01 December 2009

GOD: What's the Big Idea?

My most recent foray into the rapidly expanding or—depending on your perspective—overly saturated god-or-no-god book market has made me aware of a trend (or a tendency, maybe), in cover designs for this genre. I get the sense that if the word "god" is in the title, you either go big—or go to hell, I suppose.

Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God was a late addition to the Fall 2009 list at Da Capo, and I must confess that I didn't fully research the covers of many competing titles before rushing to work on the design. Perhaps I was feeling holier-than-thou or something after achieving happy results with my last god-thought cover, The Portable Atheist .

I was reminded of the cost of working in a vacuum  when, after sending the design to the author, the editor pointed out some obvious similarities between my design (on the left) and the cover for the (at the time) forthcoming The Evolution of God (a nice design by Keith Hayes). When I (finally) looked around, I found that—more often than not—Jehovah gets jammed in our faces on books about the big guy, at an average of 120 point display or more. Here's a few examples:

What is it about the word (the idea, really of) GOD that makes us act like we're designing billboards for a political candidate, or the cover of some diet manifesto? Maybe the word inspires an American brand of graphic respect: bigger = more badass. After all, god is big. S/he can be threatening (old testament), omnipresent (new testament), and—according to most associated belief systems (which do not necessarily reflect the belief system of this blog), the ultimate designer! Most importantly, GOD usually blesses publishers with BIG book sales—and is therefore truly miraculous!

But do all these big, bold, grotesque and gothic typo-manifestations represent intelligent design (forgive me)? Going big when it comes to god seems to be a given, but it can't be the best solution. For all the books that the contemporary school of god-or-no-god thought has sent forth to multiply, we still don't seem to be able to deal with god as a concept. All we cover designers know is that s/he's important, all-caps, and really big. And sometimes condensed. In order to be bigger.

One exception to all of the towering, godly type in this genre is the cover for God Is Not Great, designed by Anne Twomey . The hierarchy is intentionally reversed, making "god" the most diminutive word in the title (and it's even lacking an initial cap—blasphemy!). When you consider this book's message, and what the holy spirit seems to trigger in all of us other designers, you can't help but appreciate the cover even more. It succeeds for standing in contrast—as a natural reaction—to the other covers in the genre, a nice graphic counter-point which successfully functions as an interpretation of the book itself.

In the end, the author and publisher liked my original design for Patience With God enough to approve it, in spite of the near-identical publishing schedule of The Evolution of God. I'm happy with the design (if a little deflated); the author, editor and—more importantly—my boss (who is not, incidentally, a Jewish carpenter) are all happy with it. The only downside is that I've basically damned myself to a cliché purgatory, guilty of super-sizing the lord's name in vain—at least I'm not the only born sinner to do so.


  1. Today I walked by a bookstore that had in its window a bunch of those GOD covers all in a row, and I thought about this post, and chuckled to myself...but then I started to think about other ways one could say GOD! on a book cover without spelling it out typographically. I enjoyed the brain exercise; thanks for pointing out the trend, Alex.

  2. Ha, i know this is an older post but I just now found it. Great stuff Alex, and I too am guilty of the massive GOD manifestation on a cover design.


  3. Thanks Brandon!

    And yes, that's quite a big GOD you have there...