Steve Douglas on September 15th, 2010

I am not Guy's book cover

As is usual with any high-profile spec work or crowdsourcing ‘event,’ Guy Kawasaki’s recent contest for the cover design of his upcoming book Enchanted raised an internet firestorm with graphic designers claiming that he was “selling out” the design profession. Kawasaki pushed back, claiming that Crowsourcing was the route to go for creativity and choice, gave unknown designers an opportunity, and that designers opposed to crowdsourcing best ‘deal with it’.

As Guy Kawaski himself points out, I have no beef with him (used to read a lot by him, and about him in MacWorld and similar Macintosh evangelist magazines). Should point this out – I don’t consider myself a book cover designer. despite having designed quite a few, during one of my previous lives as a magazine art director, and usually the result of a project that started off with “yo, graphics guy – design a cover for this book.” While most of the titles are now out of print, a few of them sat on bestseller lists for a while. Despite this, I always felt that book covers were left up to people who specialize in, well, book covers as it’s a niche part of the graphic design profession, with an entire subset of rules, techniques and considerations. That’s why, when Kawasaki announced his contest, I followed the conversations about it, and even had a few back and forths about his opinions about spec work and crowdsourcing. I think it’s safe to say he’s pretty much in the pro camp.

guy kawasaki tweet

For the purposes of this post, we’re going to accept all of Guy’s claims at face value. We’ll grant (if only temporarily) that crowdsourcing and design contests offer unknown and upcoming designers a way to get their foot in the door, and an ‘opportunity’ to design a bestselling book cover for a world famous author. And that crowdsourcing does offer lots of choice, creativity and inspiration for the client (we’re not even going to get into the fairness, exploitation or even pricing debate – other than tell you that Kawasaki offered $1000 for the winning designer).

Hard to argue with the numbers with 240 designers entering. Between them, they produced over 750 entries for the Enchantment cover contest (though I expected more, considering Kawasaki’s high profile – a similar contest for Mega-church preacher Rick Warren‘s now ‘postponed’ The Hope You Need netted him over 3,000 entries). Once the selections were whittled down to 5, Kawasaki opened up voting, and encouraged people through his Twitter account to vote for their favorites (below – winning entry is second from left).

kawasaki book covers

Some of the covers produced, in my somewhat limited expertise with book cover design, were really nice. Especially the version with the heart shaped ribbon (above – second from right). That one really caught my eye (and according to the final votes, a lot of other eyes). Concept is very cool. Tied into the Enchantment theme. Yep, that’s a decent cover alright. Maybe Kawasaki is right and designers were on the wrong track with this crowdsourcing debate. Maybe these design contests were great for sourcing creativity an original ideas. Maybe anyone could design book covers after all, elitist, snooty designers be damned. Maybe. And then again, maybe not.


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16 Comments to “I am not Guy’s book cover”

  1. Dave McCourt says:

    Fantastic. What a great post highlighting the nonsense of crowdsourcing and the off-the-shelf design it encourages and the ridiculous situations it puts its supporters in. Bravo!

  2. Kaishin says:

    I couldn’t care less about Kawasaki’s book, or even the man himself, but it’s just sad to see ‘top visionaries’ backing up crowdsourcing… it shows how deeply design is misunderstood.

  3. Guy Kawasaki doesn’t know what he missed. For the same $1000 he could have hired an extremely talented young (or not so young) designer who would have happily given him a personalized service and design. They also would have appreciated the ‘big break’ and Guy could have converted that in good press for himself. I noticed he now covers design in a lot of his tweets but suspect he can’t tell a good design from a piece of stock crap. Whatever, he probably also thinks fast food is as good as homemade.

  4. Tom says:

    This reminds me of some of the online business card sites. It amazes me how people are consistently, genuinely surprised when you show them a handful of other cards that use the same stock background with someone else’s name on it.

  5. Surprised Guy Kawasaki doesn’t mind getting cheapo work for his “bestsellers”. No self respecting designer would enter this contest. :/

  6. eagleseye says:

    Ok, so can I sue you guys for using my design concept? I threw that cover together in about 10 minutes. Honestly people get a life.

    • Steve Douglas says:

      @ eagleseye – sure, you can sue away. Though our argument would be that the concept belongs to the original photographer, which we paid for the rights to use from iStock (we tossed a few ducats the photographer’s way – wondering if you did the same). Besides, it’s not like we’re publishing and selling a book called “I Am Not Guy’s Book Cover” – the exercise was pretend. There’s also fair use, parody, etc, etc, etc.

      You “threw that cover together in ten minutes” you say? Agreed. When working on spec, there’s very little point of investing any more. Even for something as high-profile as a book cover contest for a Guy Kawasaki best-seller.

      Kinda the point of the entire article.

  7. eagleseye says:

    I could argue back that the image was not the entire concept. Besides, if I look through logo factory I can find plenty of examples of work that is not really original and which parts have been used from other artists. The fact that my entry made top 5 of the contests and placed second says something about the design standing out from the rest. Did I pay for the graphic? no, but my original image includes the fact that I used an istockphoto graphic and that if my design was chosen, that graphic would need to be purchased. Of course if the design was chosen, I’m sure there would be modification of it to, and that it wouldn’t have been the final book design. I’m sure Guy would understand this.

    • Steve Douglas says:

      @ eagleseye – No need for a pissing contest about design (though I must take exception with this part of your comment – “plenty of examples of work that is not really original and which parts have been used from other artists.” Hate our work as much as you like, but that’s simply not true, and usually the other way around, especially on crowdsourcing sites, the subject of this post).

      Anyhoo, not once did I question your design prowess. As I mentioned in the article above I really, really liked your cover design. And for what it’s worth, it was the one that I expected to win (hell, I even voted for it).

      In terms of paying the photographer, I was just wondering is all. No biggie.

  8. eagleseye says:

    @ Steve, thanks for your vote!

  9. [...] This post was Twitted by billymont [...]

  10. Brilliant article. Have to say when I discovered the estemmed Mr. K is a big fan of crowdsourcing I was, and still am, very disappointed. We have enough problems in this industry without *gurus* like him backing practices that undermine true professionals. I agree that the best thing he could have done was showcase an undiscovered talent. And the response that you have gotten from a certain corner illustrates the struggles with people who think that good design can happen in a few hours or a day max for very little. It’s fine for him, not having to live day-to-day like many of us in the proletariate – but he’s just adding another layer of difficulty to the business of being a freelancer.

  11. You know, I have to argue a lot with your “true professionals” argument – a lot of the people that submit things when “crowdsourced” ARE professionals. Chances are they work locally or regionally and are doing things like this to get the larger recognition that they rightly deserve.

    Sure, there’s always going to be somebody that takes a stock image from somewhere and adds a few words, but there’s also always going to be true designers out there who want to show what they can do.

    (On a side note, though, it’d be nice to see all the covers and not just those five selections – I only like two of them; the winning one (albeit my second choice) and the tracy lucas one at the very end (it’s unique and caught my eye immediately!).)

  12. [...] stock photography for high-profile ‘design work’ which sounds fine, until you realise there are no copyright restrictions preventing anyone from re-making that same design and for a fraction of the cost paid. When there is no money to be made, quality suffers and so do [...]

  13. Recently took advantage of a crowd-sourcing logo site to acquire a logo for … now I’m a bit worried that it might be ripped off or otherwise not on-the-level. Hopefully we got lucky and got a real designer, but as a fellow creative person who’s put a lot of work out there (and had a lot of it stolen), I can see where you’re coming from. I think I’ll try to avoid crowd-sourced design from here on out.

    FWIW – I pay illustrators frequently, who I select on a per-project basis via a pretty arduous portfolio review process and who are almost always “unknowns” … so I’m helping the good guys, too. :)