The Oxford Bookstore Book Cover Prize for the year 2022 has been awarded to Ishan Khosla for his cover design for Anukrti Upadhyay’s novel Kintsugi, published by the HarperCollins imprint Fourth Estate. The designers of two other covers among the shortlist of six received special mentions: Maithili Doshi for Shylashri Shankar’s Turmeric Nation: A Passage Through India’s Tastes, published by Speaking Tiger, and Shashi Bushan Prasad for Robert Elgood’s The Maharaja of Jodhpur’s Guns, published by Niyogi Books.

“It’s been really tough to zero in on just that one book cover design which says a lot of the level of the competition, and hence the two special mentions this year along with the main prize,” said Priti Paul, director, Apeejay Oxford Bookstores and a member of the prize jury.

What went into the designing of the shortlisted covers? What inspired the designers? The six designers spoke to

Decoding the designs

Gavin Morris, designer, Estuary, by Perumal Murugan, translated by Nandini Krishnan
The book synopsis helped me feel like I knew the two main characters rather well, or at least the emotions they were wrestling with. I had quite a strong sense of what I wanted to design that was liked by the editorial team. I worked on a balanced composition and a mood and then technically creating a soft lithographic texture and the men’s reflections fragmenting on the water’s surface, that took a while.

Shreya Nayak, designer, Lotus Land: The Secrets of Padma Kshetra, by Bhuban Patra
Lotus Land is set around the Sun temple of Konark and its centre, the mandala and Lord Krishna playing a part in the book’s narrative. These elements had to be on the cover. It would have been incomplete without a lotus motif so I used Chiaroscuro technique, playing with light and dark to emphasise it and in keeping with the wide belief that Konark receives the first light of the sun.

Ishan Khosla, designer, Kintsugi, by Anukrti Upadhyay
It was essential to bring in Kintsugi metaphorically, of beauty in irregularity and in imperfection; a very zen concept and the theme of the book. I worked on 4-5 other designs. One cover was about representing shards of pottery from Jaipur and Japan, while another was more kitsch and inspired by my hero, the great Tadanori Yokoo. This design was chosen as it encapsulates the metaphor of the book the most.

Shashi Bhushan Prasad, designer, The Maharaja of Jodhpur’s Guns, Robert Elgood
The cover is of a photograph of a museum piece taken by Neil Greentree: a cased colt self-loading pistol, calibre .32. The grip of the gun is made of ivory and “with love to dear Hanwant Singh 1943” inscribed on it. The gun is placed in a red baize case stamped in gold on the underside of the lid. Also present in the case are gilt metal and ivory handled tools and a gilt oil bottle. This particular gun was a gift from the present Maharaja Gaj Singh’s grandfather Umaid Singh to Hanwant-Umaid Singh (Maharaj Gaj Singh’s father). Considering the personal connection of this piece with the royals of Jodhpur, this particular image from the book was selected as the cover.

Maithili Doshi, designer, Turmeric Nation: A Passage Through India’s Tastes, Shylashri Shankar
We were very clear that it should not go into a typical cookbook space. I was very keen on using the turmeric and my initial idea was to just play with it, be it creating the title or using it as a background and carving out the title in it. But that would have been too literal. I created 4-5 options for the cover and this was a unanimous pick as it represented the book and at the same time looked impactful.

Vishak Raj, designer, Kerala Bakshana Charithram, Suma Sivadas and Deepa Gopalakrishnan
For the longest time, I didn’t think I could design it any different. I was not able to conjure an image that could capture the vast canvas of culinary practices and recipes. But I felt that the book has archival value and leaned heavily on the book name to help with the design. The DC editorial vision was that it wouldn’t be just a cookbook but one that talked of food and its regional aspects, its history and culture and that is what helped.

Gavin Morris, designer, 'Estuary'.
Shreya Nayak, designer, 'Lotus Land: The Secrets of Padma Kshetra'.


Gavin Morris: All the usuals – Peter Mendlesund, Jamie Keenan, Na Kim, Rodrigo Corral, Jon Grey, Paul Buckley. Too many to be comprehensive...

Shreya Nayak: Onkar Fondekar’s designs are very intricate and eye catching. Mohit Suneja’s designs always have a story to tell. I admire the works of illustrators like Alicia D’ Souza, Arshad Sayyed and Aayna Vinaya.

Ishan Khosla: John Gall, Jonathan Gray and Chip Kidd, all at the top end of the book cover design field. They also have the support in terms of budget, time and resources in general of the kind we need in India to do even better covers.

Shashi Bhushan Prasad: I personally like the work of Misha Oberoi. Her cover for Day and Dastan: Two Novellas by Intizar Husain, is one that I especially like. The use of typography and the colours reflect the simplicity of Husain’s language even when he talks about violence and destruction.

Maithili Doshi: I admire Bena Sareen’s work. It’s timeless. Pinaki De for the way he gets absorbed in the subject that is reflected in each of his designs. And Sunandini Banerjee who has created a distinct language. Also David Pearson, Helen Yentus, Catherine Casalino, and John Gall, to name a few.

Vishak Raj: Bara Bhaskaran, who designed the cover for OV VIjayan’s Thalamurakal, which was initially published with 1000 individual hand-painted covers, the idea being that the book had several dimensions, characters and settings. Delhi Gathakal, which was translated as Delhi: A Soliloquy, was printed with a cover design that had sand work. Sukumar Azhikode’s Thatvamasi had a cover that held up a mirror to one, establishing a dialogue of sorts.

Ishan Khosla, designer, 'Kintsugi'.
Shashi Bhushan Prasad, designer, 'The Maharaja of Jodhpur’s Guns'.

The challenges

Gavin Morris: It depends on the genre, but designing for literary titles feels in a way easier – as you are allowed to be playful – than for big commercial books, which somehow have to be fresh and original and yet conform to the genre clearly.

Shreya Nayak: Trying to understand the context of the book and what it is saying to its audience. Then we work on getting the graphics right so that it draws the reader into reading it without revealing too much but intriguing them. We also need to match constantly with how the author would have imagined it, because at the end of the day it’s completely their baby.

Ishan Khosla: The toughest aspect of any cover design is to be able to convey the essence of the story on the cover in a visually compelling manner that is not only appropriate to the audience but also efficient, succinct and bold.

Shashi Bhushan Prasad: I have been designing book covers for ten or eleven years now, but I still struggle at times with designing a cover that sums up the essence of the book at a glance. For me combining all the design elements, including but not limited to, the image selection, font and colours to make it a cohesive whole, is the most challenging part of the process.

Maithili Doshi: Breaking down all the information and summing up the entire book into a strong visual for the cover is what I find most challenging. Finding the right metaphor or element that will tell the story, yet not reveal too much and keep some amount of suspense alive for the reader is always a challenge.

Vishak Raj: Being in a close call with the editor is a key process for me. I won’t say whether this is easy or tough, but with each design and each cover, I come out considerably enlightened. The challenge is to start with a clean mind, and not be weighed down by the constraints of dimensions and preconceived notions, so that I don’t feel my work is a mechanical reproduction or a predetermined design.

Maithili Doshi, designer, 'Turmeric Nation: A Passage Through India’s Tastes'.
Vishak Raj, designer, 'Kerala Bakshana Charithram'.

The Oxford Bookstore Book Cover Prize

Gavin Morris: It has undoubtedly raised the profile of book designers in India, it’s well advertised and gets loads of press, many good designers get chosen annually, it’s great to have such a thing.

Shreya Nayak: It has gives all of us artists more recognition and explores other talented artists, making it possible for us to come together and celebrate one another’s creativity which in other times mostly goes unrecognised, unexplored and unappreciated.

Ishan Khosla: Book cover design is usually not been given the platform that it deserves and receives in the West. I think it is a step in the right direction to acknowledge the hard work of designers to come up with compelling covers that are not only an art form in themselves but also essential marketing tools that help brand the book and the author.

Shashi Bhushan Prasad: The award is not just about the work of the book designer but I would say it recognises excellence in book publishing in India. Book editors are essential to the process of book cover design, and it acknowledges the contribution of editors in crafting an excellent book.

Maithili Doshi: It is one the few prizes that recognises the effort and importance of a book cover in India. It has got us designers to the forefront and hence inspired more designers to consider book cover design seriously. When I moved from mainstream branding and design to publishing 12 years ago, my contemporaries thought I was pursuing some kind of a hobby and I was retiring or taking a break from design. This perception has changed now.

Vishak Raj: An award that dedicatedly looks to appreciate book design holds the scope of presenting our local and regional design sensibilities on the vast canvas of book design in India. In that sense it becomes a platform for diversity in design thought.