Case Study 86

Title: Leadership Is Mental

Author: Dayo Sowunmi II

Designer: Sara Garcia

Genre: Business

Graphics: This is another floating cover. When viewed here or at Amazon, the cover seems to have no border. That’s a problem with white against white. Of course, that would not be a problem for the paperback edition, when seen in real life—or when seen at Amazon, where that edition is bounded by a thin rule. It’s the ebook edition that seems to float.

What about the graphics otherwise? On this cover, the image is less important and less prominent than the text. That’s fine. What isn’t so fine is that the image doesn’t make sense without an explanation, and even the explanation, as given by the author, isn’t quite enough.

He has mentioned that the penguins are in a padded room as found in an asylum: there is a connection to the title word “Mental.” Maybe, but it seems to be an undesired connection.

The “Mental” of the title, taken on its own, implies that leadership is something one has to think about or has to keep in mind. (It’s like the Yogi Berra quotation: “Baseball is ninety percent mental, and the other half is physical.”) But “mental” as in “mental institution,” where padded rooms are found, implies a disordering of one’s reasoning faculties. I don’t think the author wants to imply that his book is for crazy people.

Thus the padded room seems inappropriate for the cover—not just irrelevant but counter-productive. It sends a message, but it’s a message that shouldn’t be sent.

And what about the penguins? Penguins aren’t noted for playing follow the leader. Some other species do that, such as cattle and sheep. In the popular imagination, penguins merely stand around on snow or swim playfully in icy water, each going his own way. It might be a fact that penguins form leadership hierarchies, but, if so, that is a fact known to a few biologists and not to the public at large.

But let’s say penguins do play follow the leader. Does this image express that? Not to me. The four penguins, though mostly facing the same way, don’t seem to be going anywhere. They couldn’t. The walls of the padded room prevent that. Thus whatever symbolism is provided by the penguins seems to fail. (Similarly with the padded room, the symbolism of which more than fails.)

Typography: One thing this cover shows is the proper way to use red text. Notice how the word “Mental” stands out. That’s because the red is atop white. Red needs a strong contrast to work. If this cover had a dark background, or a background in any shade of gray or blue, red would fail.

Keep this as a reminder: when it comes to using red, think “Civil War colors,” the colors of the Confederacy and the Union, gray and blue, and avoid red if those colors form the backdrop.

The title is fine, for a non-fiction book. Such a plain font, set so large in the third word, would be out of place on a novel’s cover, but it’s just the kind one expects to find on a book about how to improve at business.

Even if it were in black, “Mental” would stand out, given its size. “Leadership” is in the same font but not bolded, yet it’s quite legible. Even the small “Is” can be read easily, in part because the two rules at its sides seem to be pointing at it.

The title, then, has no problems, but the subtitle has one.

It’s easy enough to understand what the designer was attempting to do, trying to place emphasis on “project leader,” but that wasn’t necessary, given how short the subtitle is. The subtitle begins as many subtitles do, with “how to,” making this a how-to book. How to what? How to be a successful project leader. Anyone reading “how to” will make it to “project leader” and will know what he will learn.

There is no reason to highlight the last two words. When highlighted in red, they throw off the legibility of the subtitle, and they give the entire cover a rightward tilt. If the two words were kept in black, the black subtitle, along with the black “Leadership Is,” would bracket the red “Mental.”

Overall: This cover’s typography is strong, its graphics weak. The typography is so strong that the cover likely will do what it needs to do, though at a cost.

Some viewers may wonder what the penguins are for; a few even may wonder whether these penguins have been institutionalized. Most viewers will focus on the text. It’s too bad that the graphics weren’t done in a way as to enhance the text.

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