Saturday 26 November 2011

Underneath the cover, the…

Over the summer, for some reason, I ended up reading a lot of hardback books. Biographies and autobiographies mostly. Doing so, I got to thinking about dust jackets, and how most were really poorly designed, and were only there to make the book stand out on Waterstones' bookshelves. These flimsy paper wraps really don't offer any real protection to the hard casing, as was their original intention.

How these jackets helped the books stand out from other biographies seems difficult to comprehend as well, considering many follow a pattern of large cropped portrait of the author/subject with large sans serif type writ large, such as the cover for Andy Kershaw's painfully honest autobiography.

On removing these covers, and I always take a peek, you generally discover an equally dull hard case with the title printed large on the spine.

Interestingly, at the same time I was having these thoughts about dust jackets, Ben Terrett of Noisy Decent Graphics blogged about the topic, stating that the first thing he does on getting a hard backed book is to throw away the dust jacket, (link below).

I can see his point, but I prefer to keep mine covered, despite the fact that the jackets become tatty over the course of reading the book. The main reason being that the flaps work as great place savers. I'm not a fan of book marks or torn scraps of paper wedged in between pages. I somehow lose them during the course of reading a book—I'm never quite sure how this happens because the book marks should surely stay with the books! Also, I'm never quite sure what to do with them when I'm in-between books. Paperbacks aren't a problem, as I commit the mortal sin, (according to some people), of turning down the corner of the page I'm on. Unless, of course, it's a book I've borrowed—I do have some respect.

So while I do see dust jackets as mostly pointless, they do have their uses. However, what does really annoy me is when the dust jacket is exactly the same as an image wrap on a hard case. The otherwise excellent Design Series Format by Brian Webb is a perfect example of this.

However, there are gems out there that demonstrate how dust jackets can become an integral part of the design. For example, Ann and Paul Rand made the most in their children's books, Sparkle And Spin and Little 1. Sparkle And Spin literally sparkles, by incorporating a glitter ink as an element within the design.

And if you take a peak underneath the jacket, which I always do with any books I pick up, you find the image wrap is different from the jacket and there's the lovely personal touch of the author's signatures.

In the case of Little 1, no pun intended, when you remove the jacket, you discover a rather lovely illustration on the red cloth bound book.

Despite liking the image itself for its simplistic beauty, what really chimes with me about this is that it makes the whole book interactive, and creates a reveal within the construct of the artefact. As both child and adult, this tactic has always engaged me and made me feel more personally attached to an item. That act of discovery on the part of the user is an important design device that helps to bond them with the product on a deeper emotional level. Without the dust jacket, this would just become the cover image—nice as it is—but I wager it wouldn't carry the same impact.

Of course, designers should always be looking for ways to utilise all components, especially in times of environmental concerns. The Design Series Format books seem incredibly wasteful when thinking along these lines. If you insist of having a dust jacket that is going to be printed on, then at least do something with it. An example I came across several years ago is Change The World For A Fiver, which incorporates a poster on the inside of its dust jacket.

I thought it strange when I bought it that this paperback book should have an extra wrapper, but on getting it home and looking under the cover, I discovered why.

A more recent example I've found is The Beach Beneath The Street by McKenzie Wark. This is in keeping with the situationist metaphor, 'underneath the paving stones, the beach', (referring to the sand beneath the paving slabs that student demonstrators, in Paris May 1968, ripped up to throw at riot police). The difference being that in book form, underneath the book jacket lies a graphic novel, which helps to contextualise some of the theories contained within the writing in the book.

Wikipedia on dust jackets
Ben Terrett on dust jackets
The dust jacket is dead, according to the Guardian in 2010
Buy old dust jackets

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