Case Study 44

Title: Transitions and Beyond

Author: Inderjit Kaur

Designer: Inderjit Kaur

Genre: Self-help

Graphics: I have read this book’s jargon-heavy preface more than once and admit I can’t figure out what the book is about or whom it’s for. It seems to be a step-by-step guide toward regaining psychological balance when faced with adversity, but I’m not sure.

Assuming that’s an approximation of the book’s intent, do the graphics help us understand that? Not that I can see.

Here we have three entirely unrelated images: a puzzle, an image that might be taken from a PowerPoint demonstration, and a photo of a tree trunk with sprouting leaves.

Only the middle image could be taken to suggest a transition or going beyond (to use the words of the title). It implies leaping over an obstacle and continuing on one’s way. Neither of the other images says even that much. The puzzle consists of isolated pieces that are floating away. I suppose that might imply “beyond,” but where is the transition part? And the tree trunk? It’s pretty, but that’s about all that can be said for it.

Each of these images, taken in itself, fails to indicate the genre of the book, except perhaps to indicate that this is a non-fiction work. Taken together, the three images are a muddle. The muddle exemplifies what happens when a designer tries to cram too much into a small space.

Self-help books almost always limit themselves to one bold image that recapitulates the thrust of the title. How to Sell Your Car will have an image of a for-sale car. Mastering French will sport the Eiffel Tower or something equivalent. Planning Your Wedding will feature a multitiered wedding cake. Each cover will have just one image. With three images you don’t get three times the oomph. You get three times the chances to confuse readers, as here.

As I said, I’m not sure what this book is about, but it certainly isn’t about puzzle pieces, red arrows, and foliage. If the author-designer has no choice but to select from these images, I’d recommend using either the first (since the floating-away puzzle pieces might be construed as representing a transition) or the second (since the leaping arrow implies going beyond).

Typography: This book sorely needs a tagline to let us know what it’s about. The title is too opaque. There are countless sorts of transitions in life, and we need to have some sense of what the writer is writing about. Of course, the ideal would be a change to a more explanatory title. In the absence of that, a tagline would help.

The title and author name are in a odd font, one with cartoonish elements. Notice how some of the letters are off-kilter and how the large, blocky serifs run into one another. This font might be suitable for a children’s book but is out of place on a book intended for an adult readership.

The title would look better if it occupied the whole of the top third of the cover and were set in two lines rather than three—and in a different font. As it stands, the text is far too small. It needs to be at least twice the size to have an impact, and it ought to be centered rather than huddle against the left margin. These changes won’t work against the present image; it wouldn’t do to have the text superimposed on the puzzle pieces.

The author name can stay more or less where it is, in the lower left-hand corner, but it needs to be considerably larger, at least twice the current size. This would require a change of font. The new font’s characters would need thick verticals to stand out sufficiently against the tree trunk, which has light-gray sections. If the new text doesn’t stand out sufficiently in white, it might look fine in yellow.

Overall: Amateur designers often see, in the graphics they choose, implications or symbolisms that their hoped-for audience doesn’t see. What might seem meaningful to the designer is meaningless to the reader, and thus a sale is lost.

If it is bad to use one image that fails to convey a book’s theme, it’s worse to use three. If the author had shown a mock-up of this cover to complete strangers and asked them what they thought, she likely would have learned enough to turn to a professional designer.

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