Cast Study 56

Title: Move or Improve?

Author: Debbie C. Miller

Designer: Steve Fata

Genre: Self-help

Graphics: The sole graphic clearly is a stock business image, the kind that looked innovative in the 1990s. Here we see a maze that fades into the distance. A youngish man and woman, in business attire, view a shortcut across the maze, the shortcut being cut by the eraser of a gigantic pencil.

The image is muddy blue, and the telltale yellow of the pencil is hardly discernible. Nothing about the image pops, and nothing about it relates to the book’s theme, which is housing options for those nearing or at retirement age.

The intended audience is baby boomers, yet the two people in the image clearly aren’t in that generational cohort. The length of the woman’s skirt is enough to tell us that. And what does a maze have to do with downsizing a home? Granted, the process can be confusing and frustrating, just as mazes can be confusing and frustrating (they are designed to be so), but that’s a tenuous connection.

Why not an image of a shrinking house, to suggest empty-nester-ism? Or a moving truck? Or houses of various sizes? Such images actually would relate to the argument of the book. The present image doesn’t.

Worse, it’s just an unattractive image regardless. I presume that it didn’t start out so muddily blue but that the designer muted the colors in order to form a backdrop for the text. Perhaps that helped legibility, but it injured attractiveness.

The image adds nothing, so it should have been omitted, replaced either with a relevant image or with nothing at all, since this cover could have gotten by just with a clever placement of text against a solid background—something that often works with covers of how-to books.

Typography: As ineffective as the image is, the text is more so. Let’s work our way up.

The author name is clear enough, though I would set it in sans serif rather than in the serif font that, at present, is used for all the text. That same san serif I would use for everything except the title. Even with that change the author name would require help. It is too near the bottom edge and is threatened with having its feet sliced off on the paperback version of the book. (One has to leave room for errant trimming.)

As a practical matter, there likely won’t be many instances of that, since few people ever will see the paperback version. Its price ($24.95) and the book’s length (just 50 pages) will see to that. Nevertheless, even for the benefit of the ebook cover, the author name should be shifted up—and it should not be isolated in a box that serves little purpose.

Moving up the cover, next we come to the second half of the long subtitle, “How to Choose What’s Right for You.” This is the second-most prominent part of the titling area, after the main title itself. It so overpowers the first half of the subtitle, “The Baby Boomers’ Guide to Housing Options,” that at first I read it immediately after the main title, “Move or Improve?”

When read that way, the second half of the subtitle makes little sense. What is the “What” in “How to Choose What’s Right for You”? There seems to be no referent. You have to backtrack to take in the first half of the subtitle, and only then do you realize that the book is about housing choices.

This problem arises from the subtitle being bifurcated in two ways. The fist half is reversed out in a white box, and it’s set in considerably smaller type. It’s meant to go with the second half, as shown by the colon, but the two parts feel disjointed. I would have reversed out the reversal, making the first half look like the second, giving both halves the same size and the same coloration.

Even with that clean-up, the subtitle would be less than optimal because it’s so wordy. If all fourteen words are retained, they could be set in four lines, like this: “The Baby Boomers’ Guide/ to Housing Options:/ How to Choose/ What’s Right for You.” Notice that each line includes one phrase or thought.

Now to the title, the largest yet weakest part of the textual treatment. The font is not particularly attractive, in part because the letters are not kerned well. Notice that the V and E nearly touch, while the O and V seem too far apart. Since the title includes an action word, “Move,” I would have chosen a serif font with more character—but not one that might be mistaken for a font suitable for a romance novel.

What about the title’s middle word, “or”? Look how much emphasis it has, partly from being reversed out (black instead of white) but mostly from being set in a large white box. The box is the largest segment of white on the cover, yet it does nothing. It serves no purpose. The word “or” doesn’t need emphasis; after all, it’s the least important word of the title. It would have been fine to leave “or” in white, just like the other two words.

Perhaps the designer felt that such a small word, on a line of its own, looked orphaned. That could have been fixed by putting “or” in italics or in a separate, cursive-like font (thus adding a little variety to the text). It also could have been fixed by putting “or” at the end of the first line, thus making the title two lines rather than three.

Normally it’s a mistake to put a conjunction or similar small words, such as prepositions and articles, at the end of a title line, but here it could be made to work if “or” were in a notably different font. One advantage of such an arrangement is that it would allow “Move” to be made the same size as “Improve,” removing the false impression (given by the present cover) that “Move” is more important than “Improve.”

Overall: As it now stands, there is little to commend this cover. It looks amateurish and, worse, ineffective.

Its words ought to flow, but they do not, and the odd textual treatment leads the viewer into misunderstanding what the book is about. Even the graphic sends wrong signals about the book’s theme and its target audience.