You are what you hand out
Everyone is familiar with the saying "Don’t judge a book by its cover" but I can honestly say that I ALWAYS judge a book by its cover (even after I've been proven wrong, I still do it). First impressions are everything. Take this book cover for example (see Figure 1):
Figure 1: The 1994 cover art for "Arabian Jazz" by Diana Abu Jaber
I would have never picked up this book had it not been recommended; I found the cover to be loud and garish with the colors and illustrations suggesting something cartoonish. In spite of this, I thoroughly enjoyed the tale of an Americanized Jordanian family living in upstate New York.
Similar to a first interview, where what you wear matters, the design of your work can help to attract the audience. A good design can open the door; it can also influence how the work may be approached. Does the reader begin with a hesitating, skeptical eye? Will they feel free to dive in to what has been written with an open mind toward enlightenment? I find it so much easier to talk to someone who already thinks I am wonderful, rather than to first convince them that I am wonderful.
Good design is easy to navigate, maintains consistency, and enhances the content of the piece. Embrace whitespace (or negative space) so that the viewer can easily navigate the page without losing their focus on the presenter or the content. The headings and subheadings must always be consistent so that one is never confused about the hierarchy of the text. Design must always enhance the content being presented, every image must have a good reason for inclusion on the page.
However, a good look is not everything. Content must support design. No matter how beautiful the design, if the reader is not happy with the content, we've lost them.
I am happy that I took a chance on the aforementioned book; however, I would have invested my time earlier if I had felt the cover provided a better visual introduction. The book cover was redesigned in 2003 (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: The 2003 cover art for "Arabian Jazz" by Diana Abu Jaber
The new cover gives the reader a visual hint of what the book is about, the white picket fence evoking America and the sun icons juxtaposing the family's Middle Eastern heritage; and the text has a clear hierarchy making it easy to navigate the page with one quick scan.