Peter Mendelsund on imitation

“Whenever I hear that someone in my field has been asked (told) to design a book jacket that looks like some other, preexisting jacket…told to ape a previously successful title, or a ‘genre look’ (and this is increasingly how we are directed) I think to myself…there’s a word which describes when a thing is designed to look like those things which surround it, and that word is ‘camouflage’…being a tool (or in nature, an inherent characteristic) for when one wants something not to be found; remain hidden; like-amongst-like.

What prompted this rant was something a colleague just told me about. This designer (who is arguably one of the best book cover designers in the biz) was just told to make a cover for a new crime novel ‘grittier, you know, more like ‘crime’…’ i.e. imitate some gawdawful cliches and hit all the signifiers…

And this designer said something smart to me, which is, ‘They’ve just robbed themselves of the chance to have a jacket others will want to imitate.’

By the way, I recall the same things (needing a ‘crime look’) being said to me regarding my cover for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (not that this is exemplary design or anything, but it’s nice to have that ole counter example on hand…).”

— Peter Mendelsund