DT&G Design Department
Graphic-Design.com / DT&G Magazine / Design Department / Designing Book Covers / Layout, Visual Eye-flow / Typography in Cover Design  

NOTE THIS NOTE: continued from the previous page of Book Cover Design Tips & Tricks

Typography in Graphic Design

... type is your most powerful weapon - use it wisely

You can create beautiful illustration, graphics and photography, but if the typeface, styling, sizing and positioning of the typography isn't correct, you lose the battle -- and the project. This whole project evidenced an overall lack of type skills -- although there were some fairly nice pieces of type! But the type has to support the meaning of the cover, while working transparently with the other visual imagery and above all, being first seen, then recognized, then understood in the first moment of the visual gulp. If you fail here, game over.

type in the wrong place, wrong styling or wrong posture

(Enlarge) All through our talk today, I've pointed out problems in the typography. These are all valid rules, but I won't repeat them here. Let's look at how subtle problems in type face, size and style can dramatically affect a design.

Sample #1: in this example, the typography if pretty good. Yet positioning sets the wrong flow and intent. Notice how isolation calls attention to the author's name. Any time you isolate an element, you automatically make it more important. In this case, the title is more important because we cannot run the risk of how many people know Al Ward. It would work if the name was Deke McClelland, but it's not. Then, the positioning. In today's world of crowded book store shelves, books find themselves in some difficult places. Sometimes stacked behind other covers. The most compelling element in the title should be at the TOP of the cover. Yes, in terms of "graphic design" that is not a hard rule, but in merchandising books, brochures, take-ones, and many consumer products, that IS a rule.
Color: As we saw before, colorization of typography can ruin its readability or even chances of getting seen at all. Here's another perfect example. Be very careful when using red on black, or a very dark color on black. If the viewer has any site impairment at all, they won't see red on black. Also consider black and white reproduction of the cover. In a newspaper ad, this cover would change dramatically. We liked this cover however, as a graphic design, it had a lot of power going for it.

Sample #2: Here's a simple case of lack of typography know-how. Selecting a heavier face, and tightening it to remove the trapped negative space would have saved this cover. The illustrations clearly send the "photo manipulation" message to the reader, but the type (and that yellow background) seriously spoil the scene. Also awareness of intent -- the "for" should have been below with "right brainers" and Al Ward should have been second deck, pushing 3rd edition to the bottom exit point. Hierarchy, weight, positioning -- never forget them.

Sample #3: We really liked this cover as a statement and piece of art. It fulfills all the other criteria, but I'm afraid there are problems with this typography. Not only is the word Photoshop in a dark background, it's styled in such a way that renders it difficult to comprehend. Squint at it in the enlarged version. You'll see it disappear. Then, the other main typography is also styled in such a way that makes it difficult to comprehend. If outlining type like double-neon, then all-caps makes it difficult to read. If attempting to achieve neon, then either make it neon or don't try it. And again, be aware that the type would be at least more accessible if pushed further to the top -- in lieu of those butterflies, which really don't relate.

Sample #4: This one almost gets it. Illustrations are very appropriate, positioning at the top is good, and even the little arrow pointer to help the eye move into the title -- all good, strong devices. But why did we rotate the word "for" up vertical? By doing so, it removes the meaning of the word "for" and makes it unnecessary. You could just as easily made "right brainers" the same weiht and size as "Photoshop" and had a complete visual gulp. But that's not the intent. We needed "for" to be with Right Brainers because that's where it belongs. The artist saw this uncomfortable space after Photoshop, and needed something to fill it. Wrong decision. The bold against light was the right thing to do. Both lines should have been balanced out to the same width for success. And again, through isolation, the "third edition" is called out and made too important, while the qualifier (The Art of Photo Manipulation) and the author's name are left to suffer.

Dark centeredContrast, posture and flow: At left is one of our favorites. While the type is weak, all the designer would have needed to do is make the type heavier. That tweak would have produced an award-winning cover.

The design here is pleasing to the eye; the flow is certainly well implemented by virtue of centering. The rather nice illustration serves two purposes: to draw in the viewer's eye as an attractive montage -- and then to illustrate any number of photo manipulations. With more contrasty type, this cover will show well at both the bookstore point of purchase, and in Amazon's book page.

Slanted with a purposeElements in harmony, design with a purpose: Here's another one we really liked. In fact, this one is pretty much ready to go from a graphic design perspective. Here the block of type transcended the purpose of merely naming the book. It became a compelling visual element that calls great attention to itself -- by virtue of being the shape action of the face profile's eyes. Always follow the eyes! We loved the color mood, and feeling of this one -- and the treatments of the layered face profiles illustrated the whole point of the book. This cover truly illustrates -- sends the visual message -- of "The Art of Photo Manipulation" ... And, POW, how important is the author's name here? Literally spoken from the lips of the profile? This is a masterful piece of art. It didn't win, probably because it's too sophisticated for most of the judges. We certainly hope the artist uses the profile painting (sans typography) as a framed, oversized print. It deserves to be on someone's wall.

Our favoriteBlockbuster Illustration: This one was our favorite in terms of illustration. It was very disappointing that the designer blew it with the type at the bottom -- dropping it out of the running. Why the USP typography was broken into three sets of type faces we cannot imagine. Had it been pulled to the top, above Photoshop, home-run, out of the park! The illustration really is everything here. All the typography had to do was call attention to itself, and make a simple statement. The illustration offers everything a Photoshop user is looking for from glamour to retouching to drawing to fitting components. The illustration would have pulled the Photoshop user in to ponder and scrutinize what techniques were deployed to achieve this result. (On the down side, we all had this nagging feeling we had seen this illustration somewhere before! And that's not good... or maybe it is!)

the winner The Winner: Here's a lesson for us all. Compromise. A book cover these days has to fulfill so many requirements that it really cannot be a typography masterpiece. It cannot be a masterful painting. It cannot be a killer illustration -- but rather it must use the best of all of these elements, yes, with compromises. While none of the elements are blockbusters in their own right -- they all play together into a harmonious finished piece that gets the job done, and gets it done well. The type is isolated and authoritative. Right Brainers and Author's name have weight and position, yet are played down so as not to upstage the word Photoshop and the USP. And while the USP does fall to the bottom, it's positioning and isolation against the black background make it undeniable. The illustration is a winner too. Much like the last example, this pulls the reader in and causes the eye to spend time scrutinizing the techniques at play. The light, cool, background of the header is heated up by the warm background of the illustration. The subtle art works in both backgrounds play to the inquisitive Photoshopper's eye. One trick I would have liked to see is if the artist attempted to use a left and right 'eye' in the two center illuminated eyes to form yet a third face. Now, that would have been a killer!
(Get a better look at all three in this enlargement)

At the end of the day

What makes a great book cover? The one that makes YOU purchase a book. While all of the entries had merit, there is one true winner -- the one that sells. Unfortunately, that will never be tested in the public marketplace. All judges are prejudiced to their own likes or dislikes -- just as all shoppers are. There were easily two dozen others that we felt had true merit and should be tested. Alas, there could be only one -- and while not our first choice, the winner was certainly in our winners lineup.

And, for the winners, here's a big applause for your excellent work

I invite you to go and analyze all the entries for yourself. I also want to hear from you when you pick your own winner -- tell me which one and why. You can pick your winner from the Wiley Design Challenge Gallery for this competition. And, don't forget the big winner, Photoshop for Right Brainers third edition, by Al Ward, the art of photo manipulation -- which should be on the shelves by the time you read this article.

Thanks for reading!

Fred Showker

Editor / Publisher: DTG Magazine, the User Group News Network, and Photoshop Tips & Tricks


Let's hear from YOU!

Don't forget: when you've got a tough project, give us a call! If you've produced something special (even without our help) please send it along for review. You could be a winner.

Return to the DTG Magazine, or back to the Design Center Front Page

Do you like DTG? If you have found benefit from the content found here, why not help by becoming a Friend of the Design Center? You'll be helping us continue our ten-year tradition of quality content on the web.

Participate in your Design Center

Lots of fun and information for all... don't forget, any community is only as good as the participation of its members. We invite your tips, tricks, comments, suggestions and camaraderie.