Klara and the Sun is, in theory, a science-fiction novel, narrated as it is through the voice of Klara, an Artificial Friend who has been built as an AI companion for children.
The Sun acts as a character in Klara’s world, looked to for guidance and to recharge her batteries (in the literal sense, rather than two weeks in Benidorm). Ishiguro uses Klara to provide a unique observation on human character and, so, it reads far less like science fiction and more like an exploration of what it is to be human – a term that has been flogged to death on a million blurbs, so forgive my laziness in using it here. It’s a very warm novel, simply narrated with care, as Ishiguro is so adept at doing.
The brief was fairly open with some passages pulled out to give a flavour of the book and there was emphasis put on creating a design that could easily translate to a big marketing campaign. I wouldn’t say that I gave this a massive amount of thought as I began the design process but I did want to create a jacket that was simple and held a central motif so that it was quickly recognisable and these two traits certainly make it easier to produce campaign assets down the line. What I would be aiming for was something that amounted to the ‘big book look’, a style the designer Paul Bacon is credited in creating and defined by Steven Heller in his excellent article on Bacon as “large, bold title, prominent author’s name, small conceptual image”. It might sound conceited to be knowingly designing to a template for commercial success but it is inevitable that I’ll be steered in this direction and so for me it’s easier to accept that at the start and try to create pleasing design within those parameters.
Better designers might have pulled out a brilliantly unexpected motif to represent on the cover but, for me, featuring the sun felt like the correct thing to do. It’s completely ubiquitous and speaks to all people. Klara’s relationship with the sun gives it an unusually playful character: it’s both a symbol and a protagonist. My initial visuals tried to do little more than present the sun in fragmented compositions; on initial glance, they’re purely abstract aesthetic (last visual using a hand, aside) but it also pertains to the mechanics of Klara’s vision, which would hopefully become clear to the reader in the early stages of the book.
The bottom left was liked but when we approached Ishiguro for his initial thoughts, he was concerned about the similarity between this route and the composition of the Japanese flag, something he was keen to avoid. Taking this into account but unwilling to lose the sun, I produced some visuals that used it in a different way.
The next round saw me mainly trying to use a partially redacted image of a girl. Steering away from presenting the sun as a full circle, I used expanding rays to hold the image. If the girl is Klara, she is consumed by the sun, existing only where the light falls, which could signify her dependence on it. This route, especially the cleaner version top right, was liked and felt to be worth developing.
Conspicuously, the final route makes its first appearance here and, if I’m honest, I produced this thinking that it was maybe too simple to be the cover. I liked the concept, with the sun playing hide and seek with the viewer, and it went a long way to having the ‘big book look’ mentioned earlier but, at this point, I wasn’t confident it would go any further. Contrary to my initial feelings, though, it was strongly liked and was brought forward with the redacted portrait to the next round.
Nice as they were, the spare white covers didn’t really stand a chance against the more shouty confidence of the red, blue and yellow. In this round, I’d moved the title from the window so you had the clean, central motif I was looking for in the beginning. Red was a clear favourite in-house and, inevitably, I was asked to provide colourway options.
Alongside the differing colourways, I executed the cover in a painterly style, so it had a more childish/naïve feeling. It was important that there was a softness and a warmth to the cover, to match Ishiguro’s writing style, so giving it a more crafted execution removed the chilly, digital feel that I felt was holding it back in the last round.
As we know, red was approved (with an amend to the typeface) but I really loved some of the other colourways. In the end, we produced special editions both for Waterstones and independent bookshops, which allowed me to use the turquoise colourway for the independent edition.
The Waterstones edition kept the original cover but included printed book edges, carrying the window design which, if angled right, you can imagine there’s a whole sun floating there. It also had unique endpapers inspired by the colour work I’d done, so it was a useful exercise, made further useful as the panels in the endpapers were again used in a large-scale poster to reveal the publication.
I mentioned earlier about the design needing to work well throughout the campaign and this was just the start of a large number of creative print and digital assets that the campaigns team produced using the cover.
Having had the cover for Klara approved, it was decided to rejacket Ishiguro’s entire backlist, starting with Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day and continuing to include The Buried Giant, A Pale View of Hills, When We Were Orphans, The Unconsoled, An Artist of the Floating World and Nocturnes. Eight books is a lot to design, but thankfully the central window device on a flat coloured background is perfectly adaptable to roll it out to more titles.
Starting with The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, I worked on illustrations that tried to be as minimalist as Klara’s, using block shapes and limited colour to give narrative but I soon started to slip into slightly more detailed illustration.
I was wary this would clash with the simplicity of Klara but the window was such a strong element that it let me have plenty of flexibility in the style of illustration while keeping the set feeling cohesive to Klara. When we sent the visuals to Ishiguro he chose the most detailed illustration, the tape, as the cover so we instantly had a big range to work within for the rest of the titles.
After the approval of Never Let Me Go, The Remains of the Day followed which took another step away from Klara in style, with the butler being eroded from the cover in opaque washes. The idea behind all the covers was to provide a brief snapshot into the book, conveying some emotion and narrative. It took a good while to read through the titles and pick something that worked, be it a play on the title for Nocturnes, an abstract representation of the mind of the protagonist for The Unconsoled or a simple landscape for A Pale View of Hills. Once I had found the book’s snapshot I then had to pair it with a cover colour, which in itself is surprisingly hard.
In time they all came together and hopefully will define Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels for a new generation of readers.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro is out now in paperback, ebook and audio. Click here to browse all available print editions of Kazuo Ishiguro’s books.