Case Study 92

Title: Access Denied

Author: David E. Gates

Designer: David E. Gates

Genre: Memoir

Graphics: The story concerns child custody. Is that suggested by the cover? Well, there is an adult hand, and cleverly arranged in it is a child’s hand. The two hands are reaching for one another, though it seems to me that the adult thumb is on the wrong side.

However that may be, there is an indication of an adult and a child, but would one infer from that a memoir regarding child custody? Not likely.

What’s that in the background? At thumbnail size it’s impossible to tell. At full size at Amazon, the background is revealed to be an apparently random sequence of four capitalized letters, A, C, G, and T. Their significance isn’t clear. Maybe the background is intended to evoke a computer program or printout. After all, “Access denied!” is a phrase one might see when inputting the wrong password. I take it that the title refers to not having access to one’s child.

The hundreds of letters in the background don’t tell us what the genre is or anything about the storyline. If a buyer has to guess at what a book is about, he’s unlikely to investigate further. Why should he, when so many other covers are vying for his attention?

Typography: Only two typographic elements appear on the cover, the title and the author name. The first is legible enough, despite the cluttered background. The second is illegible unless the cover is enlarged. The same font is used for both elements, as all caps for the title and as upper- and lowercase for the author name.

Each letter has a drop shadow. On most covers drop shadows either accomplish nothing or improve the readability of the text. Here they are counter-productive. They make the words harder to read. That’s because the drop shadows, which appear to be in gray, merge with the small background letters, which also are in gray. The resultant effect is haziness around the words.

The designer should have made alterations to the title and author name. The latter should be far larger. There would be room if the hands were rotated clockwise about thirty degrees, so the adult’s index finger would point toward the lower part of the left border and his forearm would extend not through the top border but through the upper part of the right border. This rotation would allow the title to be enlarged also. It ought to be half again as large, while the author name ought to be at least twice as large.

Once sizing is fixed, coloration needs to be fixed—and in the process the drop shadows should be removed. As for colors, the author name would work well in black, and perhaps red might work for the title since red commonly is used for warning signs, which is what “Access Denied” brings to mind.

For any of the text to be easily readable, the background (assuming the letters are kept) should be lightened by at least one-third, perhaps by half. Of course, it would be better to eliminate those hundreds of letters. Doing so would leave a simple cover, but the graphic of the hands may be enough to carry it—so long as there is an addition.

The addition would be a tagline indicating what the book is about. As it stands now, the cover doesn’t convey its genre or its storyline, the background being busy but obscure and the hands being subject to various interpretations. There needs to be a more blatant explanation of what the reader will find inside.

Overall: Author-designed covers usually fail to do what covers should do. This is a good example. The designer knows what the book is about and has used symbolism (the hands and the stream of letters) that, in his mind, explains sufficiently what the book is.

Except that the symbolism doesn’t do that for people unacquainted with the book. To them the cover lacks clarity, so they are likely to pass it by and look for something else to read.