Judging books by their covers

Markus Drack, whose two-volume history of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation earned an award for its designers Keystone Archive

A competition in Switzerland has put paid to the idea that you can't judge a book by its cover. The jury seeking "The Most Beautiful Swiss Books" bases its decisions purely on the visual impact of books and ignores their content completely.

This content was published on March 9, 2001 - 14:48

The competition, organised by the federal cultural office, rewards graphic designers for their efforts, and takes into account factors such as typography and binding.

This year, a jury of experts chose 35 books and pamphlets published in 2000 from a selection of 317, and the winners have just been announced.

"The aim," says competition organiser Mirjam Fischer, "is to show that a book is more than just something to read. It is also an object, and can be a visual work of art."

The top award, worth SFr15,000 ($9,000), went to "Engelberg", which was designed a group of young artists and photographers.

It was described by the jury as a creative and original tourism publication, presented with great subtlety in terms of text and images rather than offering a conventional picture postcard look at the central Swiss resort.

A special jury prize was awarded for a publication which, strictly speaking, is not really a book at all - at least not one available in bookstores.

Designed by students at the cantonal art school in Lausanne, it is an Internet website - - from which material can be downloaded and printed as a publication. The style, paper and colours are all determined by the reader.

This was the first time an entry from the new media has been rewarded by the judges, and their decision has revived the debate about whether the book - in the form we know it - is living on borrowed time. Fischer strongly believes this is not the case.

She points out that the industry must adapt to any new technologies, saying that so far online bookselling has in fact helped the market for traditional books.

"There will always be a demand for the book as an object to read while you're holding it in your hands", she added. "And the better it looks, the more likely it is to attract the attention of bookstore customers."

The winning entries will be exhibited in mid-May at the design school in Zurich.

by Richard Dawson

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