VISCOM IN GD / Judge a Book Cover by Its Cover / Term 3, Week 1

We went on a mini trip to Kinokuniya bookstore to take a look at and compare different book covers on the shelves, pick 10 books that caught our attention and analyse how each of them visually communicates the genre / title / content of the book using image, illustration and typeset.

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Brief descriptions on the visual properties of the 10 book covers that I chose to analyse

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This cover of Agatha Christie’s crime-mystery novel shows a dog staring at the yellow ball from a a distance. I think this imagery, in relation to the title, is clever and it gets the point across to its audience almost immediately. By taking a look at the cover for a while, I figured out that the dog had most probably witnessed a crime and was the sole witness to it. The dog is obviously unable to communicate it to the people who were investigating the crime. It is brought into imagery by the dog staring from a distance at something (that stands out, clearly not in place, shown by the difference the ball’s color), just standing and not knowing what to do, being an idle witness, a dumb witness. The concept to visualising a sort of teaser to the book’s content is nicely done, and it’ll surely attract the attention of mystery novel lovers. (Strength, Opportunity)

The dog does, however, look kind of too detailed for the overall 2D (with only slight shadows) look of the cover. The typeface chosen for the title is maybe too modern, since it doesn’t compliment the flowery, vintage patterned backdrop at the upper half of the book (looks like a wallpaper to a setting from the story, perhaps a room in a mansion). (Weakness)  

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When compared to the books placed beside it in the shelves, Dumb Witness look the most simple and direct. Although it stands out on its row, thanks to the typeface used for the title and the dark color, some readers may want to buy a book with covers that look more interesting with brighter colors and more elements like Murder in the Mews placed right beside it. (Threat)

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China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan seems to be a novel which falls straight into the romance comedy genre. The illustration of the book cover is very straight forward – a female with Asian features (yellow skin, black hair, black sunglasses which is shaped upwards instead of the actual narrow slanted eyes that Asians are stereotyped for) adorned with red (the color of luck, prosperity and fortune commonly used by Chinese) jewelries. The image is done by vector illustration, not much details but sufficient to get the idea across. Usage of modern sans serif font compliments the minimalist illustration, although the weight could be more varied because it looks slightly boring at a glance. (Weakness)

Judging from the cover alone, it will attract readers who are looking for some rom-com stories, although the book’s content itself may not be about that at all! It could be a book purely describing how wealthy, Chinese girlfriend are and answer FAQs on engaging in romantic relationship with Chinese females. (Threat)

Thankfully, the book is in fact a rom-com novel, and is a sequel to previous successfully acclaimed novel Crazy Rich Asians. Because of the previous’ book success, it would attract the right audience. Vibrant color and minimalist on the book cover will attract young women readers, compared to male readers who often prefer realistic and more dramatic imagery. The reason why I chose to analyse this book cover is because the color palette looks great (contrast of the background and vector is refreshing), and the simple illustration looks cute. (Opportunities, Strength)

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(The cover I’m analysing is the one placed on the left)

Most often, book covers need images to get the idea of the book across to the readers. In this Bloomberg Businessweek’s edition, however, no pictures were used at all, the mood of the book is entirely set by the daunting dominant red-black color usage and the strong quote. The layout of the cover looks nice, asymmetrical proprotions with emphasis on the lower right side of the page. It maintains to look interesting even without the aid of images and the red backdrop distinguishes it effectively from the rest of the magazines on the row. (Strength)

The strong quote would be the strong reason for people to purchase this magazine, which pretty much limits the market to people who are into business and politic world and interested to know more about the rest of it. In comparison to the edition on the right, which looks a lot more fun with vibrant colors and attracts different people into viewing the cover of the magazine, this red-black edition of Bloomberg’s Businessweek is limited to certain types of audiences / readers only due to the lack of visual aid. (Weakness, Threat)

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This Japanese novel entitled Queen Pirates seem to heavily adapt western mythology and features into its story. It used a blackletter style typeface for its English title and even incorporate blackletter or goth features to the kanji female (fourth character). I like how they emphasised western characteristics to the cover by typeset, not solely by the visual. (Strength) The theme of the book that is clearly conveyed on the cover will attract readers looking for some medieval, pirate-themed fantasy story with perhaps some romance drama. (Opportunity)

The focal point of the cover seems to be the weapon aligned at the center of the page because of its dominant color and details. As a non-native Chinese speaker/reader, I find the kanji overwhelming at the center of the page and kind of crowds the composition. Even though the weapon is supposed to be the focal point of the composition, I can’t seem to place my eyes somewhere definite on this cover. Although it is very eye catching on the shelves, it looks slightly too much when paid close attention to. (Weakness) This could put off non-native readers who make decision on purchasing the book by the cover. (Threat)

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This book “London in Fifty Design Icons” features an undeniably iconic British ‘thing’, the Underground signage. Complimented with pink tint that surrounds the whole book which also overlaid the image of the signage, and sans serif font placed on the opposite alignment to the signage, the book cover looks very modern and minimalist in a way that is pleasant to the eye. It is simple and the image says a lot without having to even try. The book stands out from the row of design books dominantly white-blue-black-gray-yellow colored it is placed on. The book definitely attracts younger audiences and the size of the book, which is considerably small for a design book, is a plus. (Strength, Opportunity) 

However attractive minimalism looks, this book cover comes across almost too feminine due to the dominant pink hue and polite-looking layout. This can limit the audience to only female readers, although not definitely, as gender norms are slowly being broken. (Weakness, Threat) 

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This book stood out to me as I was passing by the shelf because all other books placed beside it looked serious, with image of the country’s iconic building / scenery as the cover. The page is framed nicely by the (presumably) Arabian man’s upper half of face (this gives the identity to the book cover) and the black peci created a bold contrast, while the blue as the backdrop gave a nice accent to the overall look. His eye is staring out of the cover, as if creating direct eye contact with viewers. From a show (I think it was Crowd Control) I watched in National Geographic a while ago, I learned that characters on children cereal boxes are always drawn to stare downwards, because kids who pass by the box are usually shorter than the shelf it is placed on and would gaze up. Apparently this is a marketing technique so that children who saw the character on the box staring at them would be begging for the cereal to be bought; all because of the eye contact from the illustrated character in front of the cereal box.

 (Note how all the irises are drawn downwards)

I feel like the same thing applies to the “Being Arab” book cover- the eye contact attracts people and lead them to pick the book up from among the others. (Strength) In addition to that, the book cover looks the most casual out of all the others thanks to the title that looks handwritten with calligraphy marker, so people who are looking for something easier to read might buy this book. (Opportunity)

On the other hand, the casual looking cover is pretty misleading and people can’t really tell the genre by looking at it alone. It is in fact a book of Arab’s political and cultural exploration written by journalist Samir Kassir. The book cover, to me, looks more like a novel about teenage boy in Arab, telling his story about his life as an Arabian. Perhaps the cover is a bit too out of context and is inaccurate to what the book is about. (Weakness, Threat.) 

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The strength to this book cover lies at its beautiful vector illustration, soothing colors with deep shadow and beautiful scene that captures attention of viewer right away. Title is center aligned at the top of the page, typeface simple but bold with size that is fairly small in proportion to its book size as not to compete with the detailed vector illustration which acts as the main focus of the cover. The cover is promising to the content lies beyond it, and it surely invites people to buy the book – because they’re looking for quality interior / architecture design, or simply just for the sake of it. (Strength, Opportunity)

The cover, however, has very little information on what the book is about (although released by Taschen, it should be some sort of a design book) and depending on the price people might be hesitant to get a copy of the thick, hardcover book for themselves. (Weakness, Threat) 

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With snake representing death (venom, deadly, ‘death’ of mankind without sin in Biblical sense) and a sunset to symbolise that time is nearing the end (the appointment is near), this cover cleverly conveys / interpret the message of the book’s title Appointment with Death. The color scheme red-orange-pale yellow is used, and the red along with the snake’s eye added a deadly vibe to the cover. In a shelf filled with Agatha Christie’s book, all of which have similar characteristics to their cover designs, it is very hard for readers to even begin to choose a book which synopsis they’d want to read. Appointment with Death attracted me among the rest (after Dumb Witness) because of how the title is visualised and symbolised by two elements – the snake and sunset). The direct, simple cover illustration which conveys the idea of the book will surely attract mystery novel lovers, and the very portable size of the book is a plus point as well. (Strength, Opportunity)

The typeface used feels kind of weak to me, and doesn’t really help boost the appearance of the cover. Perhaps with a little more strength and less gentle curves on the type, it’d further emphasise the death, mystery theme that the book is about. (Weakness)

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This is probably my favorite pick of the day- I love how the silhouette, added with a pair of curved up lips alone can show how wicked the lady in the cover is. The hue of green that is used on this cover helps add the wicked feel to it, as this particular green is often associated with poison (something that doesn’t taste good on mouth) slash the concoction that evil witches would create in Disney movies. The elements on this cover interests me – how the woman in white is whispering to the sinister woman in black as if she is her messenger, although white is usually associated with goodness! I think they’re playing a bit with juxtaposed placement of things, and if passerby were as interested with this strange fact as much as I do, they’d be interested to see what’s more. (Strength, Opportunity)

The typeface of the title could be more suitable, although this one isn’t completely bad as it is solid, bold and makes itself recognisable amongst the illustration and other text. The cover feels like it has too much text in it, and the heavy center alignment doesn’t help this. Compared to other books on the shelf, this is the only one with vector illustration (other than another book she authored as well) and this might drive older readers away since they might think this book is intended for young adults. (Weakness, Threat)

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The image of a big mansion behind a fancy gate to represent “great expectation” hits me hard when I saw this cover. Because people do expect great things when they are presented with great things. When they’re standing behind a beautiful gate waiting to enter a giant mansion, they can only expect great things – but what lies inside is only known once they’ve stepped into it. I think the concept to it is simple, direct but everyone of any age can relate to. Since this is a classic book, they’d have to make the cover interesting enough for readers of this era to buy and I think they’ve done it nicely. People would be able to relate to the feeling of expecting great things just from the grandeur of it and would be interested to know what is actually inside- will it live up to their expectations or not? Not having read the book before, I can’t really tell how the cover relates further with the story. (Strength, Opportunity)  

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