Last August I became a dad. In between nappies and blowing raspberries on my son’s tummy, I’m lucky enough to design book packaging for a living.
There are loads of books on being a new father: the covers have amusing cartoons of scared looking men and babies running amok. You buy them because you need to know the best way to wipe a small bottom in the dark, or how avoid annoying your tired partner, not because of the baby-blue clichés on the front. But wouldn’t it be amazing if books on parenting were attractive and functional?
When little Joe was but two weeks old, Julia at Fixabook asked me to do some design for a charity they were working with. Through my bleary eyes I saw that the client was The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), the public body responsible supporting, advising and campaigning for better outcomes for children in care. I thought it was very apt after just becoming a parent myself, and relished the challenge of applying my book publishing design experience to the charity sector.
BAAF’s range of paperback books is led by Adopting a Child by Jenifer Lord which is aimed at people thinking about adoption who want to know more. The cover was 5 years old and in need of a facelift. The lead seller on Amazon (shown below alongside BAAF’s original cover) had a warm, lifestyle feel to it.
The book by the biggest authority on adoption in this country needed to compete.
But this wasn’t about putting a cute, fuzzy picture on the front. The design needed to represent a sensitive subject effectively.
There are currently over 86,000 children looked after by local authorities in the UK. Under 5% of all looked-after children are successfully adopted annually. Children waiting for adoption tend to be older, often part of a sibling group. There are children with disabilities who range in age from babies upwards. There are children from a huge variety of ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds; some have been abused and/or neglected. Just as there is a wide range of children needing adoption, so there is a wide range of people willing to adopt them. People of every background and sexuality, couples and single people, young and old have become successful adopters. It was my job to digest this mix.
I was expertly guided in this task by Shaila Shah, Director of Publications, and Jo Francis, BAAF’s publications editor. They made it clear that the new cover needed to be appeal to both the major consumers (women aged 35–45) and to professionals working within childcare, whilst being sensitive to the demographics. All of this needed to be done to a charity’s budget in a tough economic climate.
Reacting to a cover brief, trade or not, is an instinctive affair. You have to acquaint yourself with the subject and come up with a look that will balance content with purpose. And do it better than anyone else. I try to read every book I design for — I feel we owe it to the authors as designers. So I sat down and read Adopting a Child, and various other documentation as if I was going to go through the process myself, and also looked at what the competition were doing worldwide. Generally it was dry and clinical, with some rays of light. Who knew that promoting such a life-changing thing can be so offputting visually?
I came up with two basic directions. The first was photographic, showing a moment of trust between parent and child, or evoking parental instinct.
The second was illustrative, a bit of fun that would step around the demographics minefield …
Photography had to be sourced with budget in mind, but also without any catalogue cheesiness that’s so prevalent in stock nowadays. I scoured the web for the right pictures, which were literally and financially, on the money.
Photographic was by far the strongest route. Capturing a real moment of joy and trust between adult and child was what I was after.
A good deal of visuals later, demographics became less of an issue. We bend the rules so often in trade publishing design to maximise the market, and it was agreed that this would give Adopting a Child the best chance of success. The tone of the copy and the content is both qualified and approachable, and each chapter is laced with the experiences of people who have been through the process themselves.
Here’s the final cover. We were all captivated by the image.
Six months later, little Joe is bold, bright and communicating well. So now is Adopting a Child. Here’s what BAAF had to say:
‘Redesigning the cover was a difficult job, as adoption is a sensitive subject and design choices have to be made with this in mind. Mark was able to come up with a range of very creative cover ideas within this restrictive brief … The final cover incorporates the liveliness and sensitivity that we were looking for.’
It just shows how open-mindedness on the part of the client towards design and publishing expertise can work.
And what a pleasure it was. Thank you, Fixabook.