Case Study 90

Title: Walking the Downs Link

Author: Holly Worton

Designer: Killion Group

Genre: Hiking

Graphics: The Downs Link is a 37-mile trail that links two other trails, the North Downs Way and the South Downs Way. The Downs Link is located south of London, and its southern terminus is near Brighton on Sussex Bay. Apparently this is the first guidebook for the little-used trail.

The sole graphic is a photograph of the trail going through a stand of trees and bushes. It may be authentic, but it’s not particularly attractive. The Downs Link route follows abandoned railway lines, and there are many places where one can see memorabilia from steam-locomotive days. A photo that included an old train car or a track switch would be more interesting than the one used on the cover.

As the route nears its southern terminus trees are more widely spread and there are said to be fine views of the South Downs. Such an image also would have been better than the one chosen.

Perhaps the author didn’t take many photos during her hike, and perhaps the other photos she took didn’t turn out well enough for use on the cover. If so, it would have been an easy matter to secure rights to a photo taken by someone else. It might have required nothing more than agreeing to give the photographer credit.

At it stands, the photo that was used lacks visual interest—there are neither people nor things other than the pathway and the greenery—and the view verges on the claustrophobic. It looks as though the viewer is going to end up swallowed by encroaching plants.

Typography: There are four typographic elements: title, subtitle, author name, and author blurb. They all use the same font, though most of the author blurb is in italics because it’s the title of another book.

On its own, the font is fine—but not for this cover. Its lines are too thin to stand out well against the greenery. If the image is to be retained, a thicker font is needed.

If this photo showed more sky, the title, as it now stands, would be acceptable since it wouldn’t overlap any trees. But it wouldn’t be more than acceptable because the first line ends awkwardly with the definite article. This is a title that needs to be set in three lines, with “the” on a line of its own and probably set smaller than the other two lines, for modesty’s sake.

The subtitle already is in three lines, which is fine, but it ought to be in all caps, to vary it from the format of the title, and it ought to be in a sans serif font. The letters should be enlarged by a few points and the line spacing reduced by half. The lines are too far apart and give the subtitle an unhelpful airy look. The lines would appear more as a unit if they were closer together. Lastly, the ampersand ought to be switched out for “and”; the subtitle will read more smoothly that way.

Of all the text on the cover, the author name looks best. That’s because it’s set atop the path and the less-busy part of the foliage. It should be set in whatever new font is chosen for the title, whereas the subtitle and author blurb should be in the same sans serif font.

Should the author blurb be here at all? It does provide credentials for the author: “Here’s someone who wrote a book about hiking one of the connecting trails, so she must know her stuff.”

Unfortunately, the author blurb is the least successful of the textual elements. At thumbnail size it’s illegible. If it’s to be retained, it has to be much larger (thus taking three lines instead of two). Otherwise, it can go on an early page inside the book and in the book’s description at Amazon. The description presently doesn’t mention the author’s previous book, a serious mistake.

Overall: As hiking book covers go, this is a dull one. There must be better-looking parts of the Downs Link, and there must be photos that allow better placement of text. Ideally one would want an image showing a good chunk of sky for the title and enough path or other non-busy area on which the other text can be placed.