The Art and Science of Cover Design

August 19th, 2014 by Potato

The cover to Potato’s Short Guide to DIY Investing is something I designed myself one weekend. It’s fairly uninspired in terms of layout: block lettering on the top for the title, a fairly plain image, and then my name. It’s black-on-white so a bit more dull than the typical book, but I think the art piece of my physical $10 bill origami bunnies (with hand-drawn eyes and whiskers — no photoshop there) overlaid on the graph that forms the central message of the book was, well, pretty good. I mean, the book even heavily featured bunnies so it works well.

Still, it does look kinda amateurish in hindsight. So I’ve retained an artist friend to help me create a wonderful new cover design for [new book: title to be announced soon]. I’m trying to come up with some ideas of where to start.

Many personal finance books fall into a few basic categories for cover designs. You have your author lounging in a suit ones, like Preet Banerjee’s, Dave Chilton’s, Peter Lynch’s, Jim Cramer’s, and a whole host of others. Then there’s the really, really ridiculously long title so that the whole book cover is just text school of thought, like Rob Carrick’s and Gordon Pape’s. Some are more academic: plain, with some text decoration at most, like the Intelligent Investor (some editions, anyway) and the Little Book of… series, but not as crowded as the other textual school of thought. Then there is the Cult of the CGI Piggy Bank, which covers nearly every other personal finance book out there. I think Millionaire Teacher had one of the more unique covers, but I can’t say whether that actually helped it sell copies.

So in preliminary discussions on how the cover should be designed this time I’ve decided that I’m not going with the lounging-in-a-suit type cover: no one knows me, and I’m not that pretty. The pig is out, that is just a complete non-starter for me.

Rather than plain white the base of the cover will include some colour. I don’t know if I will go with a conventional title on top, framed image in the middle, author on the bottom, or something else — we’ll play with it. A refresh of the bunnies is possible (not necessarily origami money), but now the bunnies occupy much less of the book*.

A maple leaf is in. Everyone agrees on that, and many can’t believe I didn’t work one in to the first book’s cover. A clear oversight on my part for a book focused on Canadians — though at least my bunny origami was made from a recognizably Canadian $10 bill. How else are they to know? (Other than reading the synopsis, that is.)

Beyond bunnies I’m having trouble of thinking of anything unique and creative related to this book. How do you say, in a visually appealing way, that this book will walk you through investing in a friendly and helpful way? How do you say that this will help you cut out the noise and focus on what matters? Is there a visual metaphor for “index fund good” or “here there be ETFs”? Or should I bring in tropes from other genres, like a long-haired man with oiled musculature ripping asunder the bodice of a flushing maiden arching her back with an impossible curve? Spaceships flying through asteroids and nebulae (mentioned nowhere in the book)? A full moon with mist on the moor?

Actually, let’s revisit that assumption: is unique and creative something to shoot for at all? There are hundreds of personal finance books out there, but maybe if I get too creative with the cover it won’t look like a PF book (or like a respectable one)? Have these few tropes evolved for a reason?

Any brainstorming thoughts or suggestions to add?

Note: if I get a publisher they will likely take care of the cover art. But I’m proceeding as though it will be self-published before the end of 2014 until I have a contract in my hands to the contrary.

* - All the existing bunnies made it over to the new book, but there are no additional bunnies despite the near-tripling in length, so proportionately fewer bunnies.

7 Responses to “The Art and Science of Cover Design”

  1. save. spend. splurge. Says:

    How bout a maple-leaf coloured bunny? Like a white bunny but the coat is the Canadian flag.

    :) Honestly book covers draw me in only if they’re interesting. If they look boring (with just a title) I am less likely to pick it up and read it. A maple leaf bunny might be interesting, especially if it’s sitting on a pile of gold coins or Canadian money…

    Then again what do I know? I like bunnies.

  2. save. spend. splurge. Says:

    (Also, I thought the cover art of the folded bunny was a crane… not a bunny. Then I looked closer and realized it was a bunny face)

  3. Netbug Says:

    How about one cartoon guy chasing a dollar sign and another relaxing and making the money work for him (like bring him a drink or something)?

  4. Sandi Says:

    Bunnies! Oh my lord, and all this time my (untrustworthy) eyes thought they were cranes.

    My vote is always (always) original > Man in Suit with Words, but - as usual - I have no actually useful “original” ideas, except to ask that the cover, no matter what it looks like, have a matte finish.

  5. Potato Says:

    Clearly I am not very good at origami.

  6. Sandi Says:

    Clearly I am not very good at seeing things. Potato/potahto

  7. Potato Says:

    No, it’s the origami. Others are also remarking that they thought they were cranes (including S.S.S.above here and others offline).

    Though to be fair, 99% of all origami is in the form of cranes.