Judging books by their covers

“I don’t trust books like these”, said James. I was surprised by the blunt comment and replied with a short:
“Why not?”
“I don’t know… There’s something about the title that turns me off”, James replied.
“Maybe it’s the cover in general…”, he tried to elaborate.
“It looks cheap right?”, Sarah joined the conversation.
“How can a book look cheap”, I replied in astonishment.
“I don’t know… it looks… self-published?”, she tried to explain.
“Self-published? But it’s a book by O’Reilly…”, I interrupted.
“I know, but still…”, Sarah didn’t know what else to say.
“I kinda like the cover…”, I remarked,
“…it even has a big red heart on it”, I chuckled as I finished my thought, picking up the book, taking a closer look and briefly showing it to James and Sarah.

This is how I remember a short conversation I had at work not long ago. I was a bit shocked by my colleagues’ bluntness and how quickly they judged the book that had been laying on my desk—Designing Products People Love by Scott Hurff.

I hadn’t been reading the book at that point yet. I just saved it for later. That’s why I didn’t feel comfortable commenting the book that much. I just made a remark on the cover and, as I remember, that’s how the conversation ended.

I finally started reading the book. I’ve read four chapters and enjoyed every minute of it. I’d just wrapped up a chapter last Saturday when I put the book down and remembered the remarks made by my colleagues. I couldn’t help but think about how much they’re missing. I learned a lot by reading just those four chapters—about a third of the book—and they never will. Why? Because they were so eager to judge it by its cover. By its title. They have no idea who the author is and know nothing of his background. But they think they know better than him. They think they know it all. Doing what they do every day, safe in their small box.

You see, they like to be in their small box. And they want to keep it small. It keeps them feeling safe and reassured. They know they’ll be fine as long as they’re in there. They don’t even want to know if the edges of the box can be moved. No way! Why would they risk expanding it? Who knows what’s out there? Maybe it’s something or someone that will make them feel uncomfortable. It may provoke them. It may make them feel vulnerable, not good enough.

Those are all the reasons why I enjoy expanding my horizons. Yes, it feels scary and overwhelming sometimes. But it keeps me on the edge. It’s tiring but it’s worth it. I rather try something new and fail than keep doing that one thing I know well. Maybe a book really isn’t that good. Who knows? But I’ve never read a book that I hadn’t learned something (anything) from it.

People judge and they will judge. A funny thing is that judgment comes from past experiences and wisdom of a certain person. So people with little of those get stuck in a circle. They never get out of it and they continue to express their ungrounded judgment.

We all judge. Designers exist because people judge. Judgment is fundamental to us. It’s part of our evolution and who we are. But let’s at least expand our box first. This way we can judge a little better or maybe try not to judge at all until we experienced whatever it is that we’re judging.

Matej Latin

I’m a self-taught designer proving that you don’t need a design degree to make a career in design. I went from doing boring graphic design work to working for big tech companies as a Product Designer. I thrive in the grey area between design and web development and I wrote a book about web typography for designers and web developers.

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