Keep That Hive Mind Buzzing

By Carl Zimmer | May 12, 2009 12:37 am

cover-poll.jpgThanks to everyone who’s voted so far on the cover for The Tangled Bank. As of Monday evening, 641 people have voted. That’s not a focus group–it’s a focus army. If you haven’t voted yet, please do–I’ll check in from time to time to see how the pie slices morph.

The results are interesting. A whale cover (Whale1) is in the lead, with 22% of the vote. Wasp1 comes in second (21%), and Tiktaalik1 (18%) comes in third. Clearly, no huge conquests in this poll. But if you tally up the covers by beast, the ranking flips. Combined, All the Tiktaalik covers got 38% of the vote, the wasps got 35%, and the whales got 28%. I’m sure there are all sorts of psychological artefacts at play here, but I’m still intrigued at how all-over-the-board the results are.

Fortunately, many of you were also ready to share opinions about the covers, including some who were not satisfied with any of them. (I neglected to add a “None of the above” choice.) A number of people complained that the covers don’t speak to the title, “The Tangled Bank,” which is a phrase Darwin uses in his marvelous close of The Origin of Species, when he writes of the diversity into which life has evolved. The tricky thing about pictures that convey diversity is that they can sink into visual incoherence. That’s the last thing you want on a cover. But I hear you, and I’m going to work more on this with my publisher.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: The Tangled Bank

Comments (9)

  1. What audience are you trying to reach – older kids, high school students or faculty who are teaching non-major classes and will require this book for their students? I suspect that part of the disparity in the results that you describe is a result of the graphic design. All 3 photos/drawings seem to be equally appealing to most people (they are all beautiful and relevant) but the different colored letters and somewhat messy lettering brings a visual incoherence as you say and I find them very distracting. The wasp covers are simplest, cleanest and relay the idea that this fascinating, complex material is presented in a simple, harmonious way. And the wasp story is incredibly cool. On the other hand, the marine themes jive better with the title. Perhaps you could ask the graphic designer to clean up the lettering and then present only 2 or 3 choices? Good luck!

  2. SteveC

    That there are only 2 whale covers to choose from but 3 each of tiktaalik and the wasp may tend to tilt things in the whale’s favor unfairly as the votes for the other two will be split more ways due to preferences in the text color and layout which I suspect will be a bit arbitrary.

    For instance, right now, the sum of the votes for the three tiktaalik covers is about the same as the sum of the votes for the two whale covers, but because the tiktaalik votes are split three ways, none of them individually has as many votes as either of the whale covers.

    Perhaps there should have been two rounds, one to pick the artwork, and one to pick the design of the text?

    Well, maybe you just liked the whale artwork a lot. :)

  3. I like the tiktaalik because people don’t know what it is or how to say or spell it. More educational.

  4. Anne H

    I would guess that many voters chose not simply on the basis of which organism they liked best, but the overall look and feel of the cover. In my opinion, the tiktaalik covers are too dark and difficult to grok; Whale 2 has weird capital letters in a new color that make you think there’s a secret code in play, but there’s not. The orchid pictures are gorgeous but a bookstore browser won’t have any idea what’s going on. So that leaves Whale 1, which cleanly conveys the idea of a strange-yet-familiar animal doing something we understand.

  5. Matt B

    I have to second much of the criticism on the previous post. Both the art and the layout options are several ballparks away from the stunning cover of microcosm. I assume the reason is that textbook publishers have a lower cover design budget than general market publishers? Just my two cents.

  6. chezjake

    I’ll just mention again that the common element of the top three covers is a single color serif font. I’d love to see the Tiktaalik3 image with a serif font.

  7. You should have everyone vote again, but this time among the three most popular covers.

  8. Might I suggest 4 new rounds of polling?
    First one: pick your favorite Whale cover
    Second: favorite Tiktaalik cover
    Third: favorite Wasp cover
    Fourth: favorite of the winners of the previous 3 rounds.

  9. I think have a bunch of biodiversitied-goodness everywhere would be a bit too obvious. You might as well put the cliched ascent of man picture. I voted for the one I thought was most dramatic, which is Tiktaalik1. Evolution is a dramatic process, and should be represented at such.

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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