Book cover contest submissions

by Eszter Hargittai on February 13, 2009

Following up on my post from a couple of weeks ago about the book cover contest, I thought I’d post a link to the resulting 24 submissions (by now listed in order ranked by people voting on the Worth1000 site). I’m happy with the outcome, there are some really great ideas in there. (The final cover will say “Edited by” since it’s an edited volume.) Fonts, colors, various details can be changed so the idea is not necessarily to look for the perfect design. I like a friend’s reaction to all this: “I’d say my median favorite one is better than 99% of book covers I see in the bookstores.”



dave 02.13.09 at 1:55 pm

An alarmingly strong correlation there between ‘social scientists’ and overstuffed manila folders/file cabinets. No video, microphones, OCR forms, online multiple-choice tests, or indeed any other storage media than well-thumbed papers. Or in one case a carved stone tablet. Which millennium do these Photoshop gurus think we live in?

Oh, and I like the one with the creepy stone labyrinth and the just-barely-visible buried archive. But then I’m a historian.


Eszter Hargittai 02.13.09 at 2:08 pm

Dave, to be fair, that’s something I pointed out in the instructions to the contest and so it is not surprising that many ran with that theme: The client likes the idea of a photoshopped image that plays on the theme of confidential files being uncovered and disclosed. She imagines a manila folder with a “Research Confidential” stamp in red letters on the cover and sheets emerging from it on various sides. But that is just one idea. [..] It should not look like a PowerPoint template, which all too many academic book covers do! The client is open to any and all ideas.


Sarah S. 02.13.09 at 2:23 pm

Eszter –
I’m impressed with the results! I like RC2 and RC4, both by VR4Jen, but there are several nice options.


salient 02.13.09 at 3:19 pm

The first four, and the sixth, are amazing.

The first: A book for general audiences interested in the social sciences, summarizing problems in the field. I would anticipate this text to be more encyclopedic, with solutions from a wide variety of sources.

The second: A solid, informative, interesting book for undergraduates majoring in the social sciences. This book would never use the word “you” and it won’t contain exercises.

The third: A smart, witty, incisive textbook for undergraduates majoring in the social sciences. This book will address me with the word “you”. It will contain suggested exercises, most of which will ask me to think about these problems from the perspective of my own work, projects I could undertake, etc.

The fourth: A personal-stories-from-the-Front approach, meant for general audiences interested in the social sciences. This cover implies a more personal approach, with most of the solutions being proposed and defended by the author.

The sixth: Similar to the second in its effect.

The only botches were: the red-overtone cover with the pad-lock, which I think botched its metaphors and doesn’t have a good idea going, and the Egypt-vault cover, which might have a good idea going but looks poorly accomplished.


Ralph Hitchens 02.13.09 at 6:29 pm

The very first one shown spoke to me; I’d definitely pick it off a bookshelf in Borders. I recommend you avoid a dark-themed cover.


Deliasmith 02.14.09 at 8:28 pm

As a publisher of thirty-two years …

They are nearly all are faithful, literal realisations of the author’s brief.

When I was lucky enough, high enough, to have a big say about book covers I always looked for a design that was better than the author’s idea: a good designer given the right kind of brief (i.e. a note of the book’s content rather than its title) can produce a cover that is an intelligent comment on the book. And this book, of course, has the wrong title …


Kathy Gill 02.15.09 at 1:45 am

Hi, Eszter … I missed the fact that JZ used to get ideas for his cover art. I’ve reviewed the prior thread (when you announced this contest) and found the comments interesting if predictable.

Low-cost tools coupled with internet technologies are either empowering or disruptive, depending on which side of the equation you live. It’s empowering for a student developing a portfolio; for someone who enjoys design but who, perhaps, doesn’t have opportunities for a lot of creativity in her real job; for designers who live where the cost of living is less than in NYC (both inside and outside of the U.S.).

It’s disruptive to “professionals” who have had a quasi-monopoly on providing a service. I understand why AIGA guidelines prohibit work for spec; it is protecting a profession. But work for spec is not inherently “bad” — it’s what advertising and PR agencies do All The Time when they pitch a new account!

“Spec work” could be used to describe stock photography, as well. Who noticed that the cover designers made extensive use of Shutterstock, a service that is putting pressure on “professional photography” (not unlike iStockphoto, which Getty Images purchased).

Have the folks in that thread really missed the “rise of the amateur” — whether it’s SuperBowl ad contests or YouTube questions for presidential candidates?

One belated note about the title: “Research Confidential” sounds to me like a book focused on privacy issues associated with research.

Finally, I like all three covers by VR4Jen. I like the one voted #1 okay, but, I think the other “file folder” oriented designs are trite, with perhaps the exception of the blue one.


Eszter Hargittai 02.15.09 at 1:58 pm

Kathy, thanks for your thoughts on this. I agree that of course some people are going to be threatened by these new opportunities and understandably so. It’s fine for them to express their position although it would work better without the silly arguments that sometimes get attached to them.


Michael Patterson 02.15.09 at 6:10 pm

Another working graphic designer (though not of book covers) here, chiming in to endorse thelastterroir’s comment in the earlier thread, and to reply to Kathy above.

Yes, spec work is customary in many professions, but the rewards are sufficient to justify it. An architect may win a commission worth millions, an advertising agency may win an account that will provide income for years.

But it’s not customary in graphic design, and the $150 reward offered is, well, insulting.

Further, the notion that design professionals are involved in some sort of “quasi-monopoly” is absurd. Most print design in this country is done by small or one-person shops, each competing fiercely for work. Very few print designers earn enough to make an underpaid academic envious.

The computer revolution has “empowered” designers or would-be designers right into doing the work that used to be done by skilled tradespeople: color separation, typography, etc. Or, especially among even talented amateurs, not doing it–accepting the software default–which is why there is so much technically bad and often downright ugly printed matter around.

A 72 pixel-per-inch RGB (additive color) image on a computer screen does not just automatically become a 300 ppi CMYK (subtractive color) image on a book cover at the click of a mouse. Your publisher or you will need to pay someone to make that transition, which means tracking down or creating high-resolution original art, dealing with copyright and permissions, reinterpreting RGB colors that don’t exist in the ink-and-paper world, etc. There’s a good chance that your $150 cover design will end up costing at least as much in the end as hiring a designer with these skills–or else looking lousy.

That’s the end of my rant, but here’s one further bit of (altogether friendly) advice: test any prospective design by mocking it up on an actual book and going to a bookstore to look at it in place.

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