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Designing the Cover of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”

By Bob Kosturko

Just the house

“Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”—Henry David Thoreau from Walden

There are dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of editions of Walden currently in print—and eBook and audio. How then to design a fresh new cover for Beacon Press’s evergreen backlist title? The answer lay in Thoreau’s mantra, Simplify!

Editor Will Myers and I decided to deliberately avoid the bucolic nature photography that graces the covers of countless editions of Walden. A decision was made early on in the design process to embrace a stripped-down design atheistic. Two early efforts are shown below.   

First two images

 These flat, poster-like like designs weren’t entirely successful, but we felt we were headed in the right direction. (The little red house icon in the second design was too reminiscent of a piece from the popular board game Monopoly, so that had to go). 

Since we’re living in an age of decluttering and tiny houses, I felt that a Walden for 2017 should be even simpler. Walden as a state of mind, not a cabin in the woods. What if Thoreau’s cabin was rendered in a flat style and the nature aspect was discarded altogether? 

Second two images

To further simplify the design we dropped “Henry David” and opted to use only “Thoreau.” The final cover is shown below. I’d like to think Thoreau would have approved of our efforts to embrace his philosophy in visual form.

Final cover

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About the Author 

Bob Kosturko is the Creative Director at Beacon Press. He’s loves classic typography and Swiss and Japanese design. He is currently working on a decluttering project of his own; organizing and downsizing his sizable collection of compact discs. Bob also shares a birthday with Henry David Thoreau.