Storefronts & Book Covers

by FirehorseWest


Too many shops don’t spend enough time on their exterior image. 

Stores are like books. We judge both by their covers. And those covers entice us to step inside.

It’s the holidays and lots of anxious shopkeepers are going the extra mile with garland and twinkly lights. They feel like now is the time to deck out their store windows with the little energy they may or may not have left. And they’re right to. But oh how I wish they put that effort in January through October, too. Because the attention paid to a store window—pays.

Storefronts are the Shazam of shopping.

They have about three seconds to say here I am, this is who I am, and you need to meet me.

That’s the time an average person takes to walk by a shop. I know because I live on a busy retail street. And I counted. Drivers get about one second to form their opinion.

A good storefront quickly tells us what we need to know about a shop and its brand. And this is true even if that window tells us we can’t know much about them until we walk through their doors. These are the shops that display a bit of contemplative art or an amusing vignette at the window to provide just a hint of what’s inside.

To do nothing is a decision.

The shop window can be many things. But it can’t be nothing. To offer nothing is a decision, conscious or otherwise. And it's noticed by the shopper, conscious or otherwise.

I designed a book cover for a most prolific human and burgeoning cult classic author. That last bit is what the critics say—and I believe they’re right. She spent a decade writing her first surrealistic fiction. But the book was originally released with a rather nondescript and uninspired cover. It didn’t attract the eye and didn’t suggest the strange and fantastic stuff inside. The cover was an ill-fitting frock on a supermodel.

I work primarily with space and experience design. But the approach to a book cover design is very much the same. The goal is to convey the essence of what we’ll find inside. It sets the tone. It establishes expectation. And it leaves us wanting more.

Book covers are tiny little storefronts.

Like storefronts, book covers need to stand out, stop us, and provide an introduction. They need to appeal to our emotions with some sort of connection. And they need to prompt a question and a curiosity as to how that question will be answered inside.

It’s a challenge to make a two-dimensional, silent swatch of color and shape speak. Conveying the essence of a book is a bit like trying to visualize the scent of a perfume.

But in today's visual world, a good book cover is more important than ever.Digital covers have the same 1-3 seconds to get someone’s attention. And each tiny thumbnail of a cover sits on a screen alongside a bunch of other tiny thumbnail covers all vying for the same 1-3 seconds.

After writing a book or opening a store it may be easy to forget how important these first impressions are. But you’ve run a marathon. And to stop short of the finish line means you might miss out on reaching people.

Books are, indeed, judged by covers. And so are stores.

One can view that as just not fair. Or one can view that as opportunity.