Case Study 64

Title: The Dirtbag Handbook

Author: Vanessa Runs

Designer: Y42K Publishing

Genre: Travel

Graphics: The author, her husband, and their pets live in a 22-foot long RV and have traveled the country spending less than $20,000 annually, all expenses included. This is the story of how they were able to do that and how others can follow their example.

Not surprisingly, the RV is the center of focus for the cover. Here we see the rear of the vehicle. At full size the photo shows clearly that the RV is pasted with innumerable stickers. Some are of places visited, such as Zion National Park, while many seem to have little to do with travel per se.

Even at full size, it’s hard to make out most of the stickers. At smaller sizes, as here, it’s impossible, and the rear of the RV could be mistaken for a vehicle that was damaged in a severe sandstorm.

It’s a pity the stickers aren’t fewer and larger. The designer could have airbrushed out most of the actual stickers and overlain a few easily-read substitutes, such “Nomads on Board” (to mimic the actual “Baby on Board” sticker at the top of the RV’s rear). As it is, the stickers are so plentiful that they make it hard to make out the lines of the mountain bike that hangs off the rear of the rear.

Sometimes, particularly for non-fiction books, it’s desirable to use photos of the author or the author’s possessions. Sometimes not. This is one of the not times. The RV is just too cluttered for clarity. It’s also too static. The book is about travel, a term that suggests motion, but there is no sense of motion here.

The RV is shown in a bubble of landscape. Bushes and dirt can be made out, but not much more. The color of the dirt is continued onto the rest of the cover, forming its background. I can’t tell whether this background is a true photo of the dirt or merely a stock texture that imitates dirt. Either way, it makes for easy contrast for the text. It also makes for a background that overpowers the image of the RV, which takes up only about a third of the total area of the cover.

Typography: Like Caesar’s Gaul, the text here is divided into three parts: title, subtitle, and author name. All three parts are in the same font, and it’s a dull one. It might be adequate for the subtitle and author name, but, for variety, a different font should have been chosen for the title, preferably one with mild serifs, a font that hints at motion.

The font used here not only lacks interest but it lacks good kerning. Notice how the T and B in “Dirtbag” nearly touch one another, while the I in that word is separated by four times as much space from the D and R. This appears to be a problem arising with the B, which elsewhere also plays unhappily with its neighbors. Some fonts are like that, their designers having drawn one or more letters imprecisely.

All of the text seems to be slapped atop the background. None of it seems part of the imagery. Ideally, cover text should seem integral with the graphics, but that hasn’t happened here. It’s as though the graphics were completed and then the cover was run through an inkjet printer to apply the words.

Overall: The image of the RV has weaknesses, but it has a countervailing sense of verisimilitude. This is the author’s actual vehicle, and the reader supposes the book will be WYSIWYG in terms of storyline: what you see is what you get.

Since the design firm specializes in books about running, I presume the author is using a pseudonym, at least for her surname. If her name amounts to “that Vanessa who runs,” then it’s unfortunate that this cover doesn’t express as much motion as her name does.

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