The Living Cover
This may be obvious, but we like being reminded that things change, move, are alive. Alive is more attractive than static. Sure static things can be beautiful in a quiet and ideal way. But if you are a living person, you know that life is flawed and changing, especially at it's best. Maybe that's why, when a designer makes a choice to activate their cover and breathe some genuine life into it, it's memorable.
Recently, when I saw this cover for The Walls Around Us (designed by Connie Gabbert) I decided to write about what makes "alive" covers so appealing.
Reading a book is not a static experience. If you are reading a well-written, well-edited book you're in for a trip. Sure you may be sitting in one place, but the book is meant to take you from point A to point B. Point A is before you know anything about the book and point B is whatever insight or adventure the book can deliver. So an active cover is a promise, like an unused ticket. It's going somewhere. Are you going with it? Maybe it's heading through an exciting plot. Maybe there are detours you never saw coming. Maybe you'll meet people you'd never meet if you'd decided against the journey. And most importantly, don't you want to know what's at the last stop?
I once nervously met with an art director in his office. I was looking for work and during our awkward meeting, he asked me what I thought of some covers he had designed, which were up on his wall.
This was obviously a minefield of a question. I smiled, having no idea of what he expected me to say about them. There were a lot of versions of a single idea. All executed in a pretty straightforward style. Only one cover jumped out at me. It was clearly one he had spent some time on. The type varied in size and alignment, it was practically dancing. I pointed at that cover. "I like that one", I said in a small voice and followed it up with a child-like observation, and “It’s got motion. It's alive." I don't remember all that much about the rest of that meeting. But I remember that cover.
Over the years, I've collected some great alive covers on Book Design Heroines. Here are some of my favorites. There are clearly journeys inside of these books.