 to 69).  Remember to note that successful designs are simple, easy to identify, have a focal point and, most importantly, show consideration for and provide space for text. Explain to your students that they will be designing the cover of the 2009 - 2010 Directory of the New York City Public High Schools.  Print and pass out copies of the official brochure (attached). 5.  Describe the design competition guidelines and objectives.  Each student will be asked to create a design that fits these specifications
  • Students must design the front and back of the catalogue.  The front and back designs must each be 8 ½” x 11” in portrait orientation. Wraparound designs are permitted but students will not be designing the spine of the book.
  • Submissions can be sent digitally or in print. If submitting in print, do not submit original artwork but retain your original design should it be selected as a finalist.
  • Designs must demonstrate awareness of the intended citywide audience of students and parents.
  • No text. The design must include an open space or framed area for text, but must not incorporate text into the design. Submit final designs without text. In other words, don't use any hand lettering or concepts in which the text and image are intertwined. This is because the cover will be reproduced in several languages and may be used in a number of different applications (supplemental publications, postcards, etc.). Although the final design should not include any text, students are encouraged to work with text during their design process in order to leave appropriate space for the future title. Once the students have determined the proper placement, they can remove the text from their final design. Techniques such as the use of acetate for non-digital designs and the use of the layer function in programs such as Adobe Photoshop will aid students in composing their design without permanently imprinting text in their final design. Titles of the publication will be added at a later date by the NYCDOE to the winning designs. Past catalogues have used the title “Directory of the New York City Public High Schools.”
  • Submission deadline is Friday, February 13, 2009.
The Department of Education also strongly discourages the cliché use of the following imagery:
  • transportation (taxis, subways, etc.)
  • apples
  • Statue of Liberty
  • sharp objects
  • bridges
  • text-only images
  • Manhattan-centric images (Times Square, Central Park, etc.)
  • faces
The Department of Education prefers designs that:
  • contain school-based imagery
  • work for all ethnicities and genders
  • work for all boroughs
  • can be reproduced at different scales and in different colors
Explain to the students that an early part of the design process is understanding your client.  The NYCDOE has these restrictions and preferences because the catalogues will be distributed to a diverse audience of students and parents in their system.  Not everyone lives in or goes to school in the same borough, so the catalogue cannot feature one specific place.   A design cannot feature a face,  because it will automatically reference a specific gender, age, and ethnicity. The focus of the design should be a reflection and celebration of the New York City Public School System and not the city of New York as a whole. 6.  Brainstorming.  Tell students that through an early step of the design process, brainstorming, you can work through more obvious ideas to get to more creative solutions. To help steer students away from the discouraged NYCDOE images and clichés, lead a rapid group brainstorm slam with your class.  Go around the classroom and ask each student to think one word or phrase that reflects the schools in the city of New York.  Record these answers on a large piece of paper.  Save this paper for the next class meeting. Some guidelines for a brainstorming session:
  • go for quantity
  • one person speaks at a time
  • there are no bad ideas
  • encourage wild ideas
SESSION TWO - GENERATE IDEAS: 1.  Book cover brainstorming.  Refer to session one’s brainstorming activity and tell students they have five minutes to brainstorm five to ten different concepts on their own (time and quantity may be varied depending on your students abilities).  Remind them that they are only generating ideas and concepts right now, and will have opportunities to develop and refine these ideas later.  They can write or make quick thumbnail sketches of their ideas. 2.  Refining their ideas.  Next, give your students two sheets of 8 ½” x 11” paper.   Have them fold the sheet of paper in half vertically and horizontally, so the paper is divided into four equal rectangles.  These rectangles will be in proportion to the final size of cover, and can be used as thumbnails for sketches.  Tell your students to identify two of their strongest brainstorming ideas and they will now have ten minutes to sketch out variations of these designs.  Remind them that these small sketches should only be used to plan out their designs, and that they do not need to worry about rendering imagery perfectly.  Tell them to think about the major issues:  where the text will go, where the images will go, where large areas of lights and darks will be placed, and determining a color palette if they have time. Tell the students they should have a few examples to present to the class the next day.  Prototyping is an essential part of the design process. This step allows the designer to generate ideas and test their solutions with a focus group. SESSION THREE - EVALUATE AND ARTICULATE: 1.  Presenting design ideas.  A critical part of the design process is evaluation. Your students have the unique opportunity to have their designs evaluated by the audience of the book cover, their peers. Give each student two minutes to talk about one or two their cover designs.  They must articulate how these ideas address the needs of the Department of Education and how it relates to their audience.  The class will have three minutes to respond with their feedback. Encourage students to describe why or why not they like the designs and how it could be improved. Remind the class to articulate what they think is successful or not effective. 2.  Working on their final design(s).  Students should choose their media carefully. Photography, painting, digital? What media choice reflects and enhances their design idea?  Students should keep in mind the class responses and suggestions and make any changes they feel are appropriate. Remind students that if they choose to use photography or create digital work it must be done at at least 300 dpi in order to be reproduced properly.  They must also use original material (no photos that they haven’t taken themselves). Remind students to keep it simple, have a focal point and have appropriate space open and available for the cover text that will be later added by the NYCDOE. If your students are having trouble generating ideas consider having them visit a few of the websites suggested in the resource section. SESSION FOUR – IMPLEMENTATION: 1.  Students should continue to work on their final designs.  This is a good time for students to review a check list:
  • A. Did they address the client’s needs?
  • B. Did they avoid the discouraged clichés?
  • C. Did they leave appropriate space for title text?
  • D. Is there a focal point?
  • E. Did they keep in mind the multiple uses of this design for multiple publications?
  • F. Did they compose the front and back to work together? Is the digital or scanned image at a high resolution (at least 300 dpi at 8 ½” x 11”)?
This may continue as time allows at the discretion of the teacher. Remember submissions are due on Friday, February 13, 2009! SESSION FIVE - PRESENTATIONS AND SUBMISSION: 1.  Lead a class presentation.  Students should present their design to the class as if they were speaking to the jury of the NYCDOE. Have each student present their final design and describe why this design has met the needs of their client and audience.  Also ask them to describe the process that led them to their final solution, including early sketches.  If they had more time, what else would they do or change?  Allow time for the class to respond and remind them to thoroughly articulate their feedback. 2.  Submission.  Have each student fill out and follow the directions on the submission form for sending in their applications (see attached rule guidelines).


Students should be assessed by their involvement in the entire process:
  • Did the student follow each step of the process?
  • Did they help their fellow classmates by participating in critiques and providing thoughtful feedback?
  • Were they open to changing and developing their ideas?
  • Did they adhere to the needs of the client and audience?

Enrichment Extension Activities

After the review of the citywide submissions, the NYCDOE jury will choose twelve designs with the most potential. The twelve final designers will have the opportunity to attend a special extensive workshop with a prominent graphic designer at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. The designer will work with each student on refining their designs. Students will re-submit their final designs for a chance to be one of three winners.

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