Shaken, Not Stirred In the Kitchen
Carnivores and herbivores in the same kitchen?! Oh, the humanity! Bridge the great divide, calm the clash of cultures, and stop the madness. This fun cookbook cover suffered a culture clash of it’s own as it navigated the design process.
Now, it’s not really fair to show the “assignment sketches”. Their only point is to get the ball rolling. (In fact, I rarely get them, so they’re kind of a treat! They tell me where the publisher’s head is at, and often make things easy to improve upon. In this case, these kitchens are hardly very divided, and a jagged crack isn’t really the way to show it—but they do illustrate a point. While it’s a great title, it’s not really the kitchen that’s divided, so much as it is the cooks. This cookbook is about people.
The first two sketches attempt to prove that out. Now, at least the idea is a little more clear, if not the execution. (Honestly, most of the time, the covers are not winners right out of the gate. It’s a process. The thing is, these books don’t have big production budgets, so we do a lot of scrounging through stock photography—not the good, expensive stuff that the big houses use, but the micro-stock sites. As you might guess, it takes a ton of digging through some very crummy ore to find those rare flecks of gold.
With enough time and digging, we finally struck it big. These two are right out of a James Bond movie. Sean Connery and Ursula Andress have met their match. (Or I should say, Daniel Craig and . . . well, Daniel Craig and whoever. . . . Judi Dench?) As soon as I found these two, I knew the cover was nailed. Just a little Photoshopping and a bit of design work to do, and then I could close up shop early for the day. That’s it; game over, man.
I sent this one in with a big glow of self-satisfaction, and eagerly awaited the reply from the publisher. “We like it, “ they said, “But. . . “
Wait. What? There’s a but?! Yes, yes there was.
“We like it, but we think they’re too good looking.”
For real? Yes, for real.
“Our customers are normal people, so we think they want to see themselves on the cover.” I wasn’t so sure about that. I know I don’t want to see my ugly mug on my cookbooks.
So they set up a photo shot. They must like the idea, I thought, because a special photo shoot rarely happens. But I felt terrible. After all, how do you explain the assignment to your models? “See this cover? We like it, but the models are just too good looking. . . . So we wondered if you could help.”
Awww. Now, I don’t mean to be unkind. I don’t know these people; but I’m sure that they are highly skilled editors, or chefs, or maybe even models. They are doubtless far more talented than I am, and they are certainly more attractive. (You do not want a dorky-looking guy like me on your book’s cover.) But man, what an awkward situation.
I gave the cover revision my best. The new background colors were a nice idea—a bit less literal than the carnivore red and herbivore green. But I still felt like the earlier version was stronger. So I suggested that maybe there’s a reason some people are on book covers and magazines, and the rest of us are not. We want something to aspire to. We secretly hope that, if we can cook like that, then maybe we will look like that. That’s silly, of course; but on some unconscious level we think it’s true.
I can’t tell you how pleased I was when they agreed. Don’t get me wrong, I love working for this publisher, and they are usually way ahead of me, and almost always on the money with their revisions. This was just one of those rare times when I sort of got there first.
Unfortunately, there are no recipes for design. It can be a messy process. But I suppose—as in the kitchen—it doesn’t matter if every single pan gets used, so long as dinner turns out to be good.