Judging a book by it’s cover

I recently mentioned a design project that required some research into vintage radiogram dials and I though I would share some images of the work in progress.

The book is by the author Jon Lawrence (I also designed the cover for his last book Bisha) and the official back cover blurb describes the novel thusly:

“Spirited septuagenarian Anwyn Jones, has left London for the tranquility of St David’s following the death of her husband. Coming to terms with her grief, Anwyn begins to notice issues with her memory and fears that dementia will rob her of the only thing that matters to her – her husband. However, Anwyn forms an unlikely friendship with a broken family, including a lonely wife, a guilty husband and a distant young boy. As she tries to rebuild her life Anwyn becomes obsessed with the poems of Jack Newton, whose verses she hears on the radio each night. Within sight of the lighthouse friendships are made and secrets are revealed in a poignant, funny and thought-provoking novel from the acclaimed author of Playing Beneath the Havelock House, Albatross Bay and Bisha.”

For my brief, Jon laid out some important elements that could serve as visual reference – the radiogram obviously, a lighthouse; Smalls lighthouse at St.Davids, Puffins and poetry.

After researching old radiogram dials I began to explore graphic treatments that echoed the reproduction qualities of these old screen-printed images on plastic; slightly rounded corners and a loss of the overall sharpness of the line, due to the spread of the ink, and the fact that these things were often quite small, so when enlarged their defects become more apparent.

I began with a simple keyline drawing of Smalls Lighthouse in Adobe Illustrator – I drew the earlier wooden version because I knew that it was particularly distinctive (I first learned of Smalls Lighthouse through the music of John Tanner\Plinth – check it out) and I omitted the ugly helicopter landing pad that has been built on top of the modern one!

At this point I was just experimenting with the idea and technique so didn’t dwell too much on fine detail or quality of line,  everything was left basic

The next few stages were as follows:

Stage 1. Basic line for reference.
Stage 2. Apply a light blur to soften the edges.
Stage 3. Rasterise the vectors (converting vectors to pixels – effectively making a photo)
Stage 4. Converting the pixels back to vectors. This creates a more definite edge from the blurred version, filling in corners,rounding corners and subtly softening the quality of the lines.

I did the same with the larger text in the title, using Adrian Frutigers’ often overlooked typeface Avenir:


I made versions using both lighthouses, but found the asymmetry of the old lighthouse wasn’t working within my compositions and focussed on the more traditional ‘classic’ lighthouse shape.

Colours were sampled from photographs of old dials – the aged/yellowed white plastic that has that authentic vintage ivory tone, washed out reds and bakelite brown. The cover that uses this colour also has a subtle glow to give the appearance of being backlit:

I went through each of the designs with Jon and discussed all these details, along with one or two other points which had arisen during the process. A decision was then made and I moved on to develop the chosen design. Which one? You’ll find out next time. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts, opinions and preferences?

On a separate note, Jon is trying to raise funds to promote the book through his crowdfunding page. Find out how you can support the project.

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