I’d just gotten around to completing the finishing touches on the cover for the fourth volume of The Drops of God when I remembered my distress over the original design.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the covers, but I’ll be the first to admit that there are a lot of things that make it a difficult template to deal with. The current design was hastily proposed as a replacement for my original concept (which later found life as the cover to the Vertical Spring 2012 catalog). The idea came about as a result of playing with type and images, and I didn’t think it would be popular. Strangely enough, that design was chosen, and I had a number of shortcomings to deal with, the least of which being that the chosen design was far from my original preference.
Still, I grew to like the covers, and it struck me that maybe I wasn’t really “designing” when I put forth my original proposal. After all, the purpose of design is to make foreign ideas more readily accessible to strangers. Graphic design tries to do this in an academically beautiful way, especially if a piece can convey subtler emotions like “the fury of a jealous lover” or “the ecstasy of mother and her newborn” than basic ones like “anger” or “happiness.” There is definitely something to be said, however, for the “undesigned” preferences of the client. By this I mean that the cover is functional in its delivery of information, readable from a distance, stands apart from the competition, and of course pretty. Not everyone overtly cares (or notices) that a letter is misaligned, or why a limited palette of colors and typefaces is preferable to another. I’d love to take the time to thoroughly explain the subtleties and considerations of my work, but that in itself is a problem: one shouldn’t have to explain a good design. Sometimes, you can even telegraph beyond the two-dimensional appearance of the design, as was the case when the Drops covers were first presented to the client. They themselves could guess what kind of finish the book would have and which details would be spot-glossed.
This post is called “Aiming Lower” not because user-oriented design is a lesser goal than an innovative one (or that it isn’t as interesting, ambitious, or beautiful); rather it’s because sometimes aiming high, for that “perfect” message, makes one lose sight of the real target: the people whose lives you want to change.