Book covers, trained designers & lessons in pauses
Bravo’s latest reality show, Work of Art is pretty painful to watch. But we still watch it. And then we complain and laugh about it… a fun Wednesday night routine, you could say. Last week the contestants were asked to design book covers for a book title assigned to them. Obviously there’s a ridiculous time constraint on all of these projects and that can be really harsh when asked to design for something you’ve never read (one contestant did use the majority of his time to quickly read through all of Frankenstein—impressive). Alas, such is the nature of the show.
They weren’t asked to create artwork for a templatized cover, as I was thinking they would be more like this, but rather they were expected to incorporate type displaying the title and author. I thought a couple of the images were great, but it was when the typography came into play that it was quite obvious most were out of their element. A sensitivity to type is not something people usually just pick up from image-making, but rather study—and often study intensively. It’s the quickest way to tell a designer lacks formal training. And it cheapened most of the covers on the show. The winner of the challenge created his own lettering and produced what I thought was a lovely cover. The giant, loud Bravo logos laying over that thick black bar on top aren’t exactly working in its favor… but what can you do. (Design Observer posted about this episode last week as well and quite an extensive comment list pursued if anyone’s interested in nerding out.)
In semi-related news, AIGA recently posted their 50 Books/50 Covers showcasing some of the best work in book + book cover design of 2009. Entertainment Weekly posted a link to AIGA’s top covers on their website, which triggered some mixed responses from (presumably) a non-design related crowd as opposed to the Design Observer comments on the Bravo show. Some folks thought they were beautiful and well-done while others thought they were mundane or even pretentious. It’s not entirely clear in all cases, but it seems safe to say that many of the negative comments are saying that subtlety or a minimalist approach equals boring. They want something that “pops” off the shelf—and this is also often heard from the marketing crew at publishing companies. I think it was even said on that Bravo show in response to someone using a smaller image—that it simply won’t sell. Why isn’t anybody saying that covers can grab the reader’s attention by simply being beautiful versus exploding off of the shelf? It doesn’t always have to use loud colors or completely fill the space in order for people to take a second look. Not to mention, when you’re using less, it usually means more.
We tend to think of the pause as awkward. In speech, pregnant pauses connote uncomfortable silence; we veil silence with fillers. As professional communicators, we’re trained to deliver smooth speech, censoring out “um” and “ah.” This distaste for the pause — and the inverse, seeking an always-on state — is a battle we face at work, at school, and in industry at large.
I propose that we’re too impatient with the pause, and as a result, we’re missing out on a great deal. What would happen if, as communicators and designers, we became more comfortable with the pause? Because it turns out we can add by leaving out. The pause has power.
I agree. There’s a time and a place to fill the space. But by taking out some of the filler, we can usually appreciate what’s there just a bit more. Here are some of my favorite (and minimal) selections from AIGA’s selected 2009 covers: