Case Study 76

Title: The Plug Up

Author: Kevin Tait

Designer: Kevin Tait

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: The sole graphical element is a photograph of a cloudy sky. The image chiefly is in shades of gray, but there is a bluish cast toward the bottom, where the image ends at a white bar, beneath which is a black bar.

Cloud images are a dime a dozen. This one hardly rises that high. It has no character—and no color, aside from the added tint below. It is one step removed from a flat, gray background, and a flat, gray background probably would have been better. The clouds in this photo neither inspire nor intrigue.

The irruption of blue in the lower third of the cover seems gratuitous, and the white and black bars serve no obvious purpose. As poor as this image of clouds may be, it should have been granted the courtesy of extending all the way down, and the bars should have been eliminated.

Typography: The text consists of three almost illegible elements: title, subtitle, and author name.

The title is tucked into a fold in the clouds, as if the designer felt he had to put it there, thus limiting the size of the letters. The font mimics handwriting, but nothing the cover otherwise reveals why that is preferable to a regular font. In any case, the title is far too small. It should be about four times the size—and certainly in a different, tighter font and still more certainly in a color other than green.

The green text of the subtitle almost is legible when the cover is viewed at a small size, bur green is still the wrong color. The subtitle has multiple faults, aside from its color. Let’s start with punctuation.

A title or subtitle should not have terminal punctuation: no period, as here. There is a floating comma, unmoored to any word and in the wrong place anyway. No comma is needed in this sentence, the two prepositional phrases being tied by the conjunction “and.” The third punctuational error is a missing hyphen; one is needed between “self” and “transformation.”

There are problems with the layout of the text and with word choice.

The poorly chosen word in the first one, “A.” Instead of “A story of a spiritual thinker,” the line should read “The story of a spiritual thinker.” The definite article implies that the author is telling his entire story, while the indefinite article implies that he is telling one of several stories.

The text could be in three lines, but the words should break differently: “The story of a spiritual thinker/ and a quest/ for self-transformation.”

The preposition “for” shouldn’t be separated from the rest of the prepositional phrase, if possible, so “for” and “self-transformation” should appear on the same line.

Similarly, the first line includes a prepositional phrase: “of a spiritual thinker.” When combined with “The story,” that makes for a long line, but that’s not necessarily bad. The very short line that follows, “and a quest,” draws attention to itself from its very shortness. Of all the words in the subtitle, only “quest” gives a sense of change or motion, so it’s good to give it emphasis.

The author name is invisible at thumbnail size. Like the title, it ought to be much larger, though not as large as the revised title. Like the rest of the text, its green color is exquisitely wrong.

If the cloudy background were retained (and continued to the bottom edge), the author name could be put in white letters at the bottom, where the background is darkest, the title could be moved up about a fourth of the way toward to top, and the subtitle could begin at the cover’s midpoint. Like the author name, the subtitle should be in white, while the title could be in a bright color, such as yellow or gold.

Overall: The proposed changes would succeed only in making a bad cover a little less bad. The cover needs a thorough remake. As it stands, it sends a message. The message is that the author-designer should seek the services of a professional. That he let a cover such as this be published is confirmation of that.

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