Case Study 3

Title: The Last Homecoming

Author: Dan Chabot

Designer: The Book Design House

Genre: General fiction

Graphics: In the prologue the author says, “This is Norman Rockwell’s America, the America of everyday lives and all of their joys and sorrows.” The novel is about one-time residents of a doomed house who return to say good-bye to it on Christmas Eve. The illustration thus is quite appropriate: a house that looks tired, even with a covering of snow; the snow itself, blanketing the whole scene; Christmas lights.

I don’t know why the designer made certain elements, such as the lights, fuzzy, and perhaps what look to me like camera lens artifacts in the foreground are meant to be out-of-focus snowflakes. Hard to tell. The Norman Rockwell effect would have been stronger had the illustration been more in his style, with sharper lines—more a sense of Vermeer than Renoir. Still, it’s a good picture.

Typography: This cover’s problems are mainly with the text. The entire illustration has a bluish tint, and that causes trouble with the subtitle, which is red, thus violating a cardinal (no pun intended) rule that red shouldn’t overlay blue because (1) the red won’t stand out well and (2) the text might look as though it’s buzzing, which doesn’t help legibility.

The designer could have chosen a yellow tone from the windows (or even a brighter yellow), though that color probably would have been used best on the title. In that case, the subtitle and author name could have been in black. As it is, the title and author name are in two tones of gray, which makes them stand out insufficiently. Whatever text ends up in black should be at 100 percent, like the shutters on the windows.

Then there are the fonts. The subtitle and title are in one font, the author name in another. The first two are in all uppercase, the third in all lowercase. I would have put all three elements in the same font, with the subtitle and author name in all caps but the title in upper- and lowercase. The first two words of the title should go on one line. “Homecoming” should be kerned more tightly so that its length matches the combined length of the other two. The present title font’s lines are too thin to stand out well against the corrugated landscape. A different font should be used, one with thicker lines and shorter serifs.

Last, I’d get rid of the two ornamented rules (lines). They serve no purpose. If done in the right fonts and in the right colors, the title, subtitle, and author name will distinguish themselves from one another. Rarely are rules needed. If they seem to be, usually that’s an indication that there is something wrong with the typography.

Overall: The top half of this cover earns at least a solid B, while the bottom half struggles to earn a C–. It wouldn’t have taken much to make this an outstanding cover: some tweaking of the illustration and easy reconfiguring of the text.