The importance of cover artwork is gradually being lost, in an age where a song is an intangible entity on a twirling magnetic disk, and books are nothing more than illuminated words on a glass screen. Why would we care about a beautiful painting or sketch, when it is rendered in a two-by-two inch square on a device that rarely leaves our pocket?
There was a time when you picked the thing you wanted by the way its artwork looked; countless favorite albums of mine came simply by having seen their cover – when I saw Type O Negative‘s cover for Bloody Kisses, I simply knew I had to have it. The same was true for Danzig‘s How the Gods Kill, with its incredible, grotesque and frankly disturbing artwork by none other than H. R. Giger (he of Alien fame).
And the same, once, was true of books. At the risk of upsetting the age-old maxim, a book’s cover has a lot to say for its contents, even if it is nothing more than a gesture. The leather-bound, gold-pressed edition of Oliver Twist on my father’s imposing bookshelf sent the clear message that this was an IMPORTANT book, and was therefore very BORING. When I later discovered a copy with a lovely, friendly picture of the rascally little orphan, I devoured it.
However, if ever there was a loss of cover artwork, it is in the realm of computer software. Long-passed are the days of buying software in a box on a shelf in a big, cold, unfriendly store, driving home, sticking the disc (or floppy, or what-have-you) into the computer, and muddling your way through incomprehensible Read-Me files and instructions before realizing that you only got the Lite version, and what you really needed was the Ultimate Pro Bonus Pack 7 (with X9 Speed-Upgrade) version. Back in the day, some software simply was mandatory, and the rest tried to sell itself on the merits of what the other stuff didn’t have.
Now, we get our computer’s capabilities from a plethora of online sources. I personally download virtually all of my applications now through the Mac App Store; it is clean, friendly, and easy to navigate. However, the artwork has been reduced to its most elemental function: an icon, a hundred pixels to a side, doing its very best to try and give us some vague notion of what the application actually does.
And in this world of instant access, many of the heavyweights of boxed software are finding themselves suddenly challenged by the newcomers. Google Docs and Open Office are taking the place of Microsoft Office in many businesses and homes; photo-editing apps such as Pixelmator and Picasa are making people question why they would spend $700 on Photoshop.
With this overwhelming choice upon consumers, the big names must step up, and convince us that their products are still worth buying. A part of this, naturally, begins with the cover artwork. If you are still going to be selling your stuff in a box, you need to make that box as appealing as possible. It ought to call out that this is a friendly product, that you’re going to feel right at home with it, like a brother or a sister or a friendly neighbor. Something that would inspire you to create new, colorful, vibrant and beautiful works of art.
Something like this?