Book Cover Legibility Woes

nina's picture

I've been asked to make this little art exhibition catalog for an association I'm a member of. This is pro-bono work, so I can't spend two weeks on it (or license any additional fonts)… and still of course I want it to become at least nice enough to put my name on it.

Below is a sketch for the cover (really rough still). I sent it to the client today, and he said he loves the illustration (which isn't mine btw), but the type is "too hard to read". He suggested Frutiger or something. :-/
I've also asked a few laymen to read out the headline; while some of them read it instantly, others were struggling.

Now consciously inducing (or at least tolerating) legibility problems would not really be something I'd be very proud of; on the other hand though, I feel this book can do with a bit of uncommon design at least on the outside (it's an art book! Come on).

And I guess my main problem is that I'm really badly in love with how Sangue connects to the illustration and seems to "grow" out of the girl's head/brain – which seems to make a lot of sense. So I'd really hate to change the basic concept, or the font.

There's the dilemma. Here's the question:
Do you guys
1) see a chance of changing this in a way that would improve legibility of the title without completely changing the concept?
2) think this sucks, my client's right, and I'm deluded?

Thanks.

speter's picture

Let's answer 2) first: no this does not suck. The client may be right that it's a bit hard to read.

Why not let this be as it is, and *add* the title in a more legible face (but not Frutiger...)? I can't read the blurry part, but is that a sub-title or some other information?

nina's picture

Thanks Steve. I was really starting to wonder (because I'm not sure how much critical distance I have towards this thing; and also because this is pretty different from my usual work / "style", and feels a bit new).

Really good & simple idea too. The small stuff on the right is the editors' names, which I decided to blur before posting. Those are set in Legato Light*, kinda small, but I could see me adding the title above that in the Regular, maybe slightly larger. Sounds like a simple and elegant solution.
* Which I might end up using inside the book as well.

I guess the client could still stress out over the headline not reading from a distance… on the other hand, I guess I could stress out about not getting paid anyway & just doing it my way? :-/

AtoZ's picture

The problem is that at first glance the lettering looks so much like it's part of the illustration that you don't notice that it's lettering. One solution might be to change the color of the lettering (and then let the color blend into black as it enters the illustration).
 
         ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
         When going from A to Z,
         I often end up At Oz.

dragoncaller's picture

I think the design's great. In terms of legibility, I understood it right away, but I can see why they might be concerned. Perhaps thickening the bottom of the letters? I think the font fits beautifully, I would hate to see it changed too much.

nina's picture

Hmm… You may be on to something with the colors, AtoZ. On the other hand,
I suspect that's exactly what I like about it, this strong "union" of type and illustration. I have tried other colors, but this kind of makes the thing fall apart more, no? It does read better, but I feel the whole composition loses some of its simplicity/strength.


--

dragoncaller: Thanks! Actually Sangue is a font I'd prefer not to mess around with, since its contours have a roughness/structure that my lacking FontLab skills would probably just mess up completely. :-/

glyphobet's picture

This is awesome. Try increasing the space and visual separation between "art of mind" and the head. Then close the bottoms of the a, o and d, and give them one "tail" leading into the head from the bottom of the bowls, rather than two. The color fading into the head also helps.

PublishingMojo's picture

People don't read letters, they read words. Legibility suffers when people can't recognize the shapes of the words.
That's why mind scans effortlessly in your calligraphic treatment, but art and of are such short words, the shape of the words doesn't help to decode them. So readers are forced to try to decode letters, and that's where you lose them, because your a looks too much like your o and your r looks too much like your n. Work on the a, r, and n, but look at the shape of the words, not just the letters.
P.S.: Frutiger? Is he smoking crack?

jupiterboy's picture

^ that “a” has to read immediately and could be an “n”. Is there a cap? Check the proportions on the face, looks a little too specific and draws maybe too much attention.

nina's picture

Thanks for the input guys.
I agree that some of the lettershapes may be problematic (like the "a"), though I'm hoping I can offset that by moving the type and illustration farther apart and such. I actually suck at calligraphy, so there's no way on Earth I could re-create something like this but slightly modified (and like I said above, I'm a bit worried that modifying the type digitally may do more harm than good).

"Is there a cap?"
Yes (see here), but it has quite different proportions. Some first mixed-case trials were not successful, but I'll give it another shot (tomorrow – it's 3am here ;-) ).

James, when you say "Check the proportions on the face", do you mean the girl's face or the typeface? If the former: The illustration is in the process of being tweaked (there's some strange stuff going on on the forehead too). Anything specific that strikes you as odd? Too female I guess?

AtoZ's picture

I understand your thoughts about the unity of the type and art. One alternative would be to keep the type in black, but blend the bottom of it a gray or one of those "close to gray" colors in the art. The primary legibility problem is that the bottoms of the a, o, and d are lost in the art. You might try playing with raising the type up some so that the bottoms of those letters are more visibile, although that will once again tend to destroy the unity of the type and art.

Here's another possibility: Keep your title type in black (perhaps with the fade to gray), then repeat the title in a hairline sans-serif type that is set in tightly-packed flush right block and place it where the editors' names are now. (Use a larger point size -- so that the depth of the new two-line title is about the same as the depth of the current editors' text block), then move the editor's text block to lower on the page, probably aligned with the mouth in the art.
 
         ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
         When going from A to Z,
         I often end up At Oz.

hrant's picture

Sangue, and Legato...
What are you, my long-lost twin sister?! ;-)

> I guess I could stress out about not getting
> paid anyway & just doing it my way?

Exactly. When it's pro bono you can assert your artistic license bigtime.

> People don’t read letters, they read words.

During immersive reading, yes (although clusters of letters, not necessarily -although often- whole words). During deliberative reading however the reader has many seconds to unequivocally identify the individual letters, which is more robust.

hhp

nina's picture

AtoZ,
"The primary legibility problem is that the bottoms of the a, o, and d are lost in the art. You might try playing with raising the type up"
…or modifying the art, perhaps? I'm also going to try un-tangling some of that stuff up there that's partly covering up the letters in question.

Brother Hrant, ;-)  I'm very grateful you pointed out Sangue over here. The thing totally blew me away (even though I kind of expected never to be able to use it, ha!).
"When it’s pro bono you can assert your artistic license bigtime."
Good. Now I just need to practice being more assertive.

Going to post some variants on this later today (Monday). Thanks everyone for the input so far!

jupiterboy's picture

Yes, I was talking about the woman’s face in the illustration. If it could be made a bit more generic/iconic I think the focus would center on the action between the type and hair.

nina's picture

Here's a modified version in three color variants.

The main thing I did was move the type and art a bit further apart, and "untangle" the "hair" especially around the "a", "o", and "d" to make those letters more easy to grasp in their entirety. (The untangling isn't done – those leaves are endlessly complex once you start working on them…)
The graphical intensity may have suffered a bit from this? But legibility seems to improve quite a bit, and I tend to think it's a workable compromise.

I've added a second title on the right; except in #3, in which I think the headline really stands out enough to be legible in his own right.

I've also reworked the woman's face. I'm not positive the anatomy is quite right, but (and maybe this is caused by sleep deprivation) I see a bit of an interesting tension between the black and the white especially around her mouth and nose, which didn't seem to be there before. (Although this doesn't seem to show so well in these little JPEGs.)

Btw the cap "A" def didn't work. Looked way too… medieval? The lc seems to be more minimal in its blackletteresqueness (!).



--
I must say I'm still most convinced by the black & white treatment in #1.
#3 seems too "Goth" and places too much emphasis on the headline.
What do you guys think?

Cheers!
(And sorry about the bad JPG compression. Let me know if you'd like a PDF.)

jupiterboy's picture

Closing the lips helps. Maybe a little too much nose. Try lightening the background color—I’m kinda sad about repeating the title.

nina's picture

Hmm. Not so fond of the version with the colored background, but how about if the second title is really small, like so? (I admit it looks kinda more like a magazine than a book now, but what the hell.)
Nose: better?

jupiterboy's picture

Looks good. I would hate to clean her brush.

hrant's picture

Brush? :-)

Nina, you might try making a binocular "a".

hhp

nina's picture

Aw, Hrant, I'm scared to touch this thing of beauty.
But the idea does seem tempting.

Btw, real strong grown-up leaf-headed women clean their brushes themselves.  :-P

jupiterboy's picture

Good thing. I triple checked my spelling before that post. It is kind of warm today. I think I’ll go brush my bushes now that they are not covered in snow.

nina's picture

:-D
Good on ya. Guess that makes you a real strong grown-up leaf-headed guy.

jupiterboy's picture

If it sounds anything like this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73NEESBB36M

then yes.

nina's picture


:-{

eliason's picture

I keep wanting to read "out of mind" because that's closer to a familiar idiom than "art of mind" is. And because the a looks a lot like o as mentioned before, and the legible part (top) of the r looks as much like the top of a u as it does an r. (And, maybe, because this sort of makes me think of that famous Dylan poster, and Dylan makes me think of his "Time Out of Mind" album.)

nina's picture

Interesting, Craig. "Out of mind" has been occurring to me too a couple of times, when I was just glancing at it. Well, this is aimed at a German audience; so I guess I'm hoping most of the readers won't be quicker to associate English idioms than
to read. Hm.

On the other hand, that may be a case in point for a more differentiated "a".
The EULA doesn't permit modifications… Illustrator, here I come.  :-|

(And the Dylan association is a bit spooky; I didn't think of that poster once!)

Elias's picture

I think it's a real shame to repeat the title on the front cover. First of all I think the title is quite legible as it is on your latest example, so the smaller title seems redundant. Secondly, even if the title on the front is hard to read for some, does it really matter? Why not just put the title in a more legible typeface on the spine (it's from this side the book is going to be seen most of the time anyway) and leave the front hard to read for some, but (and very much because of this "inacessibility") a lot more interesting?

nina's picture

"even if the title on the front is hard to read for some, does it really matter?"
*sigh*… you know, I do agree.
I'm mostly trying to do *something* that will give the client the comforting idea that I'm taking his concerns into consideration, and meeting him halfway so to speak (because I'm not changing the headline font, which is really what he wanted me to do). Then again, maybe I've done enough for legibility by freeing the headline from all those excessive weeds.
I'm really not very used to the idea of having a lot of "artistic freedom", and to assert it too, especially when it runs counter to a client's wishes.

"Why not just put the title in a more legible typeface on the spine"
I'll have to check back. This is going to be a book-on-demand production, and the last time we worked with them there seemed to be no way to print on the spine (although their web site seems to say otherwise… hm). Which would suck big time because this design would really need to run around the entire cover. :-|

speter's picture

Nina, how thick will the spine be? There's usually a minimum size before you can print on the spine. (Sometimes larger for POD, since their manufacturing is less precise than traditional printers, but even for standard printers, there's a minimum thickness.)

nina's picture

Ah, there's the beef.
This is only a hundred pages; their calculation tool says that will be around 6mm for the spine. They don't say it's not printable, but given the tolerance of 2mm from either edge, looks like it won't make much sense to squeeze any type in. :-/
But at least I will apparently be able to let the design run around the entire cover (that just felt like bad English, but I hope it's comprehensible).

hrant's picture

> The EULA doesn’t permit modifications…

That refers to outputing fonts. You'd just be modifying a single glyph (essentially beziers) for Illustrator. And if a EULA wants to forbid that, pardon my language, but screw them.

hhp

eliason's picture

If you want to experiment with a two-story 'a', flipping the 's' horizontally might give you a decent starting point.

nina's picture

Hrant:
"Modifying the Font Software is prohibited, even in the event that it is necessary for fulfilling personal design requirements. If the licensee wants to make modifications, consent and permission has to be obtained from Linotype GmbH. Non-compliance with this provision (…) represents a violation and breach of this license agreement."
Seems a bit… extremist. I don't really see such a crucial difference between doing this in Illustrator vs. directly in FontLab, given that it's only one glyph that I'm gonna use exactly once.
That said, I have started out in Illustrator, and for the basic search of what this should look like, that's fine at least for the moment.

Craig, have you seen Sangue's "s"? :-)
I'm trying out stuff. But this is gonna take a little hanging-on-the-wall time.

jupiterboy's picture

You may find a general interpretation of this, as well as the intent, is that you not modify the software. This would not apply to letter shapes generated by the software. So tweaking the kerning or position of the glyphs, or even adding a missing glyph would be a no, but converting to outlines and making a mess is AOK.

Now someone tell me how wrong I am. Please.

nina's picture

"converting to outlines and making a mess is AOK"
That would be the way I understood it: Modifying Illustrator outlines is ok, messing around directly in FontLab is not. The distinction isn't arbitrary, but feels kind of stupid to me (and please correct me too if I'm being ignorant): If I have something printed that uses a font with a modified glyph in it, who cares if it was modified in Illustrator, or directly in the font?
Are they just worried about modified versions of the font floating around? (Wow, two breaches of one EULA.)

AtoZ's picture

Repeating the title the title doesn't bother me as much as it seems to others, although I don't particularly like having the two titles so close to each other. Here's one way to avoid that:


 
         ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
         When going from A to Z,
         I often end up At Oz.

hrant's picture

> messing around directly in FontLab is not.

I think it's not software until you output it.
So you could copy-paste from FontLab to Illustrator.

And frankly, even if it's a font, but it's only
for your internal use, in my book it's just fine.
EULAs are an intimidation tactic to some extent.

hhp

jupiterboy's picture

Clint, you are sending me down Electric Company lane.

nina's picture

Hmm Clint, I'm not sold on that. It does take the two titles apart visually, but to my eyes, it places too much emphasis on the "second" title, making the whole composition read, in order of visual hierarchy, (1) "art of mind"; (2) illustration leading to: (3) "art of mind" [again]; then (4) the small print – thereby taking the redundancy of the two titles to extremes. It makes the second one a distinct, and very prominent, element.
The version I proposed above would read (to me) more like, (1) "art of mind"; (2) illustration; (3, here comes the small print) "Art of mind. Edited by, blah blah blah."
I'm probably going to try and sell (ha ha) it to him without the second title.

Hrant, thanks for the clarification – I didn't get the importance of outputing.
And I've decided I'm not going to worry too much about this.

Quincunx's picture

Personally I don't have a problem with your initial design at all. I can read it perfectly. The same probably goes for more people on this board, but most of us here are surrounded by and work with letters all day long, so we might not be the best people to judge the legibility.

That said, I think the treatment in the initial design works really well, since the type nicely blends with the illustration. I saw someone say that this is a problem, but I think it's the opposite.

However, your last options seem to cover a nice middle ground. I don't think they betray your concept that much. Although I would not repeat the title with normal type, I think it somehow takes away some of the power the headline type has (and it may also look like you underestimate the reader).

And a 6 mm spine shouldn't really be a problem to print on? I've printed type on such spines before. The type will just have to be small (obviously), so you will have to use a typeface which can handle that (and; add very clear folding lines to your PDF in the bleed area, and tell them to take special notice to the spine).

jupiterboy's picture

The margin of error on those POD projects is huge. Most demand any text be .25" from trim or something like that.

AtoZ's picture

Ask a dozen designers their opinions about a design
         and you'll get a dozen opinions;
Ask a dozen art directors
         and you'll get two dozen opinions,
Ask a dozen non-designers their opinion
         and ... well, it doesn't bear thinking about.

Although suggestions, from whatever source, can often be useful, ultimately you have to rely on your own sense of design to make the final decision of what to show the client (who most often is a non-designer--sigh).
 
         ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
         When going from A to Z,
         I often end up At Oz.

nina's picture

Cool, thanks for your feed-back Quincunx.
Re the spine: The problem is indeed the margin of error – the 2mm mentioned above. Subtract 2mm from either side of a 6mm spine and you end up with 2mm of space for type. :-/

AtoZ, agree about the n+1 opinions.
I originally wasn't going to post this here, as I don't really have time to spend days on end discussing and revising it. But once again, feed-back from you guys has been invaluable*, especially as I had been getting quite insecure about the legibility issue. So, thanks again.
* Also when we didn't agree.

Will get back with [pre-]finals, and probably with that "a".

Quincunx's picture

I've never heard of that 2 mm rule, and I've designed alot of poetry books which often have narrow spines. I recently designed one with a 5 mm (!) spine, and I used a 9 pt. FF Milo on it. Not a problem at all. I just marked the fold lines really clearly in the bleed area and told them to take care when binding them.

However, I was quickly looking through my poetry book InDesign files, and those with 100-ish pages all have a spine more in the range of 1 cm. This is just with regular paper you often see in books (whatever it's called in English), which isn't that heavy/thick. So are you sure that 6 mm estimate is accurate?

nina's picture

Jelmar, the 6mm estimate is based on two things:
1) a "calculator" that this book on demand service has on their web site (here for reference, though it's all in German). If I put the variables in there – paperback, 100 pages, 17×22cm, standard white paper –, it gives me 0.6 cm for the spine ("Buchrückenbreite").
2) another book I made last year that they produced, which has 92 pages, and about 6.5mm on the spine. (I'm just assuming they only have one standard paper sort, so this may be compatible.)

So I'm assuming that's more or less accurate, though it might be closer to 7mm than 6. I can't calculate it, as they're not really giving specific information about the paper they use – though I might try calling them about that.

The 2mm margin of error is bad; I've had that happen before in cheap-ish digital printing, though.

Quincunx's picture

It must be really, very thin paper then. :)

nina's picture

Feels like 90 grams or so. Nothing that I'd want to print an art catalog on, but hey, it's cheap. :-/

nina's picture

I know I didn't want to do this, but it's been quite illuminating.

I basically tried to reach a compromise between trying to find shapes that would match the font (and get the attitude in!), and still keep it open/clear-cut enough for legibility. I decided against a thick horizontal stroke on the top (à la "s"), which looked clunky and didn't seem to make sense next to "n", "m", etc. My "a" was modeled mostly on the original "a", a bit of the "r", and a dash of "d" and "o". And a healthy dash of gut feeling.

I dunno. I fully expect this to be off in a bunch of ways.
But I do think it already reads significantly better in the headline:



--

For the record, once I was on those curves, I also tried some other things I'd been thinking about (like lengthening the ascender of the "d"), but that was not doing much really. The "a" however seems crucial. Thanks for pointing it out, Hrant.

Any opinions? I'm gonna get back to the client with the revised version tomorrow.
(And thanks all; this is / has been great learning material as always!)

Typedog's picture

It's a bit hard to read at first glance.

Guerrizmo+Design

jupiterboy's picture

Eureka

hrant's picture

I think that's a passable "a".
BTW, I would try a taller "d".

hhp

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