This blog is going to skip over a lot of important things in order to make an abstract concept more simple. I’ve talked about a lot of them in my other posts so feel free to browse around first.
The Scope of Appeal
The vast majority of design is about making decisions. Big or small, a designer makes upwards of a hundred tiny decisions a day, and they make them on behalf of someone else.
I once debated with someone (an art professor no less) about the opportunity cost of appeal. He argued; “why don’t they make a book cover that just appeals to everyone? That way you’re not missing out on anything.”
You can see his perspective, right? If you made a book cover that appealed to everyone, then that would increase the chance of more people buying it.
So lets give it a crack.
Before getting started here’s our list of mandatories:
- Universally understood (across language & literacy barriers).
- Universally accessible (think blind or disabled).
- Allude to the content (make you open the book).
The important factor though is the appeal. To appeal to someone you have to acknowledge their values and interests. To do this for everyone you have to find something that appeals to everyone but at the same time not marginalising anyone.
Your first instinct would be something like kittens, or babies, or Justin Beiber? Although these things have mass appeal there are counter cultures for each of them.
Well what about music, or food or sex? The problem here is preference. Although you could almost say that everyone likes food, there is no single food that everyone likes, or would engage everyone.
How about something physical like blinking, or sleep, or just . . . staying alive? Now we are getting somewhere. These are not only physical things that we all share, but they are even involuntary. Staying alive though, how do you put that on a book cover? Do you install a gun on the front holding the viewer hostage? I can think of a few clients that would love this idea.
Each of these things risks marginalising certain groups of people, or being lost in translation.
My Best Shot
I had to go primal for this, bare with me.
To be in control is to survive. The human condition is to enforce, or seek out order where there is only chaos. We flail through an existence that bombards us constantly with new or conflicting information and we grip on to things we know for sure.
This is how we can see beauty in nature, in patterns, in numbers, in music, in language, and in any form of visual communication.
A square cover is symmetry, and compliments the central squares. They are both 90% black on 90% white, because absolutes don’t exist in nature. Although a triangle would be better as it is a simpler shape, the negative space would become more complex as a result, especially with two.
The reason for two squares is confirmation and similarity. “I know the square exists because there is another. They are both the same, and not different” It is also the smallest prime number, giving it an intrinsic mathematical beauty.
There is no words to avoid communication barriers. The two squares are both raised for accessibility reasons, have no colour for colour blindness and are big enough for poor eyesight.
Finally, there are mechanism in our brain that compell us to seek. For a lot of people, the ambiguity of the cover would call them to investigate further.
Why it Doesn’t Work
Besides the fact that there’s a strong anarchy culture, there is an important reason why this doesn’t work as a cover, and that’s scope. This cover “appeals” to everyone by mitigating risk, finding common ground, and avoiding misinterpretation. But it appeals to no one effectively.
Imagine the level of engagement a beiber fan would have with this book cover compared to a naked photo of Bieber:
It comes down to opportunity cost. The more broadly you cast your net, the weaker that net is. This opportunity cost is what we as designers consider when making hundreds of tiny decisions. We make the net as strong as possible and, if need be, as big as possible.
So next time you consider your target audience remember, “Males and females 0 - 100” is not a good demographic. Not because its hard to do, but because it’s a bad idea.