Book cover design concepts
... sending a visual message about the book
We've covered the two cardinal rules of book cover design,
1. Know the Material
2. Know the Reader
With those two rules you've focused on the intent of the book, and you've attempted to zero in on the psychological positioning of the reader. But these are intellectual concepts to be embodied in the cover -- now we have to talk about the actual visual message to send.
3. Show the essence of the message
Each of these cover proposals can be justified as valid book covers. In fact, I actually liked the visual statements they were making. (Aside from obvious typography blunders!) But for the purpose of compelling a shopper to purchase the book, do they send the visual message and meaning of the book?
(Enlarge) Number one is fun, and does indeed send the message of modifying a photo. But the modification here is from photo to cartoon. That really doesn't fully cover the scope of The Art of Photo manipulation. The second one doesn't speak to photo manipulation at all, nor does #4. These have taken a purely graphical direction. The fourth one actually departs from the subject all together -- a tree growing out of a person's head? It could be a good cover, but not for this book. The third example almost gets it. There's a little bit of everything here from the modified portrait to the artistic simulation of bleeding watercolors to the little photo-edited illustration of a brain. Yet none of these examples send the correct visual message. Two have put too much focus on "brain" and two miss the point of photo manipulation. The viewer of these will not instantly understand what the book is about.
(Enlarge) These examples are all depictions of photo retouching and manipulation. They focus directly and intensely on the USP, the Art of Photo Manipulation. They could all be considered excellent examples of book covers -- in fact, they come very close to portraying both the material of the book, the positioning of the reader, and the essence of the content. On the other hand, all three may focus too closely on a single visual entity -- and the presentation of the subject matter may be too subtle. These books require scrutiny by the viewer before understanding is achieved. Selling the essence of a book must be immediately understandable and recognizable. Imagine passing these on the street, with a quick glance in the bookstore window. What would you think? A book about babies. A book about glamor or cosmetics. A book about some sinister character. A book about a lost woman with a dark story. At first take, these books are not about photo manipulation. You only realize that upon more careful investigation.
I'll note here that the typography on these books is fairly nice. However, none position the type at or near the top. Example number two above could have swapped the type at the bottom to the top and immediately raised the validity of the cover about 100%. Also in version 2, can you suggest another glaring problem there? I knew you could. Example number three, by virtue of isolation, raised the importance of "3rd Edition" far beyond its worth as a visual element. "3rd Edition" in this example is visually more important than either the USP or the author! Bad! The fourth example decided to delete the USP altogether! (That's a serious violation -- changing the title of the book is not within the realm of the artist/designer's project unless specified by the client!) Besides, #4 also uses Brush Script for the author's name. C'mon! Brush Script ???
4. Layout to promote eyeflow
One of the most important rules in graphic design is to organize the visual elements in such a way that the overall message of the cover is communicated clearly, quickly and efficiently to the reader. This is not just the type, or an illustration. This is the intelligent organization, sizing and positioning of all the visual elements in concert with each other and the edges of the window or view. Organization, sizing and positioning can actually help your reader through the visual information and achieve understanding more clearly and more easily -- or it can become a barrier to that understanding. (Enlarge)
How do we do that?
1. Organize size of element in order of importance
2. Select color of element to stand out, and harmonize
3. Organize placement of elements to flow through the visual "story"
4. Make sure the reader's eye moves effortlessly from element to element
Again, a selection of cover submissions that are actually fairly good designs. Yet they all have faults somewhere in the layout formula. We really liked #1 above as a design -- it's fresh and a bit whimsical, so it's bound to attract viewers. Yet the designer gave far too much weight to the words Right Brainers, particularly "Right". To compound the problem, the most important word, Photoshop, has been colorized to blend with the background. So it recedes almost out of sight. A glance at this cover might lead to the conclusion that this book is called "Right Brainers". In terms of reader eye-flow, all the pointing devices tend to point off the right edge. The road signs would have been better positioned to the left, pointing at the cow, in tern pointing around the corner into the book. Don't mistake: pointing devices are good design devices -- so long as they point in the right direction. Love the cow, though!
In example #2 here, same problem, different elements. This book is titled "Photoshop for Right" -- the designer broke the title in mid-thought. If you chunk your typography into thoughts or phrases, weighting each according to importance, then never break to a different style in the middle of the thought or phrase. By making the word "Brainers" a different posture, and even a little shaky, it kills the thought. That alone ruins the validity of this cover. The two illustrations are good, and actually appropriate for this project: well known image, then modified via Photoshop. (Careful about using images that someone else might own property rights to! Mona Lisa may not be in the public domain!) And, again a pointing arrow device pointing right off the edge.
Sample #3 (right) is a nightmare. While the artist created a wonderfully compelling and inventive photo group, which would have been a home-run, they blew it with ill-colored and topsy-turvy typography.
Slants. How about those slants? Slants must have a reason, and they should (usually) run in the same direction. If you break that rule, you should have an excellent reason, supporting the design.
Vertical type! If you introduce vertical type, it should run UP. The end of the passage must end in a position to continue the eye to the next element! Not off the page. (As in "down") If you break that rule, you should have an excellent reason, supporting the design.
Word weight? Weighting the words in typography is very important. There should be a clear and justified reason for sizing each element -- and that relates to hierarchy -- from most important to least important. Being the 3rd edition is not nearly as important as the author's name, and neither are as important as the qualifier or USP, which for this book is the 2nd most important element after the word Photoshop.
Color breaks! Why the two 'O's in Photoshop are red, we have no idea. But you can immediately see how that treatment completely destroys the word as a word. There are only two criteria for breaking a word with letter colors:
1. Intent: there must be a clear reason, in support of the message
2. Readability: the word must be instantly readable as a single word.
We suspect this designer developed the picture, which is nice, but then was at a loss as to how to handle the typography. Artist, not designer.
NEXT PAGE: let's continue to the last and probably most important lesson Typography in Designing Book Covers, page 3. . .
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