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How to use graphic design principles to evaluate the effectiveness of your book cover

All four books in textbook supplement author Paul Krieger’s Visual Analogy series showcase a visual analogy on the cover, a great advertisement for one of the key learning tools that make his books unique: visual analogies.

“My whole book idea was born in the lab from my teaching,” says Krieger, whose books include A Visual Guide to Human Anatomy, A Visual Analogy Guide to Physiology, A Visual Analogy Guide to Human Anatomy and Physiology, and A Visual Analogy Guide to Chemistry. “I used to sketch visual analogies out at my students’ lab tables, and it was students who encouraged me to write my first book 17 years ago. In the anatomy and physiology lab, students have to learn different anatomical structures. So, for example, when they need to learn the thoracic vertebra, I use a giraffe head to create a visual analogy that helps them learn and remember all of the parts of the thoracic vertebra, which is shaped like a giraffe head.”

He wanted his books to not just be filled with visual analogies, but to also be abbreviated textbooks that cover the core content students need for the course. His books, published by Morton Publishing, are two-color, softcover, three-hole drilled and shrink-wrapped activity books in a modular format, with text on the left-sided pages and illustrations on the right-sided pages. They are rich with activities, including fill-in-the-blank, coloring pages, and mnemonics.

Krieger shares how to use graphic design principles and the acronym CRAP – Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity – to evaluate the effectiveness of your book cover:

Use contrast to focus attention on more important items. “On the old cover [left] of A Visual Analogy of Human Anatomy, my name is in black and the word ‘second edition’ is in white, so that’s contrasting font colors. Notice also that the background color is purple and then the middle color is magenta, which are contrasting colors. This cover also has contrasting font sizes. The word ‘Anatomy’ draws your attention because they’ve used a larger font size for that and a smaller font for the other words in the title. On the new cover [right] the background is blue and ‘Human Anatomy’ is in red, creating contrast. There is also a contrast in size – the words ‘Human Anatomy’ in the title are much larger than ‘A Visual Analogy Guide to’.”

Use repetition to tie objects or images together and unify elements. “The old cover doesn’t have a repetition element that serves to unify. On the new cover, the blue oval shape in the background is repeated three times, which unifies all of the analogies – the peace sign, the parachute, the kangaroo pouch. It’s visually telling the reader that these three things go together.”

Use alignment to organize the page to make it easier on the eye. “The old cover elements align right or are right justified. On the new cover, several areas align, including the words in the title line, the ‘Y’ and ‘Anatomy’, and the end of my name.”

Use proximity to create relationships between objects. “The old cover has a proximity error – the author name is next to ‘second edition’. Does the second edition have anything to do with the author directly? No. They should have instead placed it by the title, because it’s proximity to the title makes more sense. On the new cover, the words ‘Fifth edition’ are underneath the title, not the author’s name.”

Attendees of TAA’s 2021 Virtual Conference can watch Krieger’s session, “Think Small! How Authoring Stand-Alone Supplements with Small Publishers Could be Your Niche”, on demand here.


Kim PawlakKim Pawlak is TAA’s Director of Publishing & Operations. She has been writing about textbook and academic writing and publishing for more than 25 years.

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