A great book cover should be striking, memorable, profound, and, most of all, eye-catching. It should pull a reader across a bookstore with a flash of color or a slick effect. But today, designers must think beyond the physical bookstore and consider the digital one as well. The parameters of each differ in nearly every respect. So, how have designers adjusted? With the huge growth in online sales, has the digital bookstore begun to drive the design process?
Here are some tips offered by Penguin Random House experts on cover design and selling online.
The Sizing Challenge.
The most noticeable difference between a cover’s presentation online and in person is its size. On the shelf, a cover might be 10″x6″, but online it shrinks to about an inch on a computer screen—and even smaller on a mobile device. Given this discrepancy, you might think that the solution to this conundrum would be creating two different covers—one that works on a larger scale and one that pops at a fraction of that size. But designers warn against this. The cover is the most obvious consumer-facing branding of a book, and designers want to ensure that a reader can recognize that brand across all formats and platforms. Whether a reader sees the cover in a promotional email recommending the book, in the window as she passes her local bookstore, or online when she goes to buy it, she should see the same image every time. The consistency bolsters her relationship with the book and increases the likelihood of purchase.
More than four decades have gone by since acclaimed designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Unimark International were hired by the New York Transit Authority (now the MTA) to modernize and unify the look of the subway signage, which by Noorda’s own account “was a mess.” Cluttered with varied typefaces of different sizes and rendered on different materials from mosaic tile to a paper sign stuck to the wall, the old signage system confused more than aided travelers. In its place, Vignelli and Noorda developed a cohesive subway wayfinding system designed to promote intuitive understanding — so much so that they promised: “The passenger will be given information or directions only at the point of decision. Never before. Never after.” It did all that and more. The New York Transit Authority’s wayfinding system is still considered a masterpiece of clarity, logic, consistency, and elegant modernist design.
The accompanying 174-page Graphic Standards Manual was as brilliantly written and produced by Vignelli and Noorda. One day in 2013, two young designers at Pentagram – Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth – stumbled upon an original copy of the manual in the basement of Pentagram’s New York office. The pair found the manual so awesome that they wanted to share it with friends, so they created a dedicated website (thestandardsmanual.com) and posted scanned pages online. The site instantly went viral. Within 72 hours, more than a quarter million people visited the site. Although delighted, Reed and Smyth felt strongly that an on-screen viewing didn’t do justice to the beauty of the real Standards Manual. To truly appreciate it, they felt people should see it full size in print, and they set out to produce a book with an introduction by Vignelli protege and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and an essay by New York Magazine’s Christopher Bonanos, author of “Instant: The Story of Polaroid”.
Next week @Issue is relaunching itself; not to become something entirely new, but to return to what we saw as our editorial mission back when we started in 1994. For the first 15 years of our existence, @Issue: Journal of Business and Design was solely a print publication dedicated to demonstrating how good design is a major factor in establishing brand distinction, product desirability, customer loyalty, and ultimately business success. We featured in-depth case studies on brands that used design skillfully, and positioned ourselves as a bridge between business and design. At our peak, @Issue enjoyed a circulation nearing 100,000, with an avid following of designers, mar-com managers, corporate executives, printers and the like.
Then in 2008, the financial market collapsed, and with it our funding. To preserve the equity of our brand, we decided to publish online, which we have been doing ever since. This relaunch of @Issue online is intended to reintegrate some of the content that we had in print. We aren’t giving up the features we learned to love online, but we do plan to introduce stories that are more educational in tone to become a resource for creative inspiration and a platform for the best in design. Please stay tuned.
Only a few decades ago, a common belief was that the more contemporary the design of the label, the more mediocre the quality of the wine inside. The legendary luxury wines of Europe remained faithful to the centuries-old tradition of featuring labels with ornate script lettering, fine line engravings of chateaus, gold foil borders and corks sealed and stamped with red wax. Only upstart nouveau wineries in places like California ignored proper wine labeling etiquette by hiring graphic designers to come up with something colorful and stylish.
But perceptions have changed. Fine wines are being sold in supermarkets, online and even Costco. Wines from around the world compete for consumer attention and shelf space. The assumption that bottles with traditional labels contain better wine no longer has validity. Wine packaging and labels are projecting unique brand personalities, and not shying away from presenting a look that is bold and innovative.
Show Us Your Type is a design project created by Neue, a thrice-yearly online magazine that focuses on two things that the Neue founders say they “adore” – typography and cities. Each issue is about a different capital city, and designers are invited to submit their interpretation of the chosen city through posters that are primarily typographic. It is interesting to note what each artist sees as iconic of the culture. To look at a broader selection, go to showusyourtype.com.
These commercials aren’t selling what you think they do. They were created by London-based John Nolan Studio/Robot Factory, which boasts an impressive portfolio of film assignments including “Dr. Who” and “Where the Wild Things Are.” The Nolan’s Cheese and Nolan’s Nuts brands don’t exist, but John Nolan’s animatronic design and FX services do, and the videos show off the firm’s talent and capabilities quite effectively – little wonder that they went viral online. The cheese video came out first, and a nutty variation of the idea followed.
Clocking in at two minutes, this Honda commercial would be a very expensive ad buy on prime-time TV, but thanks to the accessibility of YouTube and Vimeo, audiences are seeking it out online. The Honda “Hands” ad starts with a cog, just like its award-winning Cog commercial (see July 24 post below). This time Honda teamed with Wieden + Kennedy London to “celebrate the curiosity of Honda engineers” who have made Honda the world’s largest engine manufacturer and racing company since it was founded in 1948. Through “slight of hand” and brilliant animation, the cog morphs into a dazzling array of products, from motorcycles and jet planes to solar-powered cars and robots. The making of this video, directed by Smith & Foulkes and Nexus Productions, is a technological feat in itself. For brands that think they don’t have the budget for such an ambitious production, consider this: Is it better to do something middle-of-the-road and run it on prime time TV or to create something awesomely original that people will “google” to see on their own. If it is good, it will go viral.
BBC Knowledge & Learning (K&L) is exploring a range of topics, from social history to science, in a series of three-minute online Explainer documentaries. In this case, London-based Territory Studio was commissioned to produce an animated film on the subject of DNA. The Territory team, led by art director/ animator William Samuel, chose a primer-like retro approach that didn’t veer off into futuristic complexities. The graphics are kept simple and elegant, using mostly circular shapes, a limited color palette and mostly circular movements to explain the double helix of DNA. The information also is succinct and accurate, with molecular biologist Dr. Matthew Adams teamed with writer Andrew S. Walsh to distill the text to the most fundamental elements required to understand how DNA functions and affects living beings.
In the world of TV advertising, the “Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon” commercial that first aired 32 years ago is a classic. Now it is back, but expanded and embellished for Internet and interactive viewing.
The latest Grey Poupon campaign started with a traditional television ad that aired on the Oscar Awards TV broadcast last Sunday. The 30-second spot, played like a trailer for the feature-length online version. Titled “The Chase,” the commercial, created by CP&B, picks up where the original left off in 1981, with two uber-rich gentlemen dining in elegance in their separate chauffeur-driven cars. As before, one gentleman leans out his window to ask the gentleman in the passing car if he had any Grey Poupon. Once he receives it, his car speeds off and that’s when the excitement begins…and leaves off. To see where the plot goes from there, viewers are told to visit the Grey Poupon website and click on the 2-minute “lost footage” version. From there, viewers are enticed to re-run the video and find the hidden “haute” spots to win prizes such as caviar and champagne flutes.
If real store personnel treated customers the way some online marketers do, this is what the experience may feel like to shoppers. Google Analytics produced this series of videos to demonstrate how online retailers are losing customers by bombarding them with too many annoying questions, offers and distractions. The videos simulate interactions with the landing page, site search and checkout. The skits are funny but too painfully true. Google Analytics implies there is hope; it directs online retailers to its blog site for improvement tips.
To introduce its new Maps game, Google+ built a real-life version of Google Maps in the shape of a gigantic yellow cube, and had two players navigate the urban maze by rolling and tilting a little blue ball across the thoroughfares to reach its destination. Created by San Francisco-based Venable Bell & Partners with New York-based 1st Ave Machine, the “Explore Your World” video promotes the online version of this game by demonstrating how it works if it were life-size.
Anyone who has ever driven in San Francisco knows how hard it is to find parking, metered or otherwise. San Francisco drivers regularly pray to the “parking gods” and sometimes feel obligated to eat at a certain restaurant — “the food is so-so, but the parking is good” — simply because there’s an open spot nearby. This situation is exacerbated because the hills are so steep that it’s preferable to use a quarter tank of gas looking for parking than having to walk up or down hill. Now the city is trying to guide drivers to open spots by graphically showing them open spaces on their mobile phones. They claim that the parking map is updated every five minutes. Ha! Since when did a parking space stay open for a full five minutes in San Francisco! Many of us are beyond skeptical, but a designer in Kit’s office says that he has tried SFPark and it works.
Lacoste has borrowed a page from real printed books, and gone one better, with this engaging online pop-up book dedicated to its founder Rene Lacoste. The six-chapter story is set to a lively ragtime tune and sound effects. Clicking on a chapter prompts visuals to pop up, and following the finger-pointing tab reveals a “gatefold” sidebar with explanatory text, old photos and vintage flim clips. A hybrid of different communications media, the online pop-up book tells the corporate story in a fresh way.
Aside from the fact that these are charming images embroidered by New York-based illustrator Jillian Tamaki, the covers of Penguin Threads Classics signal yet another move to define non-electronic publishing as more than a vehicle for communications. Traditional publishers can no longer assume that readers will stay loyal to print because e-books are harder to read due to screen glare, not offered in full-color, crippled by short battery life, limited in availability of subjects and titles, etc. Over the past year, the iPad, Kindle, Nook and other e-readers have proved otherwise, and are getting better with each iteration.