Much of the attention of students in the Publishing Laboratory is focused on designing digital and print media for both Ecotone and Lookout. The bones of our insight into design start with one acronym that’s as useful as it is fun to say: C.R.A.P. It stands for contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity.
Our newest department—From the Drafting Table—aims to look at design in the world of publishing. For this debut post, I’ve decided to look at five cover designs from the literary journal Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies and talk about what makes them so compelling through the lens of C.R.A.P.
These first two covers take advantage of one very basic thing—color. If our courses in publishing have taught us anything about the business of the industry, it’s that a book or magazine cover needs to give a good first impression, even from far away. The vibrant background colors here catch our eye and hook us in visually. The white of the egg, in contrast to the rest of the cover, highlights the organic shape of the outline. Since blue and yellow are complementary colors, the yolk of the egg seems richer and tied to what’s behind it. The repetition of white tells our eyes where to make a connection, guiding our eye from the title of the journal to the food on display.
This next one does a great job expressing the journal’s mission in a subtle yet evocative way. While we might expect to find images of food on the cover of a food publication, a bottle of perfume or a hamburger made of wood might cause us to glance twice. Gastronomica’s goal of using “food as a starting point to probe timely and necessary questions about the role of food in everyday life,” shines through here. It’s not just food we’re looking at, but images that summon the idea of food while blending in other dynamics of life, connecting eating to being. This is a more conceptual take on repetition that allows the theme of food to reverberate through images and associations.
Another pigment match made in heaven can be seen in the red hues of the heart and the green background. These colors, aside from being the stars of that wintery holiday, are complementary. A contrast in texture is also at work here, the silky shadows in the fabric connect our eye to the fatty components in the salami and those hallowed-out dots in the meat bring us back to the cloth. Repetition hard at work.
The food is hanging on a little less in this one, but let’s face it, it’s cool. And there are some neat tricks at play here. The gradient of the background mimics the pixelated gradient of the sprinkles. They both have a gradual fade that makes the more consistent colors pop, like the sockets of the eyes and the shadow behind the jaw bone. It brings us to alignment, to that that nice horizon line where the colors start to part.The blue gradient in the background adds dimension to the cover by transitioning to white where the bottom of the skull begins. The image’s alignment with the backdrop, as well as its proximity to the horizon line, creates a bend that lets our eyes perceive the skull as sitting on a shelf rather than on a two-dimensional surface.
Gastronomica said good-bye to the glitzy and provocative stylings on display here and transitioned to a consistent patterned background. The change remains a mystery to me, I confess, but at least we still have these, and the new designs still provide clear instances of C.R.AP. Another pigment match made in heaven can be seen in the red hues of the heart and the green background. These colors, aside from being the stars of that wintery holiday, are P. Though the patterns vary, their size, rate of repetition, and proximity to one another reminds viewers of previous issues, telling them what they can expect and helping them to create an identity for the magazine.
That concludes our first edition of From the Drafting Table. Stay tuned for more thoughts about and examples of great design. And remember to keep C.R.A.P. in mind when looking at the world. There’s plenty to see.
–Jane Molinary, MFA Candidate, Pub Lab TA