Somebody tell me if this is a stupid idea, but I’m thinking of using Mark Stevens’s cover design for Chion with no clearly visible text (click through to the larger image before you cast your verdict). I’m not usually a fan of gimmicks, but I think this one might work. I think that if I spotted a book cover on a shelf with nothing but snow on the cover and a blood-spatter in the corner, I would be intrigued enough to pick it up. Ideally, I would love to have a glossy cover with the title and author embossed colourlessly in matt, so that you don’t see anything until you tilt the cover, making it reflect in the light. But that kind of stuff costs money. So I would settle for subtle translucent text, as shown in the example.
In an attempt to make the right decisions, I’ve been casting my mind back to book covers of yesteryear. Four in particular leap to the front of my mind as being strikingly memorable. I’ve found the images on eBay, so you can see for yourself:
O-Zone doesn’t look like much until you realise that the “O” is actually a hole in the cover (there’s another gimmick for you), and when you turn the page you get a glorious sc-fi painting of a craft flying over a ruined city. Without exception, the common element in the four covers is a singular striking image that creates intrigue: a UFO on a beach with a native walking towards it; someone or something peering through the bushes at a lonely country house where somebody’s home; most spectacularly of all, the Titanic on dry ground with a cowboy on horseback overlooking the scene. If that one doesn’t pique your curiosity, nothing will. I think I’ve been concentrating way too much on the choice of fonts and the positioning of the various elements; I don’t think any of that really affected my attachement to the four book covers above.
My eBay search revealed further editions of these books with different covers. I couldn’t help but think that the more modern incarnations weren’t nearly as striking. I get the feeling something has generally gone wrong in the world of graphic design today, and that feeling is confirmed when I browse the shelves of the local bookstore. Ninety-nine percent of what I see is instantly forgettable. There’s also a heavy reliance on photographic material. It’s a far cry from the gorgeous airbrushed paintings of yesteryear. Unfortunately, my own limited graphic design skills require me to begin with photographs, too, so at least I’m competing on a even playing field with the pros.