This week we were asked to break down the design of our favorite movie poster or book cover. A cover that interested me recently was Cesar Aira’s book Birthday. This cover is extremely minimalist and was an interesting one to break down for multiple reasons. Firstly, it has raised edges which is something that does not come across at all online. One could argue this is the biggest setback of the design. While it feels and looks great in person it but does not come across well online. There are a lot of people who will be downloading it as an e-book who will not get the same experience. The design also relies heavily on different shades of white, something that also comes across well in person but does not translate. This could be accounted for by using different color modes for print and online.
Below is the online design.
I have broken down the design to show the area the egg takes up. In the upper left hand quadrant we see a fairly centered but rotated “Birthday” on one line, and then “Cesar Aira” below. The book itself is in first person and explores the idea of what a 50th birthday means. It begins simply and literally, soon evolving into a meditation on the author’s past experience with learning, literature, the ego, and death. It reads as a stream of consciousness but it is beautifully weaved through his past experiences and writing of the book itself. One key point is that as a 50 year old man, he didn’t understand the concept of how the phases of the moon worked. This made him question all of his learning up to this point and how that slipped through the cracks. I found this to be a powerful image as the egg could also be compared to a moon. I think the minimal design of the egg itself is very literal, but can be looked at metaphorically in the same way as the writing style.
The bold blue color in the text is a great way of getting the viewer’s attention, while keeping it small and understated. The rest of the cover is very simple, a cracking egg that takes up a considerable amount of the cover. There are only two things you need to know about this book. It is written by Cesar Aira, and it is about his birthday. Also note that this egg is not fully cracked yet.
To demonstrate the difference between the way the book looks online and in person, I took an image on my Iphone. This illuminates the better contrast of the whites seen in person. Also the etching is a tactile example of this. I think minimalist design can be extremely powerful. The more you have going on, there are more places for your eyes and your mind to go. This works in some cases but I think the most powerful decisions a designer can make are what they choose to leave out.
Another design element that is different between the print and the online version, is the fact that the drop shadow of the online version is very visible. In the paper version you can barely see the drop shadow, probably because of the raised edges in the print version. This might respresent that there were two versions made, which makes the online version’s coloring even more questionable.
This cover was extremely successful in its print form and continues to be one of my favorites. I attribute this to its elegance and minimal design, but most importantly it aligns with the concept of the novelette as a whole. This is the job of the designer, to get the point across in the most appropriate and poignant way and it was done effortlessly. My only critique remains the translation to online, as that was the base of the what I broke down in Photoshop.