As July’s Book Cover of the Month comes to a close, I started thinking about what to do for this week’s blog, and decided to share a few insights regarding what to think about when anyone commissions a cover. I’ll probably sprinkle a few of these posts in as the more I think about it, the more I realize there is to talk about. So for this installment, I want to talk about the things that can devastate a cover or make a cover try special.
Text: This is simply critical. I’ve seen so many well drawn illustrations completely ruined by poor typeface, font, and color choices. Most just lump this all into the term font.
What is font? Font is a specific style of characters. This is the complete set of characters for one typeface at one particular type size. Usually, people mix this up or toss it in with typeface and family, which are different things. Arial 12 is a font. Arial is a typeface. Whatever you want to call it, when designers just slap text onto a design, it can destroy a cover. However, when someone puts a bit of thought into how text can become a visual element, the results can be stunning.
What to think about: Your designer should either be sure to leave negative space to use or consider how to integrate text into the design. As long as they do one of these things, the design should come together.
This designer was brilliant. The title of the book wasn’t just something the designer threw on the cover, but it became the central design element of the cover. By doing this, you create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The negative space (the space left after the raven) left the designer a location to place text that seemed logical. The designer took it a step further by placing the letter “A” in the gap between the tail feathers and feet. This term (called grouping) makes several elements (like letters in a word) feel like a single visual uint.
Color/Legibility: These two go together in a lot of ways. When it comes to text the typeface you choose and the color you use are the difference between a visual element that stands out and words people can’t see, let alone read. I won’t call out bad covers. I’m not here to belittle anyone. What I will do is say a few things:
I want to say, “red font never works,” but that absolute (while I tend to lean that way) isn’t denotatively true. What is true is, “dark colors on dark backgrounds are impossible to see.” The characters in the text needs contrast to be seen. Mose designers address this by selecting a color that contrasts with the background in some way. For the love of Gestalt, please don’t:
Ever use drop shadows. Ever use stroke that’s nearly as thick as the width of your text.
Designers (professional designers) see that and immediately recognize the technique as lazy. It looks like the designer choose to just take a ham-handed shortcut rather than simply plan his/her design effectively.
This text isn’t particularly flashy. Placed in the lower negative space, the letters are distinct. The black text is well chosen against a bright background.
This typeface is a bit more eye-catching, but notice how it’s embossed and brighter than the dark background. Notice how neither have drop shadows or glowing edges? There’s a reason for that.
I really could go on forever. This post (as I was writing it) has gone from one post, to a few posts, to a series that I’ll play with, probably during BCOTM tournaments. But I think this is enough information for one post. When you higher a cover designer, make text the first thing you talk about. Most illustrators are worth more than you pay them. Placing text poorly or making it distracting feels like an insult to the artists who work so hard to create interesting imagery.
Thanks for reading,