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Coverphon: How It Took 260 People to Make Enchantment’s Cover

The cover of Enchantment has its own enchanting story. Illustrating the concept of “enchantment” is difficult, and I wanted to see what enchantment meant to many people and how they would graphically represent it.

The straightest path to this goal was a design contest. My theory is that the more great minds working on a task, the better the results. I contacted my buddies at CrowdSpring, and we created a contest with a $1,000 prize.

To my amazement, approximately 250 people entered 750 designs. This is roughly seventy-five times more designs than most authors see. I narrowed down the 750 entries to these five and enabled people to vote for their favorite. The entry that received the most votes was the first one.

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The designer of it used this stock photo by Enchantedgal (I’m not making this up) on DeviantART.

I liked the design with the blue morpho most too. I was prepared to override the popular vote, but the tally meant that I could maintain the illusion of impartiality, openness, and transparency. :-) So much the better.

During the contest, many designers attacked me for the heinous exploitation of their colleague’s creativity. The math is that 250 people entered and only one won, so I’ve exploited the other 249. The crime is called “spec work” because it’s speculative and without a guarantee of compensation.

Hello? Life is spec work: no guts, then no glory, no visibility, no experience, and no prize. I didn’t force anyone to enter, and this was a chance to make $1,000 and gain visibility.

Consider this: 40,000 teams containing 49,000 people spent years trying to win the $1 million Netflix Prize to increase the predictive power of how much a person would enjoy a movie. Were 39,999 teams (teams, not people) exploited? I don’t think so.

Much to my delight, the winner was (a) not a “professional” designer; (b) not an American; and (c) not an orifice. He was Ade Harnusa Azril, an electrical engineering undergraduate student at the Institut Teknologi Bandung in Indonesia.

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I could not have planned it better.

After announcing the winner, designers attacked the winning entry as nothing more than a “stock photo of a butterfly on a red background.” Yup, and Andy Warhol painted a Campbell soup can. Too bad they didn’t think of that too, huh? I don’t know any industry where people get their rocks off by tearing each other apart as much as graphic design.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately as you will learn), the design didn’t go over well with the editor, publicist, publisher, and assistant publisher. “Too New Age.” “Too feminine—no man would be caught reading a red book with a butterfly on the cover.” “Too self-help, too touchy-feely, too…” you get the picture. And the most damning of all was, “The sales force hates it.” Welcome to my life.

But 90 percent of the battle is showing up. The other 90 percent is persevering after you show up.

With hindsight this negative reaction forced me outside the comfort zone. One night, while pedaling a Star Trac recumbent bike while reading tweets on my iPad watching NHL On the Fly, I came up with the idea of an origami butterfly. This took care of two issues: no more “stock photo” stigma and much less self-help, New-Age connotations. Plus, there was a great tie in: Japanese guy and Japanese art form.

I didn’t know a thing about origami, however, so I searched for “origami butterfly” on Google, and I asked my 330,000 closest friends on Twitter, “Anyone know an origami master?” This yielded great results. My sister—Jean Okimoto—as well as Lisa “Kailua Lisa” Mullinaux, Jason Wehmhoener, and Marco Carbullido came to my assistance too.

These efforts lead me to Michael LaFosse, and this design of his totally enchanted me:

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Come to find out, he’s the Wayne Gretzky of origami: he designs, he folds, and he makes the special “washi” paper. He was featured in the great origami movie, “Between the Folds.” I went to his website, Origamido, and sent an email to the address that usually goes to webmasters who never respond. Lo and behold, Michael answered in a day.

One thing led to another—including tales of the International Marketplace in Waikiki and Don Ho, and Michael created a custom design called the “Kawasaki Swallowtail.” Ever hear of a Jobs, Gates, Williams, Stone, Ballmer, Ellison, or Zuckerberg origami butterfly? I didn’t think so.

Michael folded the Kawasaki Swallowtail on the cover out of one of four sheets left in the world of a washi paper that he made. And voilà, I got a badass custom butterfly that looks like James Clavell’s Shogun meets B-1 stealth bomber.

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At that point I had the badass butterfly and the concept of badass butterfly on a red gradient. But I needed someone to perfect the concept and execute the design to the specs of the art department. Enter Sarah Brody on a white horse.

You are familiar with her work because she was the design force behind much of Apple’s software applications. She photographed the Kawasaki Swallowtail, edited the picture, created the red gradient, chose the font (FFThesis-The Sans), laid out the cover, and generally made it perfect.

This is the story of how I crowdsourced designs from 250 talented people around the world, selected one idea from an engineering student in Indonesia, convinced an origami master in Boston to create a new butterfly, and lucked out by knowing a designer in Silicon Valley. Can a cover story get more enchanting than this? And here’s the final result. Bob Sutton thinks it’s one of the “most beautiful business book covers” he’s ever seen.

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1 Comment

  • fchollet

    Fantastic design, and quite an enchanting post too. Crowd-sourcing will yield quantities of "common" designs and "common" ideas, but these will not add up to one great piece.

    One mind is enough –if it’s the right one.

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