May 31, 2007

A Graphic Designer clears his name

Back in November, I wrote an entry suggesting that the publishers of Douglas Preston’s book Tyrannosaur Canyon were trying a bit too hard to associate their book with Jurassic Park. The cover looked just like Jurassic Park and all the blurbs talked about how much better Tyrannosaur Canyon is than Jurassic Park (it isn’t by a longshot).

I recently received an e-mail from Howard Grossman the Graphic Designer who designed the Tyrannosaur Canyon book cover. He wrote:

I was poking around on your (very enjoyable) blog when I came across my name in an entry dated November 20, 2006. As a humble designer of book covers for the last 25 years I am wise enough not to go head-to-head with the enviable talents of Chip Kidd. That is why the actual cover I designed (see attached) makes sure to avoid any such direct “borrowing”. I think the two front covers placed side-by-side prove my innocence.

The original hardcover version (done for Forge books) used my design. I would be curious at who did the edition that you show on your blog. They completely rearranged the elements of my design to do exactly what you argue—that is, create a direct rip-off the Jurassic Park cover. But they didn’t stop there, they decided to “credit” me with the design.

If you’re listening, Chip—I didn’t do it!

Here are the covers in question:

Book Comparison

As a photographer, I know that my profession occasionally shares a similar fate. Photo editors sometimes pick the photographer’s least favorite photo from a shoot, or they crop it in some strange way that fits their layout but completely destroys the carefully crafted composition. Try as we might, I guess we can’t control everything.

Previously: By nobody who brought you Jurassic Park


This is the worst part about design for pay - it’s inevitably the design you are attached to the least from a creative standpoint that gets the most response from a commercial standpoint. It really amazes me how often someone can take something I’ve done and make a statement that I specifically tried to avoid.

i work for a publishing company and this has sales department written all over it… “we need to raise our orders at B&N!”

That makes whoever designed the middle cover even more guilty of fraud (if that’s even possible).

I think designers should have to sign their work like artists, it would solve a lot of problems.

As the guilty party, I’ll hang my head low…but at least tell you what the discussion was. Howard designed the hardcover with the neck on the front wrapping around to the head on the back cover. I loved the design and so did most of the Sales and Marketing department but there were some that questioned whether the neck reads as a dinosaur — they wanted to flop the image. Of course, my argument was that the title kinda gives it away but ya’ll know wheat Sales meetings are like. In the end I was surprised and delighted that it went through untouched — in hardcover. But I knew it would never fly in mass market paperback, and it didn’t. We pick and chose our battles.

I think the original cover design for T-Canyon is far richer than the modified cover. The blurred fossil rendering is cropped in such a way that the resulting negative space yields a lot more intrigue than the modified cover. The original is a wonderfully eerie and sufficiently subjective visual; while still holding plenty reference to a dinosaur.

If the goal was to better communicate the subject “dinosaur”, then from a far distance I would say the modified cover fails. Without the context of the ‘Jurassic Park’ cover right next to it, it seems to have the same vagueness of the original, but not nearly as much of its style or mystery.

While I see a distinct similarity between the JP cover and the later TC cover, I don’t think the JP cover is sufficiently original or non-obvious to warrant any accusation of fraud.

It’s a basic, uncomplicated, iconographic image that conjures a simple idea “dangerous dinosaur.” It’s a black silhouette of an existing object.

If nothing else the designer of the JP cover should be either applauded for coming up with something so elegant or lambasted for designing something so obvious.

Beyond that, it’s just marketing. I’m not buying a book to look at the cover.

Mad props to Irene for taking the blame and providing even more insight into the process. She certainly didn’t have to do that. And knowing how many great covers she’s been personally responsible for over the years, I’m confident she was just as reluctant as she says to put that redesign on the paperback.

This must be fairly common–I saw Chip Kidd speak a number of years ago, and he showed a slide of the awful mass market paperback redesign of one of his hardcovers–they’d turned it into some Flowers-In-the-Attic-themed monstrosity.