Cardboard Monet, Graphic Design., Writing.

An Argument Against Designing for Thumbnail

May 5, 2016
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I’ve worked with many publishers and independent authors on their book covers, and there’s a common request made amongst them: to make sure the title is legible in thumbnail view. I push back at the start, but if the client is adamant I’ll concede and create what they’re looking for. But, whole-heartedly, I stand by my belief:

You shouldn’t design your cover for thumbnail view.

That’s not to say it isn’t important, but I’m also arguing that it doesn’t make or break your book sales, either. The logic behind making sure things are legible at thumbnail view has blossomed from the rise of online sales, where in the sea that is an Amazon.com search result, you’re but one minnow, striving to catch the attention of a reader. But there’s one thing some people might forget: You don’t have just a cover to go off of, on any of these sites. They’re always coupled with the title, author, price, etc… in text form beside the image because that’s what helps facilitate a sale.

And so, again, I argue: You shouldn’t design your cover for thumbnail view.

But, still, a lot of people don’t believe me and insist the title is blown up, unobstructed, etc… so that people can read what it says in thumbnail view, even though that might not look best for the design. What you should be designing for is the actual cover—what it’ll look like in print or eReader format. This is never a thumbnail size. People don’t really care about the thumbnail, but an attractive cover at full size can and will help sell your book. People judge books by their covers, not their thumbnail.

Don’t believe me? You be the judge. Check out the covers below from a few of the Big 5 publishers. Does it look like thumbnail view has dictated what their full cover looks like? (You can click on the cover to visit its Amazon page.)

Seven-Brief-Lessons-design-Coralie-Bickford-Smith i-am-sorry1  Written-in-the-Blood-design-by-Alex-Merto Dont-Lets-Go-To-The-Dogs-Tonight-design-Justine-Anweiler Witches-of-America-design-Rachel-Willey  Only-Street-in-Paris-design-by-StrickWilliams  Safekeeping-design-StrickWilliams  Racism-design-by-Daniel-Gray   why-information-grows-design-richard-green

What my argument comes down to is a book cover can be compelling without the need to read every letter. Pigeon-holing your designer to make a cover that can be read at thumbnail view might cause you to miss out on a truly spectacular design.

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