Design Analysis – Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, by Penguin Modern Classics

Visual Language / Week 1 / Design Analysis


Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums is a book about detachment from the modern world, observation, meditation, introspection, Zen Buddhism, hitchhiking and mountains. One of the most prominent Beat authors, Jack Kerouac is known for his trademark style of spontaneous prose. Dharma Bums, as a book, is a personal favourite since it resonates with my own ideologies and helps me in being disillusioned from many unimportant aspects of the material world.

I particularly love the Penguin Modern Classics cover of Dharma Bums. Below is a design analysis of the cover:

Grid Structure:


The text and image have been very neatly organized into a grid structure. The dexterous placement of the elements makes the cover more appealing, and it also highlights the many subtleties which I will be discussing moving forward.

Colour Palette:


Penguin Modern Classics have released many titles using the same colour palette, which includes a monochromatic image and clear, concrete text placed on top of it, completed by the trademark Penguin logo in a corner. Find some examples below:

1984 albert-camus-the-fall on-the-road

The use of a monochromatic image is an effective instrument that is being employed to make the user aware of the time period in which the book was written. Moreover, the distinctive placement of text and the lack of arbitrariness make these covers easier on the eye. Both good strategies to attract book readers to these titles.

Plus, the covers are beautiful! My artwork has often been based on a monochromatic palette.

Design Analysis:


It’s time to revisit the three basic rules for a successful design:
1. Simplicity – Use of a minimal colour range and the use of less than two typefaces make it a simple design.
2. Clarity – Large and bold placement of text over the image gives clarity to the book’s author and name.
3. Consistency – As noted above, Penguin has been using this technique in a consistent manner to release modern classics by Kerouac, Kafka, Camus, Fitzgerald, Orwell and Sartre, to name a few.

Why I chose this cover is because it’s simplistic, yet contains depth. On a preliminary scan, the author and the title are obvious. On a second look, the logo can be pointed out since the orange is conveniently distinguishable from the dominant grey tonality. However, on a more sincere inspection, the cover also brings to light certain nuances such as the Chinese tea cup and Kerouac’s detachment from the moving crowd. To conclude, here’s a quote from The Dharma Bums:

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

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