Designing a Book’s Logo/Title

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series Game Publishing Lessons Learned

Introduction

In April 2012, Neil Carr, a member of the RPGGeek community, started a series of Amateur Kickstarter discussion threads. These discussions were partly his way of bouncing ideas off of the community and partly his way of getting advice about how to get started with a Kickstarter project he had in the works. I took part in these discussions and learned a lot of great lessons from them myself.

Now, one year later, I wanted to reflect and share what I’ve learned from those discussions and from my own experience since then. The more we can learn from each other, the better off the industry as a whole will be.

In this series I will recap, post-by-post, each of the 10 or so discussion topics raised by Neal. I’ll touch upon the topics discussed in each thread and elaborate with new knowledge I have gained since then. This article will feature his eighth post, “The Book Title – How should it be made?” Use the Series Navigation links on the right to find other posts in this series.

Original Post

I’ve stepped onto the path of being an amateur RPG publisher via Kickstarter. I want to see how far I can travel from zero-to-hero and I’m looking for help along the way. These series of posts are in part just me thinking aloud, but also asking specific questions as I put the pieces together to achieve rpg publishing victory.

It’s one thing to make some wacky title effects for a flyer with those pre-defined options in Word, however faced with trying to sell a compelling book I wonder, “what the heck am I supposed to do with the title?”

Part layout, part art… what do people do here if you want a professional look? I’d assume all of this could be handled by layout software such as the expensive Adobe Illustrator, is there a Scribus equivalent for Illustrator?

How many people hire artists?

What is the Deviant Art of graphic designers?

What kind of prices should one expect to pay for book title graphic design?

My Thoughts

This question seems pretty simple at first: how does one go about creating an appealing logo for a game? The answer is, of course, not as straightforward.

In my opinion, a logo needs to do two things: 1) display the book’s title in a legible way so people can easily identify it; 2) convey the feeling of the game in an aesthetically-pleasing manner.

Part 1 is easy if all you do is print the game’s title in giant text on the cover of the book, but it won’t meet requirement number 2 if that’s all you do. You need to manipulate that text in some way to make it describe your game visually: if you’re creating a sci-fi game it needs to look futuristic, a pulp game needs to look pulpy, and a cartoonish game needs to look cartoony.

If you don’t have any clue where to begin with making your logo fit the feel of your setting, you’re probably better off hiring a graphic designer to do the job for you. If you already dabble in graphics design there are a number of great programs — both free and otherwise — you can use to do the job.

Graphics Software

If you subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, you’ll already have access to Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. As I understand it, Illustrator is the prefrable of the two programs for creating appealing logos; it creates vector-based illustrations rather than raster-based images, which for the non-graphics designers among us basically just means you can scale the images to fit any size without it getting blurry or blocky. That’s important, because your logo will be printed in a lot of different ways and in a lot of different sizes, so you’ll want an image file that can handle being resized with ease.

The open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator is called Inkscape. As with many open source programs its interface is a little tricky to get used to sometimes, and it may not possess all of the features that the $1,000 alternatives do, but it’s very powerful and it will certainly do the trick if you’re designing graphics on your own.

In either case, you’ll need to create your logo at 300 dpi resolution using CMYK color options if you intend to print it using any sort of print-on-demand or traditional print house. The same goes for any image you create for your books.

Hire a Graphics Designer

If you, like me, are not a graphics designer you may wish to consider hiring someone to design your logo for you. It will cost you, but possibly not as much as you think. Many artists are willing to work within your budget. This is where I recommend turning to Google+ to simply put the word out that you’re in the market for an artist; you’ll have plenty of bites in no-time.

If your social media circles aren’t yet very large, you may also consider using 99designs.com to hire an artist. At 99designs.com you can post a job and receive samples from several different designers at once. You choose the one you like best and pay for it. The downside is that you aren’t necessarily working with someone in the RPG industry, so you can’t be sure whether or not the people who submit samples will fully understand the look and feel you’re going for. This is where being specific really pays off.

Here are a few things to consider when hiring a graphics designer. I wish I’d known these things when I was looking for a designer for Psi-punk.

  • Know what you want. When you put out a call for artists, let them know you want a logo for [insert your game’s name] and that you want a certain kind of feel (sci-fi, pulp, fantasy, cartoonish) for it.
  • If you know your upper limit for your budget, be up front about it. If you can’t afford more than $75, say so.
  • If you already know the color scheme your cover is going to use, let your graphics designer know they need to design the logo to match. (More on this in a bit.)
  • It’s okay to ask to see an artist’s portfolio; it is generally considered rude to ask them to create you a sample before you offer to pay (more on that in the next article).
  • That being said, once you’ve paid them a deposit and they’ve begun work for you, it’s okay to ask for a reasonable number of revisions. Work with the artist to determine what a “reasonable” number is.

My Journey, My Mistakes

Here’s a step-by-step process of what I did when hiring my first logo artist for Psi-punk. Avoid my mistakes.

First of all, I put a call out to Google+ for graphics artists. This was not a mistake. Within literally less than 2 minutes I was connected with a talented artist who was willing to work for cheap. $35 was the asking price for the logo and he was willing to make minor revisions and all of the color changes I desired.

Mistake #1: The mistake was that I didn’t include my budget or a description of what I wanted at the time I put out the call. I lucked out in finding someone who was talented and willing to work for cheap, but I wouldn’t recommend betting on luck.

I knew what I wanted at the time. A sort of flesh-meets-steel look for the Psi-punk text that showed off the “cyber” part of cyberpunk. Add some cool lightning effects, make them purple to seem kind of meta-physical, and voila. Easy as pie. Right?

I worked with my logo artist at length to get the colors and the lightning to look and feel just right. He did an amazing job of doing just what I asked him for. I paid him, with a bonus, and sent the logo to my layout artist.

Mistake #2: I hadn’t bothered to match the logo to the cover image. My logo was flesh-toned with steel grey for the cyberware and purple for the lightning. The cover image was blue and black. It clashed horribly.

I didn’t ask my logo artist to match anything to the cover image. I worked independently with him and wound up creating something that looked great on its own but terrible as a whole.

Mistake #3: This all happened when things were coming down to the wire. I admit that I hadn’t commissioned a logo soon enough in the game’s lifecycle and I didn’t leave myself much time for revisions. Rather than being able to ask my logo designer for a major overhaul (which I may have had to pay additional money for, since a major overhaul falls outside the realm of “minor revisions and color tweaks”) I had to once again rely on luck. Thankfully, my layout artist is also a superb logo designer and was able to quickly whip up and amazing logo that matched the cover and conveyed the feel of the game. I wound up paying one talented artist for work that I didn’t wind up using though.

So what did we learn?

1. Be specific when seeking an artist.

2. Know exactly what you want and need; don’t just have a vague image. If your cover image is already finished, send it to your logo artist (if they’re not the same person who designed the cover) and ask them to help you match your ideas with the cover art. If you’re working in the reverse order, send your logo to the cover artist and ask them to match the cover to the logo.

3. Leave yourself enough time to make revisions. Don’t get caught waiting until it’s time to layout the final pages of the book before you turn in your art to the person doing the layout (whether that’s yourself or someone else). Leave yourself enough time for everything.

Conclusion

Whether you’re designing your logo yourself or hiring an artist to do it for you, it’s important to consider your game’s appearance. The logo is going on the cover of the book, and it’s going to be one of the first things anyone notices about the game. Make it count.

We’re almost to the last topic in this series: the Costs and Complications of Shipping. Since Psi-punk isn’t yet to the shipping stage (I anticipate that will be within about three weeks) I am going to write a different article next week, one with more details about how to interact with artists (which will include some other hard lessons learned). Check back next week for more Game Publishing Lessons Learned, perhaps better known as “Jacob reveals his blunders.”

If you have any further questions, comments, or insight, please leave them below!

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About Jacob Wood

Jacob founded Accessible Games because he wants to spread the joy of gaming to everyone, including people with disabilities. He is visually impaired and knows what it's like to need to adapt, and he brings two decades of gaming experience to the table.
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