Recently I ran across a fun little project called Judgey, in which participants are invited to judge books by their covers. You’re presented with a book cover and asked to rate it from 0 to 5 stars. Then, you’re shown the Goodreads rating for that book. After a set of ten, Judgey “judges” you – by telling you how accurate your ratings were to the Goodreads ratings.
There’s a short post with some of their results here, but for the most part I’ve had more fun just playing around with Judgey itself. At first I was a little confused as to whether I was supposed to be rating the cover itself, how much I wanted to read the book based on the cover, or how good I thought the book inside was likely to be. All of them are related, of course, but they do result in different ratings. At first I was trending more towards the first, upon which Judgey declared me pretty judgmental. Then I realized that maybe that wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing, so I transitioned more towards the last, with a little of “What would Goodreads say?” thrown in. (Because, after all, Goodreads ratings are probably skewed by voluntary response bias, among other things.) Now, Judgey has declared me “pretty darn fair.”
Frankly, though, I was having more fun judging the covers themselves. Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with the way Judgey is set up; if anything, it just shows that there are multiple ways to play around with the program. You can play it like a game, trying to get your ratings as close as possible to the Goodreads ratings, or you can click through a bunch of book covers and judge them however the heck you like! Like I said, I’m partial to judging the covers themselves. I’m hardly a graphics design expert, but we’re so constantly bombarded with such images that it’s hard not to develop some kind of grasp on what works and what doesn’t. I’ve read some interesting articles about cover design, too, which I wish I could dig up now.
The thing is, books actually try to be easy to judge based on their covers. The people who create and disseminate the books want people to buy them, after all. That means giving potential buyers a good idea of what’s inside the book based on various visual shorthands. From that perspective, a good book cover is just one that communicates effectively what it encloses. Justin Bieber: His World, for example, actually has a decent cover by that standard:
I have no idea what the quality of the book is like (I’m biased towards “poor,” but that is a bias), and I definitely have no desire to read it, but the cover is of decent quality and it does its job.
But that’s only one metric. My personal favorite is simply, Is it attractive? Is it beautiful, as a work of art in itself? That, of course, is far more subjective. But the cover I most liked from Judgey (so far) is for Normal, by Graeme Cameron:
I like the simplicity of the imagery, and how much it communicates in spite of its simplicity – the threateningness, the isolation, the inescapability. I don’t think it’s a book I’d enjoy, but I do enjoy the cover. Similarly, I enjoy the Twilight cover. It has minimalistic imagery that nevertheless carries a tremendous freight of meaning. (Why yes, I do in fact have a thing for symbolism, how did you guess?) It loses points for the font, but one can’t have everything.
But I digress. The point is, Judgey is a fun project, and there are multiple ways to have fun with it. So go forth! And have some fun.