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Ten Years a Cover Designer

2014 July 5
by Matt

I am approaching ten years of professional book cover design. As it happens, this 10th anniversary summer looks like it will also see the continued, slow winding-down of that work, at least for the time being. At this moment, I don’t have any open, in-progress front cover designs for the first time in years, probably. For all of these reasons, this seems like an appropriate time for a look back. What have I to show for my decade (hopefully not my only decade) of creative effort?

Among other things, I have a lot of cover designs. It’s hard to say exactly how many, given that there’s no easy way to say what counts as a genuinely new cover design by me; there’s a good deal of fuzziness in practice. Plus, OS X 10.9 seems to have dispensed with any easy way to count the number of items in an open window (god dammit, Apple). But I think 200 probably wouldn’t be an overestimate by much, if any.

Of these, I’ve decided to pull out highlights, starting with a top ten. I’ve basically been doing this for a while, of course, here and in my formal online portfolio and in The Inside-Out Book, and many of the same designs reappear. But, for whatever it’s worth, this will stand as my “official top ten cover designs after ten years” list, in no particular order. The first half follows…

Front cover of Equine Genomics

A, T, G, C

This one has featured here on the blog already. In fact, I had forgotten until just now that this was an almost unheard-of “hole in one,” approved with no changes on the first go. That alone makes it highlight-worthy, and combined with what I feel is a very good design it’s probably as good a selection as any for the top of this officially unordered list. As I noted at the time, it was also a rare occasion of me going crazy with multiple photos; on many occasions I have been required to shoehorn lots of images into a cover, but this time I actually volunteered. I feel that it works very well. I’ve done a number of genetics covers, and the nearly obligatory DNA strands are here, but they play only a small supporting role for once. Text (look it up) reinforces the concept, in addition to providing Matrix-esque texture. Most prominent, though, many small images of horses nicely communicate the key information that this book covers 1) horsies, and 2) genetics, visually represented as much through the theme-and-variation that sexual reproduction produces as through its molecular mechanics.

Cover to Crop Adaptation to Climate Change

Subtitle: “We’d better hope…”

This one thrives in subtle ways. No high concept, or flashy intricate design. I think the selection and placement of photos works well, though; fortunately I was mostly choosing my own, which usually helped. Likewise the color palette feels just right. …I guess all of these have been on the blog already, by the way…

Front cover of Systems Biology and Livestock Science

Yes, another entry from my blue phase

Also discussed here on the blog, already. I don’t have a lot of new comments to add, although in context here it makes for an interesting contrast with the preceding. In this case, most of my images were provided, and most of those weren’t incredibly arresting, visually, either. This one has a clever concept (even if few people but me would ever see it). It’s densely layered and busy… but I believe it also holds together well as a design. (Thank you, conspiratorial mystics of long ago.) When the terrain varies, you go with the terrain

Front cover of Ecological Aspects of Nitrogen Metabolism in Plants

Dirt, bugs, germs!

Previously seen here. So, based on this first five, (in my own judgment) I made a lot of hay with “science” covers, I guess. Probably various significances to that; I like to think that one of them is that my formal and informal studies in science have not been entirely wasted, even from a strictly professional perspective. (Thanks for creating an Advanced Bio course while I was in high school, Mr. D.) This cover is definitely a case of scientific justification saving a design, I would say; my client was going to nix the colored band until I explained that it’s the spectral lines of nitrogen. Admittedly I don’t know precisely what that means, but I got to keep it and thereby, I think, saved this cover which would have been pretty mlleaahhhh without it. It’s still a bit of a compromise; that isn’t where I intended the title to go, but I guess it’s okay. Most of the interest was/is in the lower 2/5 of the cover anyway.

Front cover of Molecular Markers in Plants

Oh. Henry!

So, yes, five for five here; I really did go back through every cover, but I suppose that in the end my preferences haven’t really varied that much over the years. Well, fair enough. Here, again, I was mostly left to my own devices to choose photos and produce whatever layout I liked. I suppose in that case it isn’t shocking that I’m pleased with the result. But I am. I think color and shape combine for a nice flow throughout the cover, and the black background is striking; for various reasons I hardly ever did this, but in this case that hand and test-tube were on a black background, and I think extending it to the entire cover really adds to a sense of depth and life.

Part two, next…

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