Judging a book by its…

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I’m a lifelong bibliophile, a perambulator of bookstores and libraries, wont to picking up books at random and taking them in on a whim. So, of course, I’m a lover of book covers.

And, except for those of us who judge books only on their e-readers, covers matter. A lot. Female British author Lionel Shriver wrote a scathing piece for The Guardian of the gender inequality of cover designs. She rightly complains that the pastel images of wistful women that her publisher’s designers suggest for her are based solely on her gender and have nothing to do with her books–intense narratives, even “nasty,” as she calls them. No one wants the label chic lit, even those who predominantly write for a female audience (I’m looking at you Jodi Picoult).

Book buyers tend to form judgements about unknown books within 10-20 seconds of seeing them. Which is why the hardcover copy of last year’s The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt:

 

 

makes such a better first impression than the paperback version:

 

 

The hardcover version is a visual double entendre, the paperback a pastel banality that makes me think I’m picking up a dry history of the wild west. Pass.

It’s pretty amazing when a book cover makes you do a double take, gives you a complete summary of the book in a single image. Designer Jenny Volvovski is currently creating new covers for books she’s read, and I love her take on Bradley Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist:

 

The main character has four wives, each with several children, and somehow the letters alone give you a sense of his life. There he is, the lonely O at the center of it all.

I could go on forever about amazing book covers, because there are so many good ones (and several blogs devoted to them). In case you’re interested, here are a lot more awesome book covers. And here’s a list of 30 books that “you should buy for the cover alone.”

But in the age of the e-reader, is the book cover an endangered art form? Chip Kidd, one of the most famous book cover designers of all time, thinks not. NPR quotes him as saying, “[Books] need some kind of visual representation, whether you’re going to be seeing them the size of a postage stamp on a computer screen or a smartphone, or sitting on a table, or on a shelf, or in a bookstore.” Of course, he’s banking on that assumption, given that that’s how he makes a living. I hope he’s right.

Here’s his TED talk on the art of designing a book cover:

 

 

 

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How to be a graphic designer

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What you’ll need: at least 2 monitors, Adobe creative suite

Songlist: anything by Bauhaus, Written in Reverse by Spoon

Further reading: um, a graphic novel? No wait, something about graphic design.

McKayla Maroney is not impressed with this logo.

Ok, last post about the Olympics. I swear.

Now, were you surprised at seeing an image as horrifically ugly as the logo above in a post about graphic design? I don’t know a whole lot about graphic design, so I didn’t follow the unveiling of the 2012 London Olympic logo or the subsequent typeface associated with it, and thus wasn’t aware of the outrage that predated my own. Because, for all my love of the Olympics, and for the million hours I spent watching TV over the past 2 weeks, I just could not get over that horrible, clunky, graceless font. (Last time I checked, the Olympics are not exactly a celebration of clunkiness).

Unfortunately, I didn’t rally any of my fellow Olympics-watchers to my cause:

“Isn’t the typography awful?”

“Eh.”

“I mean, seriously, doesn’t it just make you angry?”

“Shh, the girls are hitting the ball now.”

To console myself, I tried outlining a logo of my own, and quickly noticed that the first two letters of the host city’s name are quite similar to the current year. With a little work, something interesting could be done with that similarity. My own attempts weren’t great, but you’ll see what I mean in the following logo, created by British graphic designer Richard Voysey:

Ahhh, that’s more like it

I felt vindicated both by the Brits’ selection of Mr. Voysey’s design as the “favourite alternative logo” of the games, as well as this design blog’s list of the 8 worst fonts in the world. The London Olympics typeface, called 2012 Headline, ranks #1, worse than Papyrus, worse than Comic Sans (which didn’t even make the list). It can’t get any worse.

But I don’t just want to be one of those Debbie-downer-negative-Nancy complainers. I’ve become much more interested in graphic design over the last year or so, after a) reading blogs that frequently link to lovely infographics* and typefaces and b) having to do very basic graphic design myself for one of my jobs. On Saturday I lugged home 5 enormous history-of-graphic-design books from the library, and I mean to make a serious dent in them. At least by leafing through the pretty pictures.

Look out, world.

*The best infographics I’ve seen are by Nicholas Felton, who produces his annual Feltron report, and Warby Parker’s annual report. Here’s a sample of Nicholas Felton’s work:

Data done right.