Do Judge a Book by Its Cover: An Interview with the Art Director

Do Judge a Book by Its Cover: An Interview with the Art Director

As well-informed book-lovers, I’m sure we would all like to say that our book-buying decisions are based on several educated factors—concept, author, main thesis, etc. But I know I’d be lying if I said that the cover art has nothing to do with it. How many times have I picked a book up off the shelf simply because the cover grabbed me? I had never heard of the author, I didn’t know yet exactly what the book was about, I was just. . . intrigued. I liked it without even knowing why.

David Fassett
IVP Art Director David Fassett

Well this seemingly gut-level reaction has a lot more thought behind it than you may realize. And who better to tell us about the cover design process than IVP’s newly promoted art director, David Fassett! David has been with IVP for eight years, beginning as a marketing graphic designer on the creative team. He increasingly took on many book cover designs alongside our previous art director, Cindy Kiple, and was promoted into the role when she retired earlier this year.

It’s not often that one of our authors asks to interview their cover designer for their blog. But that’s exactly what happened earlier this year, when first-time IVP author JR. Forasteros asked to interview David about his design for Empathy for the Devil. What you’ll see below was originally published in JR.’s post at norvillerogers.com.

Plus, check out this video to see the hours of brainstorming, trial and error, and experimentation it takes to design a successful book cover. This was David’s sped up screen grab of his process for Empathy for the Devil, which JR. asks him about below.

Forasteros: How did you get into graphic design?

Fassett: I drew a lot growing up (even though I’m really not great at it) and always loved playing around with computers and technology. I collected basketball cards and was attracted to the different textures and treatments that were used. I was fascinated by album covers and the way they attempted to give visual expression to the music that they packaged. I think what captivated me about graphic design (and still does) was the way that even subtle variations in type, shapes, line, and color can significantly change the mood of a piece and what is communicated. Design has the power to give expression to intangibles that are difficult or impractical (for commercial purposes) to express in words. So I went to school, got a degree in graphic design, worked in a couple small agencies, and came to InterVarsity Press in 2009. I love the challenge of communicating complex ideas in visually compelling ways. When it comes together, it can be magical!

Forasteros: Did you choose to work on Empathy for the Devil, or was it assigned to you?

Fassett: Since I’ve recently become the Art Director at IVP, I’m now responsible to manage the book cover design process. So I do get to decide which books I get to work on and which are given to others. I was very excited to design this cover because it’s a book on a unique topic with a great title. What more can book cover designer ask for?

Forasteros: What idea was your starting point for the cover? What was your process? What materials did you use as a starting point? Where did you draw an inspiration from?

Empathy for the DevilFassett: I read a few chapters of the early manuscript and went through the author questionnaire that you provided and knew that I wanted it to allude to a comic book aesthetic since the word “villain” conjures up comic book characters in the minds of many. You also mention the contemporary fascination with villains in the opening of your book. This direction was solidified when Al Hsu, the editor of the book, sent me over a video that you did where you mention your love for Batman (you were also wearing a Batman shirt).

All that helped me zero in more on the personality that I wanted the cover to have. The title is provocative so I also wanted the cover to reflect that. I saw your comment about the devil looking cartoonish and cheesy and I started thinking about old tracts portraying the devil since they have almost a comic book vibe and seemed instrumental in forming contemporary portrayals/caricatures of the devil. I was thinking of using a snake in some capacity on the cover since they can be a powerful symbol of evil but they can also convey a sense of mystery and ambiguity.

Your book is helping us to see some biblical stories from a different perspective, to see why it seemed plausible for the villains discussed to do what they did and how we can slide into similar patterns of thinking and living so the ambiguity seemed very appropriate. Also when I saw your tattoos, I thought a similar aesthetic would work well for the snake. So I wanted something that brought the aesthetics of comic book villains, tattoos and old gospel tracts together!

Forasteros: The tone of the cover is fun and unique. How early in the process did you settle on this tone?

Fassett: It was fairly early in the process that I knew this was one direction that I wanted to try. I also tried some more “literary” treatments as well inspired by older C. S. Lewis covers since this is such a beautifully written book, but I didn’t think they were as effective so I’m glad we went this cover!

Forasteros: What was most important for you that the cover communicate?

Fassett: I wanted it to communicate shadowy intrigue (but in a fun, gritty, comic book sort of way).

Forasteros: Which villain are you most excited for people to read?

Fassett: I thought the way you unpacked how the story of Cain raises the question of where we find our ultimate identity incredibly insightful.


About Empathy for the Devil

JR. Forasteros
Author JR. Forasteros

Do we have anything in common with the bad guys of the Bible? In his fictionalized narrative, Empathy for the Devil, JR. Forasteros reintroduces us to some of the most villainous characters in Scripture, with figures such as Cain, Jezebel, King Herod, and even Satan serving as cautionary tales of sin and temptation. Take a fresh look at the scoundrels of Scripture with this vivid mix of story and biblical exposition.

Connect with JR. at his website, jrforasteros.com, and follow him on Twitter: @jrforasteros.


David’s Favorite IVP Cover Designs

David Fassett shares some of his favorite book cover designs from his career with IVP.

See more of David’s work at his online portfolio, and follow him on Twitter: @dfass405.

2 Replies to “Do Judge a Book by Its Cover: An Interview with the Art Director”

  1. I think it’s unfortunate that the typography showing the title and subtitle is hard to read. As a bookseller who appreciates good aesthetics I think this is not the best execution of the vibe. I asked my sales rep to give you’all feedback but he thought it was too late. I get the edgy look and see this aesthetic all over on underground posters in hipster neighborhoods, but I’m not sure it will work to sell the book to IVP readers. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think it works.

  2. I’ve been working as a visual artist for more than 30 years (photography). My weak spot is conceptual art. As such, I marvel at how anyone can take an idea and make it visual. Let alone compelling and beautiful. Major hat tip to all of you designers out there!

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