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Covering the Past
Dragon's-Eye View
By Jon Schindehette

O ne of the requests I received asked about the process of creating and determining book layout, and also asked about how we come up with the look and feel of the covers and guts. This isn't something that we have even started talking about yet in relation to the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons simply because we are still in the playtest portion of development. I don't want to spend a lot of energy figuring out layouts, text styling and formatting, ways of dealing with stats, information architecture, and all the millions of nuances around layout until I have a good sense that we are getting close to a decision point. That all said, that doesn't mean that we haven't been kicking around "blue sky" ideas about what the cover treatment and book layout could look like. So let's take a few minutes and go over a few things so that I can get your feedback.

PLEASE NOTE: All examples are explorations I pulled together for discussion points only. None of the samples show anything that I am currently planning on implementing nor should they give any indication to what our product line-up with the next iteration of D&D will look like. Like I said earlier, we aren't to that phase of development yet.

Since the first thing you see with a product is the cover, let's chat about covers first.

Covers are fun and interesting little creatures. Covers play an especially important part in the life cycle of a product. When I'm talking about covers, I often look at covers with a few different categories or mind-sets in place:

  • Marketing: A cover can often be the only aspect of a product that the public engages with for many months. How many times have you taken your first look at a product by seeing a small thumbnail of the cover and perhaps a short blurb on a website? Sales and marketing professionals swear that a good cover can make or break a product long before fans have a chance to lay hands on it. I ask questions such as does the cover engage, entice, and appeal to the consumer? Does it read well as a thumbnail? Does it have a non-quantitative "cool" factor to it? Does it make me want to learn more (read the text blurb about the book)?
  • Shelf Presence: Shelf presence includes whether the shelf is in a store or at your home. How does the cover fit into the look and feel of the line? Does it fit in and feel like a part of the current product offering, or does it feel like a misfit? At the same point, does the cover have enough of an identity so that it stands out and is easy to find when you are scanning the shelf?
  • Narrative: Does the cover tell a story about what's inside? Does it set a tone that matches the content? Does it give some information about what is contained within it?
  • Perceived Value: Does the cover create a value proposition that meets or exceeds the price of the product? Is there sticker shock because the cover doesn't live up to the expectation the price sets?
  • Essence: Yep, I'm bringing this up again. You'll hear me talk a lot about the essence of D&D in future articles. Does the cover capture the essence of D&D? If you covered up the D&D logo, does it still feel like D&D? Does it feel adventurous and heroic? Does it tap into the imagination?

These are some of the qualities that I use to judge cover explorations. Please keep them in mind.

Now, let's look at the past. When I look at what we've done in the past for D&D, I hold some of the cover designs against this set of measurements and ask myself how they measure up. What lessons can I learn from them? What can I pull forward and use to help feed my future explorations? That sounds like a good place to start!

Let's take a moment and look at each of these covers in turn so that we can measure them against the categories mentioned above. Now I have some limitations in how polls can be run—namely, I'm limited to radio buttons. So help me out with this process. Let's keep it simple. I'll give you a category based on what I wrote above, and you tell me how well it fulfills on the category, as you see it, on a scale of 1 to 5. 1 = it fails, 3 = no opinion, 5 = succeeds.

Advanced D&D


 Advanced D&D: Marketing  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 Advanced D&D: Shelf Presence  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 Advanced D&D: Narrative  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 Advanced D&D: Perceived Value  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 Advanced D&D: Essence  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds




2nd Edition


 2nd Edition: Marketing  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 2nd Edition: Shelf Presence  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 2nd Edition: Narrative  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 2nd Edition: Perceived Value  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 2nd Edition: Essence  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds




3rd Edition


 3rd Edition: Marketing  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 3rd Edition: Shelf Presence  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 3rd Edition: Narrative  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 3rd Edition: Perceived Value  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 3rd Edition: Essence  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds




4th Edition


 4th Edition: Marketing  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 4th Edition: Shelf Presence  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 4th Edition: Narrative  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 4th Edition: Perceived Value  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

 4th Edition: Essence  
1—It fails
2
3—No opinion
4
5—It succeeds

This only starts the discussion, and it helps to cement a framework for having future discussions. When I circle back to this topic, I'll talk a little about the process of development, and go over a few ideas of what a cover might look like in the new iteration of Dungeons & Dragons.

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.
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