by Amy Middleton
What convinces a reader to pick up a book? As writers, we are told that the opening line, in particular, is meant to pull them in and hopefully convince them to stay for a while. Being that it is the first thing any reader would read, it seems obvious that the opening line is the answer, but if you ask a graphic designer, you would probably get a very different answer. As both a writer and a designer, I am, of course, often in a stalemate when it comes to this question. The designer says that without a beautiful cover no one will even be willing to read the actual words. The writer says that if the words are beautiful even poor design wouldn’t dissuade a reader.
So what exactly is poor design? This might seem an intimidating question for people with little formal knowledge of graphic design practices, but really we all know poor design when we see it. In the example below, “Citilife St.Petersburg,” anyone can see that the cover is unreadable and overwhelming. The title of the magazine, for example, uses three different typefaces against a background of bright yellow and red, making the words even more difficult to read. The words of the heading are also distorted, or stretched. While it’s possible to distort words and use different types or bright colors on their own, the text is visually overwhelming when these elements are piled on top of one another. It is an essential skill of a graphic designer to know when a little bit of funky design crosses the line.
In the example “Billboard,” we can see how a good designer pays attention to where they employ different typefaces and distortions. Using a large, distinct typeface for the title of the magazine ensures it’s recognizable and readable. Variations in typeface are used for creating categories of subtitles and pull quotes, conveying a hierarchy of information. Distortion is used not to make the words on the page look any different from their original typeface, but to work with the cover photo. Just by that slight tilt, the words are cleanly working with the photo to create a more alluring and interesting design than if they were straight.
Subtle and clean cover design doesn’t mean boring, as many people worry. It is simply a good practice for readability. A good designer knows how to create a cover that is both interesting and polished, the perfect balance to convince a reader to actually pick up the book and open to the first page.
When it comes to enticing a reader to pick up a book or magazine, we will always judge it by its cover. Unless a reader is looking for a specific writer, the cover has to be visually interesting enough to get the reader’s attention. Obviously, content does matter, but good design is what inspires a reader browsing in the bookstore to pick up a book in the first place. There is no opening line good enough to convince a reader to read without a well designed cover because they need to open the book first.