Chip Kidd and brilliant book cover design go together like strawberry sauce and ice cream. Crafting covers for big-name authors like Michael Crichton, Haruki Murakami, Bret Easton Ellis, and Cormac McCarthy. Chip Kidd is one the biggest names in the industry, and rightly so.

And though he’s mostly famous for his creativity, it turns out he’s got a lot of wisdom too. So we’ve pulled together 3 of his top designs tips to help inspire and motivate you in your own creative pursuits. 

Go with your gut

“It’s something that you can’t explain, and it comes with life experience.” — Chip Kidd.

Chip Kidd designs a lot of book covers, and by their very nature books are somewhat ambiguous. After all, when we read a story there’s no guarantee that our interpretation of the text will be the same as anyone else’s. 

So when it comes to designing a book’s cover, how could you ever be sure that you’re expressing that book’s truest meaning? Well, sometimes you can’t. And in those situations, the best thing you can do is to trust your instinct. 

“If I don’t know anything about this particular book,” says Kidd, “and I saw this cover, how would I perceive it?. . . What would make me want to pick up that book and read it?”

In other words, think about first impressions. First impressions are all about gut instincts: how does this make me feel and do I want to engage with it? 

In design, we deal with lots of complex and intangible ideas. And trying to condense an entire brand into a single, all-encompassing, image can be difficult. But by starting from a place of instinct, we can build on a project’s most striking and effective features. And we know they’re striking because they struck us first.

Know a little about a lot

 “Get an education about everything.” — Chip Kidd.

Graphic design is a general discipline, and it’s helpful for designers to cultivate a basic knowledge in many areas. One day you might be designing a logo for a law firm, the next an album cover for a heavy metal band. In either case you need to understand what will work best for that particular job.  

Not only does a designer need to understand the individual client’s needs, but they need to have a broader understanding of the industry they’re designing for. Maintaining a kind of generalised knowledge will prevent you from atrophying within a certain discipline. Not only that, but a healthy comprehension of a wide range of styles and subjects will pave the way for innovation and deeper creativity.  

“When I was in high school,” says Kidd, “I didn’t know what graphic design was, but I knew that I liked album covers; advertisements; combinations of images and words. That’s what graphic design is.” 

Ultimately, it’s about bringing together an enjoyment and enthusiasm for all things aesthetic. And learning to embrace and utilise a broad range of subject matter. 

Work around your passions

“If you’re writing about something that you’re passionate about, it’s going to be easier to write.” — Chip Kidd.

Relatively few creatives get to spend their days working exclusively on passion projects, but passion plays a huge role in the overall satisfaction we derive from our careers. And whilst it might not be possible to fuel our passions from 9-5, carving out some time each day to work on projects that are especially meaningful can be extremely rewarding. 

It’s easy to become disillusioned with something when we lose our love for it. This goes for design as much as anything else. So in order to keep sight of why we started designing in the first place, it’s important to make the things we want to make

Even if, for you, it means spending ten minutes each day sketching old cars. Do it. Cultivating a passion project in the background can be an excellent way to keep the creative juices flowing. It also helps to keep us motivated through the more mundane tasks of day-to-day working life. 

The coolest Kidd around

For more design tips from the legendary Chip Kidd, you can find two of his much-viewed and highly-motivating talks in our selection of 14 must-see TED Talks for designers and creatives.