Off the Grid

This week’s lecture was all about practical book design. I feel that I have a significant head start in this area because InDesign is not so different from an HTML editing client and I have plenty of experience on that front. Once I learned the controls setting up a book grid was simple. The most difficult element of this is remembering to check and recheck book dimensions. Once certain of those it is a fairly simple matter of setting up the sheet and then applying the grid setting and dimensions. The most picky part for me was applying the guide marks for the printer. That is quite time consuming, however once it is done it is done.

I am now beginning to see how book design operates. Each section of the cover, front and spine is treated as a separate section and it is essentially like piecing together a jigsaw. Whilst the design process is a long way removed from the pleasant enjoyment of a good book cover it makes perfect sense to treat it this way. Printing requires precision and clear instructions so however arty and aesthetically pleasing the outcome may be, producing it is a matter of clear and distinct instructions and processes. Perhaps in the end that is the designer’s dilemma, to be able to understand the artistic direction of a brief, to interpret it practically in a way that can be mass produced, and in turn to be able to then turn that into technical data that is essentially an engineering specification sheet. In this sense the designer is quite the jack-of-all-trades, one with a finger in many pies. I am enjoying this immensely and feel able to apply what I have learned to my own work. Beauty In The Universe Books will benefit immensely from this module.

Book cover analysis

Today I have opted to do an analysis of the cover of my favourite book, John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. It just shades The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for me as literary perfection. Wyndham’s book has never been out of print and thus there are many different covers, so I have chosen to analyse three.

triffids-1  triffids-3triffids-2

The first one is pretty awful in my opinion. The Triffids look like huge testicles in front of a castle. This has all the hallmarks of a rushed cover in my opinion, probably a cheap and cheerful edition. The font is rather uninspiring and the colours are drab. There is little to say about this cover that is good.

The second cover is an attempt to allude to the story. The text adds a little drama to the cover, however I am curious to know why the author name has been omitted. The peak of the fame of this text came in the 1980’s when the BBC televised it for the first time. Wyndham has always been surprisingly anonymous even though his work is far more influential than one might imagine so I can only assume that at the time of publication the book was a bigger name than the author. What lets this cover down, however, is the drawing of protagonist’s Bill Masen’s face. It is rather cartoon-like and again looks rushed. A great deal is made of his predicament in the hospital at the start and it becomes central to the book, however this design makes it look whimsical. The book is genuinely terrifying and so this has to go down as a good idea poorly executed.

Finally, the last cover gets it right in my opinion. I love the colours that distinguish the Triffids clearly as non-human. Given that a major theme of the book is the usurpation of humans at the apex of the food chain this works well. I also like the pulp, comic book feel of this. The introduction to the Walking Dead is a clear homage to this book and it is a graphic novel so there is a clear comic book trope available to exploit here and this cover does it well. The text is dramatic, with Wyndham’s name resembling the text used for the TV show Space 1999, which possibly dates this cover, and the sense of horror is conveyed in the title. Finally, the anonymous dead body says so much about the story. Not only is the Triffid utterly dominant, towering over it, again an allusion to the central theme, but the anonymity of the John Doe corpse again conveys the horror of humanity being relegated to history as just another extinct species. This is a superb cover in my opinion.


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