Book cover designer, Neil Lang, explains how the beautiful and unusual cover design for Don DeLillo's new novel came about. 

*Please note that we do not claim to have created the imagery used in the moodboards and Macmillan does not own the copyright to the images. Copyright belongs to each individual artist and if you’d like to know more about any particular piece, feel free to drop us a line at @panmacartdept and we’ll happily pass on the details. 

The starting point for the jacket design of Don Delillo’s Zero K was reading the novel to get a feel for the story and themes, as you can only gain so much from a synopsis. Questions are raised on life and death, and events we cannot control, intertwined with a relationship between father and son. Not easy themes to get across in one cover design!

The novel is set in a remote cryogenic facility and from quite early on I had images from the film THX1138, with its stark white corridors and rooms, although in the story we have images of terror and violence constantly shown on screens throughout the compound. 

With that in mind I started scribbling down ideas and searching for cover images, I remembered the Spiritualized vacuum packed CD, and even wondered if 3D printing would be possible, as I wanted to create something clean, simple and a little different but still within budget! 


Mannequins feature several times which I found quite unnerving, and it was an image that stayed in my memory after reading. Also it seemed to fit with the idea of cryogenics and a frozen life like figure. I tried several images and layered effects but I kept coming back to the clean white descriptions of the facility as that just seemed to have more visual impact.

With the title ‘Zero K’ it was one I knew I could gain impact from, as I always do I tried various layouts and fonts before settling on the one you see. I like how the K almost appears as an arrow pointing backwards, not quite symbol for minus but close. Or maybe it’s just me that sees that? I did a few versions where I played up this detail more but it looked to close to a huge brand already out there, and that was simply too risky to pursue.

The lifelike mannequin image creates a strong visual but I wanted to keep it clean, as that fits so much better with the story, at the same time I wanted to give the book a tactile quality. I wanted an almost frozen look and I was never happy with the results I was getting using effects and layers in Photoshop. I’d seen pearlescent papers used before and thought it could work, but it was only when I saw the cool white stock that it all seemed to fit together. 

Using the acetate it gave me the layers that weren’t working as a Photoshop file, separating the type from the visual, yet still allowing the image to show through to attract the readers curiosity to pick up the book. It also creates that separation from the figure, something expressed often within the novel with the relationships between all the different characters. The title I’ve used large and graphic that a simple white ink is enough, with a black pantone and spot used on the author name to give it the most impact and legibility. 

Different foils were tested on the acetate but there was too much of a risk that it wouldn’t print effectively over a long print run, however it proved worth testing as it meant that we had a perfect option for the trade paperback edition which uses a white foil on the pearlescent cover stock and while both editions have different finishes there is a consistancy between them.

I’m really happy with the finished covers but if you’ve questions or nice comments give me a shout at @neillangdesign or @panmacartdept.

Don DeLillo's Zero K is out now, find out more here