Graphic design, like any creative business, is a lot of work; in part because the possibilities are limitless and making small improvements can go on forever. In college I was undisciplined with editing and found myself sitting alone in the computer lab after 3:00 am every night. (I’m sure that all of you writers, filmmakers, photographers, etc. know exactly what I’m talking about.)
After ten years in the business, I’ve learned when to stop. I’ve learned which projects require more time and which require less; which require more research on the backend and which require more action on the front; and, perhaps the most valuable skill, I’ve learned how to work fast—especially when I’m not getting paid.
I recently entered a book cover design contest where working fast was essential, mostly because I was on the verge of going into labor but also because my instinct told me my style didn’t match the author’s intent. I wondered if I should enter the contest at all, but since it presented yet another opportunity for my unemployed, stay-at-home-mom ass to get a design workout, I went ahead and created a contest entry anyway:
The author had some interesting requirements. He felt it important for the book cover to have images of people, money, or open doors and to suggest attraction; yet he didn’t want images of fish or boats (see book title). So, one of my challenges was to come up with a design concept that was relevant to the book title without being overly literal. My solution? Turn dollar signs into “fish” and show them attracted to, and enthusiastically swimming upstream toward, “your boat.”
Another dilemma was the lengthy, almost confusing, book title. How do I get someone to stop and read the entire title and understand what the book is about? There were several solutions here. One was to keep the text clean and legible, and another was to highlight words that needed emphasis. Also, since the book’s subheading, as opposed to the title, makes it much clearer that it’s a marketing book, it was important for me to create a visual relationship between the two blocks of text, hence the swimming dollar signs that move your eye from top to bottom. I was also able to emphasize the subheading with a lighter blue background but didn’t make it so bold that it steals the show from the book’s title.
Lastly, it’s a marketing book, so it’s important for the book cover to convey a sense of authority as well as look up-to-date. Thus I was very careful not to use imagery or type treatments that would make the whole thing hokey; everything is very clean, strong, and midway between modern and classic.
I didn’t win the contest.
I’m perfectly alright with that, for two reasons. One, that’s the risk I take with design contests. I’m aware that my chances of winning are slim. Two, since I understood that risk involved, I didn’t let myself spend a lot of time on this project. I only allowed myself to go as far as I needed to create something good. Could it have been better? Heck, yeah. It could have been a whole lot better.
This is the design that won: