For my first assignment in Visual Design, I’m going to discuss the cover of John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise. This book is loosely based upon the structure of an almanac, but filled with absurd information, made-up trivia, and other such nonsense. This book launched Hodgman’s career of film and tv appearances (particularly on The Daily Show and as the PC in the “Get A Mac” ad campaign), and eventually led to two followup volumes.
At the time, though, Hodgman was mostly an unknown writer and humorist, and the design of this book does an excellent job of setting the tone for what to expect.
The design draws inspiration from the Farmer’s Almanacs from about two centuries ago—with lots of text, complete sentences, and variations in font size–while pushing this aesthetic to its absurd limit. In addition to the main information, every bit of available space is crammed with text: Lists, notes, descriptions, and even (in small print) the full text of the book’s introduction. At the root, the design is a humorous illustration of the tension between information and confusion. The various text and figures that crowd the book’s cover attempt to inform, but the end result is a chaotic mess. This conflict between sense and nonsense reflects the book’s absurd, deadpan humor, as well as its overabundance of content—charts, footnotes, captions, asides, digressions, appendices and the like. Whether you find this approach to the cover intriguing or off-putting says a lot about whether you’ll enjoy the book.
The composition of the page is ultimately pretty basic. The cover is subdivided, first horizontally, and then vertically, and then horizontally, and so on. Like the cover itself, this structure is somewhat arbitrary, with heights depending on how many lines of text will fit in a space. However, even for something so intentionally crowded, the design makes sure that you can understand the important information. First, the color scheme is very simple: a bright blue and orange, as well as white text. The colors contribute to the cover’s visual loudness, while dividing the content between important (orange) and not (blue).
The text, meanwhile, is mostly set in medium weight Futura, with different sizes indicating different levels of importance. Most dramatically, the author’s name is more than twice as large as the next-largest text, allowing it to stand out from the sea of letters. Most importantly, the title receives a unique type treatment. It’s set in a different, condensed typeface, is even larger, and has a solid black drop shadow (the only black on the cover). Because of this font change and use of black, the title immediately commands the viewer’s focus.