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Deciding Design Decisions Decisively

By October 6, 2013December 8th, 2016Book Covers, Process, Publishing

I have another project I want to share. Sure this is my “showing off” what I’ve done, but it’s also a chance for me to give props to two of the best clients I’ve had the pleasure of working with – Chip and Dan Heath. If you haven’t read any of their books, you should probably stop reading this and buy them now.

Decisive Book on shelves in Bookstore

Earlier this year, Chip and Dan’s new book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work was released, and I had the privilege of working with them in designing the book cover. I’d done some design work with these guys previously, but felt almost awestruck when asked to be a part of this project, because I love and respect their writing, research and overall contributions to business/life books. Their previous books, Made to Stick and Switch are each New York Times and Wall Street Journal best sellers and  are both widely renowned and revered. So, to be part of “the next big thing” really excited me.

I want to share with you some of the ideas and evolution of the book cover design. I’m not going to be overly analytical – just a straightforward reveal of what could have been.

When Dan let me know the new book would have a “decisive” theme, I immediately came up with some cover design concepts. We’d also discussed it and agreed, the visual approach of this cover should feel like its’ part of the “visual family” established by the bright orange and duct tape from Made to stick and the bright blue light switch on the cover of Switch. The new book need a bold, iconic “symbol” to represent decisiveness.

Unused concepts for Decisive Book cover.

My first few attempts were fairly lame. I had a “coin toss” idea and a “multiple choice” idea, but as I worked through some of these junk ideas, a couple of decent ones came out as “usable.”


Unused concepts for Decisive Book cover.

Firstly was this “paper / rock / scissors” concept. I loved the combo of the three bold, isolated images. I think the visuals are simple and the concept is just complex enough to make the viewer take a second to decipher its meaning. I still kinda like it.

Publisher's decisive 8ball rendering

8-Ball Re-interpretation by Crown Publishing

But the final approach was the obvious winner. The “Magic 8-ball.” This was a classic representation of making decisions. You ask it a “yes” or “no” question, give it a shake and wait anxiously as  you stare through the bubble-riddled message seen through the peep hole on the back of the ball. This experience was actually recreated on the cover with a bonus, lenticular message which gives the reader yes or no answers.

Luckily for all involved, they loved it. The publisher, their designers,  the authors and me – all on the same page. Who’d a thunk it?

Next, I built the final art. I actually ended up shooting a 3rd-party, unofficial 8-Ball as to not face any kind of legal action from Hasbro.

Later down the line we got this final cover version back for approval from the publisher and I noticed some changes – the 8-Ball was now 3/4 view, it was a faux illustration of an 8-Ball and the typography had changed. I was bummed at first, because I loved how the straight-on “making eye contact” approach of staring into the 8-Ball was so engaging, but I understand the new angle  is an attempt to make the 8-Ball more recognizable as an object instead of this abstract, weird, black ball thing staring you down. It was a compromise I could live with, but I did re-shoot the 8-Ball at its new angle instead of drawing it. It was more realistic that way.


Decisive Book Cover

And there ya have it. The final cover. I have to admit, the spot green color, lenticular sticker and the slight emboss on the cover, really give this cover a bit more presence. Sure most people will only experience this book digitally, but I still have a fondness for the tactile qualities of a book.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I say you can. Plus, it’s my job. Ha! What would you think if this book cover ended using one of my original concepts?

Justin Gammon

Justin Gammon is an illustrator and designer with a penchant for the weird. This is clearly visible in the bizarre illustrations and animations he creates for the highly lauded and award-winning social media channels for Denny’s Diner.


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