Is digital media making cover design obsolete?

Last month the release of Mass Effect 3 had a nifty design tweak for fans of femshep: the cover art was made to be double-sided, so fans could switch between which version of Shepard they could prefer. It was a clever idea, but with the growing trends towards digital media, might these sort of design innovations soon be obsolete?The Atlanticasks the question of book publishers given the rise of e-readers: 

The abstract idea of the cover remains […] as it does for album covers. Book designer Carin Goldberg remembers when she would sit in her room as a teenage girl listening to Joni Mitchell, holding the record in her arms. Since then she has designed hundreds of covers—among them are the 1986 edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, books by Kurt Vonnegut, and Madonna’s first record. The cover “functions as an emotional visual touchstone,” Goldberg says. “It’s still something that we will always visualize in our heads as what that book looked like. It definitely becomes part of the experience.”

For three decades, Goldberg has also been teaching design. This year, for the first time, she is offering a digital editorial design class using the iPad. To explain the technology side of things, she teamed up with two pros from Conde Nast. Goldberg launched her career without a computer, and hasn’t designed any covers for ebooks herself. These days, she says, “I’m more sort of, I guess, the guru.”

The article gives the example ofDaylight Saving, a recently published British novel that introduced several seemingly interactive elements to its online packaging: “The interactive blue splashes (gimmicky, maybe) are nonetheless entrancing for the few minutes spent toying with the cover.” The image of interactivity might benefit, some suggest, by taking a lesson or two from mediums native to the digital environment such as videogames:

“I’m not sure they should be called ‘covers,'” says Bill McCoy, the director of International Digital Publishing Forum, which oversees the EPUB system. Rather, “It’s really more an introduction to the experience you’re going to have in consuming this content.” For McCoy, this is comparable to an entrée into a video game or DVD main menu page. If a movie were to just start playing, the viewer’s impulse would be, “What’s wrong, what’s going on here?” he explains, “You expect to get some choices and a menu of options.” Whereas the movie business has been sorting this out for the past 15 years, “We’re just in year one of that for digital books.”

For some, those introductions are simply an annoyance to be tolerated until they can get to the good stuff. When McCoy’s 9 year-old son plays video games, he skips past preliminary screens to jump right into play. For their part, readers with print copies rarely stare admiringly at a cover for 20 seconds before diving into the text. “People will come to see what works and what’s annoying,” he says.

Will this ultimately in a result in yet another process of “gamification” that somehow diminishes the process of reading? Perhaps we need to establish a new understanding of the act of “reading” itself for new platforms and mediums.

[via The Atlantic]