Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Case Study: The Advent of Evangelicalism cover

This is a project I completed a few months back, but it has occurred to me that it provides some useful examples of the range of sensibilities and breadth of knowledge that an effective design solution often demands. Starting with the most obvious, a successful designer must of course possess a competent grasp of the principles of visual communication: rhythm, proportion, balance, color, etc. But a truly successful designer is no mere visual arranger; compelling design must accomplish much the same things that a compelling poem must do. The best design trades in currency minted of metaphors, allusions and associations. In fact, though graphic design is usually thought of in strictly visual terms, it can in many respects be said to bridge the gap between the literary and the visual arts since it deals very heavily in both words and imagery. In addition, a reasonably well-rounded knowledge that extends into other spheres and disciplines (science, mathematics, literature, music, history, religion, etc.) often proves a very handy thing for a designer to have. That sounds pretty lofty, and the truth is that (thankfully, in fact) not every job is that demanding—sometimes the basic skills of a decent visual arranger are enough to get you by. But it’s certainly nice to be able to take advantage of the opportunities when the job calls for a bit more thoughtfulness.

Case in point: this project was a redesign of an academic title which originally released in Great Britain.

The book is a scholarly re-examination and assessment of the relationship between the Christian evangelical movement and the Enlightenment, both of which came into their own in the eighteenth century—rather heady stuff, to be sure. (Though I myself admit to having some degree of unprovoked interest in the topic, I suspect that places me on the outer fringes of the bell curve.) The publisher wanted something a bit more, shall we say, “inviting” than the original cover design, in the hopes that someone (other than myself) without a PhD in Theology might be persuaded to pick it up, at least.

I provided three initial designs to the client: one tending toward elegant, the second rather understated or even minimalist, and a third adopting a more edgy and contemporary grunge attitude. The first was the initial favorite until concerns began to be raised that the scope of the material was broader than was suggested by the use of the single period image (of John Wesley). Finding and securing rights to additional images of that kind (along the lines of what was done on the original, British edition) proved to be unfruitful, and so the second concept, the one with the open window, was moved to the number one slot and came out on top at the end.

Now, I can hear some folks muttering that I pulled a fast one over on the client here by throwing together some run-of-the-mill type and a rather blithely irrelevant image, probably blowing a good deal of smoke in the form of trumped-up rationalizations and explanations in the process in an attempt to sell the concept. Actually, not at all. While this concept is the most simply executed of the three on the one hand, it is also the most thoughtfully executed on the other. The open window and the breeze-blown curtain allude to the Evangelical movement as a genuine “breath of fresh air” within the broader context of Christianity and to the Great Awakenings of the period as much-needed revivals and stirrings of God’s Spirit. (The word “spirit” carries the literal meaning of “breath” or “wind” in all the important ancient languages—Hebrew, Greek and Latin—and appropriately, the work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is often accompanied by wind, e.g. Acts 2.) The image is also carefully cropped such that the muntins of the window at the upper right suggest a cross. As a final stroke, the font used on this cover was given special consideration: it is Baskerville, originally cut by Englishman John Baskerville in the 1750s—a thoroughgoing Enlightenment typeface if ever there was one—and its choice is intended to subtly reinforce the ties to the historical period with which the work is concerned.

Of course, probably fewer than one peruser out of a hundred will correctly identify all of those allusions and associations (particularly the last), but that really isn’t the point. Their sum total lends the sort of synergistic confidence to the design itself which generally speaks affirmingly to the onlooker, whether or not he or she can articulate precisely why, and that is what makes such subtleties an important part of the design process. And at any rate, I at least know they’re there—and now that I’ve spelled out my intentions as the designer after the fact, you do as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment