My client sent me a book she likes the look of and said she wanted her book to be approximately the same format. She sent me a photograph she already owned the rights to and asked me to use it for the cover. From beginning to end, she was with me at every turn, considering the alternatives I offered, choosing decisively, suggesting improvements, reacting to my suggestions. The book came out both beautiful and completely appropriate to its subject and audience. If I were the sort of person who entered design contests, I’d consider entering this book.
Given the subject of my client’s book, I wasn’t sure which of two general approaches was going to be more to his liking. I sent two very different trial designs, one that I described to him as quite stiff and formal, the other that I described to him as very casual and friendly. I made it clear that I was just looking for a quick reaction, that we could then refine either design to get it just the way he wanted it. Basing his choice entirely on my description in the cover email and not on looking at the samples, he chose one of the two designs. He allowed as how really didn’t have the vocabulary to discuss design further and would leave the rest up to me. That book will come out looking pretty good, too.
I try to involve clients in design choices, because I’m creating their books, not my own. I’ve begun sending every new design client a copy of Michael Brady’s Thinking Like a Designer: How to save money by being a smart client. My hope is that they’ll read it and be able to interact more productively with me. Some clients are visual thinkers. Some have a little bit of visual sense but know their limitations. Some are completely oblivious and realize it. I’m happy to work with any of them, and I try to do good work for all of them, whether I think they’ll understand the subtleties or not.
The people I feel sorry for are those who delude themselves into thinking design doesn’t matter to anyone and just send their unformatted Word document to a vanity press, hoping for the best. Design matters to readers, even if it doesn’t matter to you. If you understand that much, it makes no difference whether you think visually or don’t.
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