I love (and by love I mean love but also hate) how often my creative process is flailing around in a hopeless loop—and then suddenly having things click into place.
In this case, I kept iterating on covers for Tides of Gold but feeling frustrated because I knew the aesthetic I wanted, but kept failing. After every failure I would get discouraged and retreat to creating something more traditional. Over and over, I would try to create the vision in my mind, fail, look at typical ttrpg covers and decide to imitate them instead, dislike those too, and repeat for almost 2 months.
I found myself in the trap of knowing the image in my mind was better than defaulting to a basic illustration style, but not being able to create the vision in my mind. It was the classic Ira Glass problem
Over the weekend I forced myself to keep working on the same vision: I knew the colors, I knew the feel, I even knew half the images I wanted to use.
I've known since my first architecture class more than a decade ago that simple and streamlined products are often the hardest to design. Complicated designs? Easy. Simple designs? Baffling.
I kept trying to take the easy way out when I needed to keep working through the hard way. This weekend I finally kicked my own butt and forced myself to keep focused on the simple design, no matter how stuck I felt. So I would work on it, quit, do something fun for a bit, go back, work on it, quit, and repeat. For two full days.
By Sunday I had a shadow of what I wanted but it still felt off.
Today I thought, "Surely cognitive science research tells us what makes certain book covers appealing."
As it turns out, yes, that research does it exist. And it makes a lot of sense. After reading some articles I returned to my weekend project and quickly fixed it. It's amazing how a few small change made everything fall into place.
If you want to check out some of the most helpful articles for yourself, they can be found here:
As a warning, once you read them you might start seeing the "Z" layout trick on books everywhere.