Friday, 9 October 2009

A Cover Story...

This week our fantastic designer, Daniel Raven Clift, talks about the challenges of designing jackets for audio downloads.

Although it may be hard to believe, given my youthful appearance, this year I celebrated 15 years in the design industry. It’s been a slog I can tell you, but one of the things I’ve always loved about my job is the variety. I’m usually working on something different every day and, over the years, I’ve dipped my toes (and tried to make a splash) in many business sectors. I hadn’t worked in audio publishing before, so when Ali and Lorelei asked me to create the cover designs for their Lowdown series, I was cock-a-hoop.

Designing the cover for an audio download is no straightforward task. Of course, you’re not actually designing a cover at all, rather a postage stamp-sized picture to sit on a webpage among other postage stamp-sized pictures. The need to stand out is obviously important. One advantage we immediately had was that we were creating our designs from scratch – have a look at any audio download site and you’ll see that many audiobooks adapted from print simply use a scaled-down version of the book (or CD) jacket for their online thumbnail. Although this will undoubtedly give consistency between a digital download and its physical counterpart, it can – and usually does – suffer with legibility and standout issues. With Creative Content’s titles, we were able to start with a blank canvas (albeit a tiny one) and have in mind, from the outset, that anything we came up with had to grab someone’s attention straight away and tell them at a glance – not a squint – what the title was all about.

Clear typography was an essential part of creating the look for the Lowdown series. With titles like ‘Improve your Speech’ and ‘Business Etiquette’ that encourage you to communicate clearly, we had to ensure that the design echoed this. And, once again, as we were creating a brand new design, we were able to avoid cluttering with reams of text that would have undoubtedly turned into a microscopic, illegible blur on screen. Likewise, any visual imagery had to be unfussy and eyecatching; we used stock illustration to bring the covers to life and give a cohesive look across all of the titles.

The use of colour was also very important and I soon discovered that Lorelei, in particular, is no shrinking violet* where her views on it are concerned. In fact, I fondly recall one afternoon where we were trying to get the right shade of pink for a cover design; the flurry of emails went along the lines of: ‘just a teensy more yellow’ and ‘almost, but slightly less red’. As I was changing the colour, I remembered a story she told me about making her husband paint the same room eight times to get the right shade of white, so I counted myself lucky that all I had to contend with was a few clicks of the mouse. Of course, we achieved perfection eventually and, I have to admit, she was right… as usual!

When we created the first cover designs, the one thing I wanted was to be able to instantly spot a Lowdown title among the competition, and having a browse through some of the audio sites, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. And seeing one of the original cover designs on the iTunes bestseller list is something that gives me a little thrill every time I think about it… which is at least every couple of minutes.
- Daniel Raven Clift
We'd love to know what you think: How important is book jacket design?
*Violet? Not sure, Dan . Could we try something with a bit more blue? - Lorelei

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