ANATOMY OF DESIGN
Graphic designers often enjoy performing illusionist feats, and like other sly
magicians they are fond of tweaking perception and deceiving expectations.
Because the basic two-dimensional surface on which they work has obvious
limitations, artists and designers throughout the centuries—at least since the
Greeks “invented” perspective back around 540 B.C.—have routinely attempted to
magically and cunningly turn flat into multidimensional space. They’ve done this
through classic trompe l’oeil painting techniques, where objects are rendered on
canvas or walls so precisely realistically they appear to be three-dimensional.
They’ve also accomplished this by tweaking the laws of perspective in such a
way that convincing illusions deceive the eye into seeing what isn’t there. By
blending these techniques into a single methodology, designers have also toyed
with the conventions of typography by making faux-dimensional letterforms that
appear to be made of unconventional materials, like wood or stone.
Paul Buckley’s designs for the Richard Bachman and Stephen King novels
The Regulators and Desperation are illusionary exploits of enviable proportions.
Both books adhere to the same basic format and formal motif. Each is illustrated
in a pseudo-prosaic, magical realism style and depicts an eerie rural setting that
ominously suggests the horrors to be revealed as the plot develops.
(Incidentally, the similarity between these graphics is a deliberate wink and nod
to the fact that Bachman and King are the same person.) Buckley also made the
book jackets into veritable diptychs. While each stands on its own, when facing
outward side by side on a shelf they form a single image; then, when turned
around, the backs of each jacket—a wooden wall fence in both cases—is a
trompe l’oeil hole that looks out on the scene from the cover. A little confused?
Then look for yourself at the images to see how the trick works.
Buckley’s optical illusion builds on two common graphic arts conceits. One
is a subcategory of trompe l’oeil that might be called the hole-in-the-paper trick,
wherein a small piece of visual information is revealed through a slash, gash, or
hole presumably torn, poked, or sawed out of the surface. This requires the hole
to be convincingly rendered for optimum verisimilitude. But it needn’t be a hole;
the effect works with any perspective that looks out from within another space,
like the cave in H. G. Wells’
The First Men on the Moon. In mass market or trade
book cover and jacket design this conceit is usually reserved for mysteries or
thrillers, as in the image of the eye seen through a keyhole.
The other conceit is sequential narrative, the contiguous fragments,
cells, or frames that make up diptychs, triptychs, and comic strips. Posters,
books, and CDs produced in this way are viewed as puzzles, and puzzles
demand interaction. Buckley’s covers are only two pieces, but the thrill of the
reveal when the reader sees that they join together is as exciting as if there
were three or more.
The final and no less venerable element on this cover is the trompe
l’oeil lettering made of rock and twigs. This common metaphorical device goes
back ages in art, but in graphic design the transformation of natural objects
was frequently used in Victorian times for covers of magazines (e.g.,
and advertisements. By the mid-twentieth century, metaphorically carving
letters out of stone was used to suggest monumentally historic times, like
logos for epics like Ben Hur (later parodied in the Life of Brian). Like all novelty
type, these conceptual letterforms effectively—if sarcastically—convey a
message better than conventional typefaces.
Richard Bachman/Stephen King
Designer: Paul Buckley
1997 Desperation by Stephen King, book cover
The Regulators by Richard Bachman, book cover
ad: Paul Buckley d: In house/Penguin Putnam Inc.
Paul Buckley’s designs for the Richard Bachman and Stephen King novels The Regulators
and Desperation are illusionary exploits of enviable proportions. Both books adhere to the
same basic format and formal motif.
Painted sticks, stones and ropes typography
Diptych, triptych, etc.