Every coffee table book designer understands the critical difference between a mediocre, functional coffee table book and a truly memorable one which will appeal to the wishes and desires of the world’s most discerning audience. We’ve written before about how a coffee table book can enhance a brands aura, but how does one go about making one? At SO, our book design process is not only creative, but also highly methodical. Before going into detail on our 5 step process let me first define exactly what a coffee table book is…

What is a coffee table book?

Coffee table books are generally large, hard-covered books which serve to inspire conversation and pass the time. Subject matter is predominantly non-fiction and image led (a look book) and page content consists of photographs and/or illustrations with small areas of well crafted typography, as opposed to long prose. Since they are aimed at anyone who might pick up the book for a light read, the subject inside is covered with less jargon than alternative text books on a similar subject.

A huge coffee table book with shagreen cover and real gold leaf detail

We’ve been fortunate enough to design and print our fair share of coffee table books for a diverse range of clients. Some use it as a sales tool, others to attract investors or celebrate an anniversary. Whatever the reason, our brief is always the same – to create a beautiful, luxurious, well executed book that will impress all who lay eyes on it.

1. The brief & inspiration

Our process starts with a thorough understanding of our client’s objectives. Who is the book for? What is its purpose? What is the ‘story’? How should a reader feel when they read it, or even first set eyes on it?!  Once a brief and outline ‘story’ is approved we first undertake a preliminary inspiration and brainstorming stage. This stage includes the creation of mood boards (ideas boards) including examples of relevant existing books and boxes that we admire. This is a very effective way to get a good feel for a client’s expectations and provides an inspirational springboard for creating our own bespoke concepts.

Many ideas are explored during these initial concept stages considering all aspects at high level including ideas for cover designs, layout design style, dimensions and format, typography, imagery, paper stocks and even cover materials. The entire book design process is very collaborative and the initial mood boards we create become the focus of the first concept presentation where the merit and relevance of different ideas are discussed and dissected.

2. Concept creation

Following client feedback we are armed with the information we need to launch into a more in-depth concept creation stage. We now have a clear idea of preferred directions and ideas and we take this on board to expand only the strongest concepts and ideas. These are developed further as cover designs and page layouts implemented over only a cross section of key pages at this stage. The objective is to communicate our vision for your coffee table book as simply as we can, giving you a very clear idea for the look and feel we intend. At the concept stage, we will also discuss our ideas for book binding formats, cover materials and printing techniques.

3. Design development

Once a concept is approved, we develop the story and copy further and implement the design concept across all page layouts. As every coffee table book designer will tell you, having a higher number of pages will result in a heavier, thicker book, which will have much more gravitas than a lower page count. More pages also enables full bleed imagery, room for conceptual design and emphasis where needed, plus the all important breathing space – something which is particularly important for luxury brands.

4. The power of pictures

As well as great copy and excellent design, high resolution, emotive imagery is essential to communicate with readers on a deeper, more emotional level. Our clients often have their own fantastic imagery but if not, we can source high resolution imagery through image libraries or commission bespoke photography shoots (depending on our client’s specific brief and budget).

“It’s amazing how many times we get approached by a luxury brand who want to create a coffee table book but don’t have good images. It’s very hard to create a beautiful coffee table book without great photography. One piece of advice I would give to every luxury brand is that when it comes to photographing your work, think ahead and get it done professionally. Consider it an investment.”

Jo Stedman, Creative Director, SO Creative


luxury coffee table book

Luxury coffee table book design for limited edition objet d’art

5. The power of touch

As specialist print designers we spend a great deal of time developing ideas for the look and feel, including paper stock, printing method, binding technique and cover design/material. We strongly believe that the tactile nature of a coffee table book is just as important as the contents within. Touch is one of the most effective ways to communicate and the tactile quality of a book can completely transform how it is perceived. In terms of creating a desirable and premium feel, we could argue that how a book looks and feels actually has more power than the contents within!

At SO, we spend a great deal of time on these aspects and work with some very specialist craftsmen and women to achieve beautiful results which give coffee table books the wow factor they deserve. However, the immediate wow factor of the most premium coffee table books is often achieved not through the book cover itself, but through bespoke packaging.

By bespoke packaging, we are not only referring to the physical format and cover design of the book itself, but also any box or slipcase that might be included. A box is your very first opportunity to impress your clients and create the desire to look closer. After all, the book contents can exceed expectations, but first one must want to open the book!

Our innovative book box design concept for super yacht ‘JOY’ including mother of pearl marquetry set into a diamond polished acrylic slip case

Prototyping for peace of mind

Creating a coffee table book is a big investment and for our client’s peace of mind we will always undertake a prototyping stage to demonstrate proof of concept. In some instances multiple prototypes are produced throughout the design development stages to inspire complete confidence.

How much does it cost to create a coffee table book?

Content aside, the budget for producing coffee table books can be broadly split into two main parts – book design and book production. The design aspect covers all concept creation, design development, page layout, image sourcing, artwork, meetings and project management. Whereas production covers the actual making.

As coffee table book designers we have produced many books over the years and can easily advise fixed design fees based on a specific brief. Production fees, however, can vary greatly depending on format, materials, production technique and quantity. In terms of a production cost there is of course no upper limit and with money no object, our ideas only become governed by what is achievable within a set timeframe. We’ve worked with traditional cabinet makers in the past to produce coffee table book boxes made from solid walnut and specialist marquetry craftsmen to add mother of pearl marquetry to an acrylic slipcase. We’ve even been asked to cover books in crocodile and stingray skin!

Looking for a coffee table book designer?

Please complete the enquiry form at the bottom of this page or head over to our book making page to find out more about our end-to-end custom book making services.