September 11, 2017

Don’t pass judgment on covers, lest you be judged yourshelf


Living online, every click of the mouse either: (a) broadcasts intimate details about you to the whole world, or (b) offers those same details up to advertisers and data-miners. Essentially every button on the web could be labeled “Judge Me.”

And yet, it is startling to actually encounter a button that says “Judge Me.” That’s exactly what you’ll find at the end of the online game Judgey. The game presents you with a series of ten book covers, running a design gamut from schlocky B-list celebrity biography (Dustin Diamond’s tell-all Behind The Bell)  to high-brow, critical-darling novels (John Darnielle’s excellent—and excellently designed—Wolf in White Van).

The goal: to judge a book by its cover, giving it anywhere from zero to five stars. The experiment: Judgey mines Goodreads user ratings (also zero to five stars) to determine the average reader’s score for the actual book, and then compares it with your judgment of the actual cover. The takeaway: when you click the damning “Judge Me,” you learn how your gut impressions stack up against the readerly hive mind.

It’s kind of like Family Feud meets

The game’s “about” page hints at an agenda:

Hey, thanks for playing Judgey.

(it’s hard, right?)

Of course it’s hard. It’s why the phrase “don’t
judge a book by its cover” exists.

And not to get all Aesop’s Fables on you, but
the moral is pretty easy to see.


Example of Book Cover As Art Object

Which I think means something like “your reading tastes are over-determined by market forces that rely heavily on bullshit constructs of gender, race, and class, and reflected back to you through an ever narrowing set of design tropes. Tons of people love books you would never even think to pick up. Tons of people hate the books in your wheelhouse. Branch out, man.”

Not a bad lesson, Judgey.

But I’d hate to lose the idea of book design as an art that can exist for its own sake — and so I leave you with these recent pieces of praise for Melville House covers.






Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.