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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

The Silk Road to Great Cover Design

In this issue of The Publishing Post, we’re looking at another beautifully designed book cover – the illustrated edition of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan and illustrated by Neil Packer. Published by Bloomsbury in 2018, this illustrated non-fiction book seeks to bring the history of the Silk Road alive for children.

Colour Scheme

The colour scheme used in the cover design of The Silk Roads is striking. The beautiful illustrations that appear on both the front and back covers are printed entirely in dark blue and white, which contributes to the elegance and simplicity of the book’s design. We were lucky enough to hear from the illustrator of The Silk Roads, Neil Packer, who describes how “less is definitely sometimes more” when it comes to cover design. Packer explains that, actually, the “lack of colour” means that the book “really stands out on a bookshelf” while also helping to keep the cover from becoming “too muddled.”

A contrasting golden colour has been chosen for the text on the front cover of the book and the border surrounding The Silk Roads’ title and blurb. This small disruption to the established colour scheme ensures that the title is instantly visible and does not fade into the blue and white of The Silk Roads’ cover.


Neil Parker derives inspiration from Frankopan’s rich content to create even richer designs seen on the cover of the deluxe edition and throughout its 128 pages. Parker is a storyteller as much as Frankopan, weaving the tales that span the Middle East and Asia into illustrations that intensify the history being recalled.

Encompassing the cover are intricate renderings of ancient temples and sailing ships that give the reader a sense of impending adventure. The theme of travel and enlightenment clearly rings from the cover design, while the two-tone colours of blue and white act as a less hectic colour scheme, one that does not take away from the purpose of the artwork. The simple gold foil also adds an eye-catching bit of flair. The cover acts as a creative collage featuring many pieces of cultural importance and characters of significance that will be seen later throughout the book. Parker’s intricate design is the perfect complement to the all-encompassing retelling of history that Frankopan attempts and succeeds within The Silk Roads.


The beautiful and striking endpapers were the first thing designed by Packer and “finished at least a year before the cover.” Packer chose a pink background for various reasons, explaining that pink “is a colour used a great deal in the Far East”, a nod to the books subject matter. The pink was also a way for “the sale of potential co-editions in that region” and was used “in balance with the sage green of the leaves” in the foreground of the endpaper.

The use of silkworms was chosen “purely because they made an interesting repeat along with the leaves”, which some may see as a “tie in with the books title”, but “they get little attention within the book itself.” The repetitive pattern of the silkworms and the leaves on the pink background creates an amazing endpaper which is different compared to the blue and gold foil cover and works very well.

The Children’s Cover and the Adult Cover Compared

It is no easy feat creating a book cover for a non-fiction book suitable for children that still resembles the edition used for the adult market. Still, it is necessary to do this for marketing and branding purposes. The colours are very different, with the adult version having a colour scheme of golds, purples and blues and a pattern made to resemble the repetition of a Persian carpet. To tie the two covers together, Bloomsbury, along with their illustrator Neil, included the roundel shape prevalent on the adult cover. The repetitive pattern, although very different, is also a nod to the adult version of the title. These subtle similarities allow for two very different markets of the same title to lead different audiences down the same road.

A special thank you to Neil Packer for sharing his wonderful insights with us!



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