Don’t Judge a Book… oh, go ahead.

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One of the most delightful aspects of working on The PhDictionary was receiving a copy of the proposed cover design. I was just delighted by every bit of it. (If you look on the back cover, down by the edge of the spine, you’ll see “Book and cover design: Matt Avery.” I love the fact that he was credited for his brilliant work; too many people involved in good projects are not.)

But when I look at my bookshelves, in the sections having to do with intellectual life in general and higher education in particular, the visual landscape is less engaging. About 15 years ago, I had a chapter in this book:


I mean, really. Is that a pepper mill? The top of a gavel? A McDonald’s hamburger in a compression tester? Why those shapes? Why those edges?

And why those colors?? The dense intellectual work signaled by Theoretical Perspectives in Environment-Behavior Research: Underlying Assumptions, Research Problems, and Methodologies is kind of undercut by the sparkle-pony lavender, no?

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We seem, in academia, to forget that ideas have aesthetic and emotional merit as well as intellectual merit. I can’t tell you the number of academic books I’ve seen that have solid-color covers with sans serif text; or have some six-dollar clip art in half transparency under way too many words. Academic writing is discouraging before you ever even have a chance to encounter the ideas, because it’s packaged in the equivalent of the labels they use for FEMA emergency rations. You aren’t going to enjoy this, the cover promises, but it’s good for you.