Design Process

My job as a designer is to give you the cover you’ve always wanted. To do that, I think it really helps to understand the design process before we start working together. As an exercise, and to be able to walk you through the process, I used my lovely wife, Barbara Caridad Ferrer, and her first novel, Adiós to My Old Life, as an example. (As a disclaimer, this was strictly for illustrative purposes. The rights to publish this title still reside with the original publisher).

Here’s what the original cover looks like. This was a nice cover. There was one thing that Barb had never been especially happy about, though: her main character plays classical guitar, not electric. This was pretty important to her, so when I asked her if she’d let me make up an alternate cover, it was one of the first things we discussed.

I asked Barb for some information on the book. Even though I’d read Adiós, I asked her for a brief description, just a couple of paragraphs. I told her not to describe the plot so much as tell me what the book was really about.

I also told her to let me know if she had any specific idea for elements to put on the cover. I already knew that she’d like to have an acoustic guitar, and that a teenage girl would be appropriate, but another ideas might be helpful.

Here was her response:

So, the title is very evocative– saying goodbye to all that’s familiar and venturing out into the unknown.

On the surface the story is about a young woman competing on a Latin American version of American Idol, but that only serves as the framework by which all the other changes in her life take place. Ultimately, the story is about transitions– about a sheltered young woman being thrust, literally, into the spotlight.  About forging her independence and declaring her intentions for her future, even if they don’t jibe with what her father has always envisioned for her.

The fact that she’s a classically/jazz trained guitarist plays a huge part in the book as does her Cuban background and Miami upbringing.  These are all elements that can possibly be considered for incorporation into a cover idea.

She also sent me a variety of photos she found on istockphoto.com . Here are a few of them:

I then found some additional photos of my own and put together some VERY rough ideas. The objective here wasn’t to have a finished product, but to try and identify the direction to take the final version.

I was enamored with the idea of using a cityscape to express the idea of Ali’s future and the new life she was emerging into, which played into two of my early design concepts:

Truthfully, I wasn’t completely happy with any of these. All three were dark, for one thing. I liked the idea of the cityscape, but in practice, I wasn’t so sure. There was one picture I had come across in my searches that really spoke to me for some reason:

I loved the quiet innocence of this girl and I adored the doorway. A doorway would make a great metaphor for passing into adulthood. Of course, the picture had a wide orientation completely unsuitable for a book cover, so it was going to be a lot of work, meaning it better be the right thing. I did a quick mockup of how it might work, to see if it were even possible and tried giving it the city treatment:

I loved the picture, the city worked better here than it did in the others, and it looked like I could pull off the right size. Time to show them to the boss.

As it turned out, Barbara also loved the picture of the guitarist sitting in front of the wall, and we agreed the city wasn’t quite right, so I went back to istockphoto to look for more ideas. Here was the result, complete with hideously ugly text (I was messing around with possible placement). To me, this really captured the transition Ali undergoes though her music from being a sheltered girl to being an amazing young woman.

Ugly text aside, Barb loved this concept and gave the “all-clear” to produce a finished version. The version you see here (which is actually a bit wider than the final size) was following one text revision, because the font didn’t show up well at smaller sizes (e.g. 100 x 100 pixels) like you’ll see on Amazon. For the final version, complete with her name, check out the Portfolio page.

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