Just Evil Enough will be unleashed on the world later this year. We’re reserving a limited number of first edition hardcover copies exclusively for those who’ve been along for the ride the longest, as well as some erstwhile friends and family, and the audiences at one or two workshops we’re running across the second half of the year. 

Since the start of this project, we’ve had the backing of some excellent creators, editors and publishers. Their feedback and input have culminated in some designs we love. So we’re sharing a bit about the book’s design process, from early inspirations to final design. 

No author knows what a book will be like when it’s done. Books don’t emerge as fully-formed ideas. They reveal themselves as you write, rewrite, debate, and compromise. Just Evil Enough is no exception: It really did take on a voice of its own, at times witty and contrarian, sometimes playful, and always authoritative. We wanted to create a book that was grounded in practical information, that readers could put to work immediately, that was elevated by storytelling. As one early reviewer put it, “more fun than any serious marketing book has a right to be.”

We wanted a book that was timeless, pragmatic, and sharp. One that wasn’t afraid to have opinions. It would need a cover design to match.

A title like Just Evil Enough is practically its own design brief—but  any good creative work begins with deep context, clarity and direction. 

We started by identifying the genres and subgenres of the book. Sellers need this backstory to  figure out where the book fits into the world, define target stores, position it in the market and on the shelf, and orient the style and layout. A fiction book offers different signposts to a non-fiction one. 

We made a list of books that we knew it would sit well with, including Rory Sutherland’s Alchemy (an absolute must-read, by the way); Chip & Dan Heath’s Made to Stick, and plenty of others. 

From there, we articulated our intended readership, commercial ambitions, and core positioning. In our case, this highlighted three groups: Startup founders and early-stage entrepreneurs; marketers and brand managers in enterprise; and creatives working at agencies. We also wanted to be sure that some of the frameworks in the book would be at home in business teaching environments.

To cement the positioning, we made a list of words the book encapsulated.

  • Provocative

  • Powerful

  • Subversive

  • Rebellious

  • Fascinating

  • Witty, acerbic, sharp

As with most things, we aren’t approaching publishing normally. The publishing industry is ancient, Byzantine, and full of rent-taking and tradition. It’s long overdue for an upset. We have a few tricks up our sleeves—after all, why would you buy a book on subversiveness from people who weren’t following their own advice? So we’re spending much more time on the details than most authors do.

Earlier this year, we met with the London-based publishers of our English editions at a meeting in London. We carried in Stripe Press’ Scaling People, which we both adored for its superb typography, consistent style, and beautiful design.

Our publishers winced in unison. We have expensive tastes. 

We got down to fundamentals: Hardback first or later? British English or US English? Would it be okay to use thinner paper to save on shipping costs? Can we trim a hundred or so pages so it’s cheaper to print?

Dear reader, we were unswayed. The book is longer than normal. It’s not only  hardback, it’s clothbound. Printed with the nicest paper we could find, and more finishes than a high-end knocking shop.

Because why the hell not? In a world of fast and easy, let’s make something gorgeous that stands the test of time. 

To our publishers’ chagrin, we set aside the excellent designers they proffered, and instead, opted to work with an extraordinary designer we already knew and trusted: Rhona Ryan.

Rhona is Lead Creative and Producer at Maverick International. Emily worked with her on multiple award-winning projects. Rhona is one of those creatives who can read between the lines of a brief. She knows more about what you want than you do—and her work is always more beautiful than you could have hoped. Her background in print and her love of finishes (the paper kind) made her the perfect partner. Luckily for us, she agreed to take on the project.

Rhona’s first step was a mood board. This stage of the design process is a visual collage of the concepts and feelings we’ve shared. Done right, the ley lines of the finished product begin to emerge. 

Here’s what Rhona sent:

Her triangulation highlighted the elements of our brand voice: Subversiveness, codes and secrets, and a retro-futuristic defiance of norms. We loved the use of redacted text and codified signals; the vintage vibes, sinister, slightly bureaucratic overtones, and  the bar codes, hidden messages, and subtle impression of tunneling beneath the battlements. We knew that red was going to be a core colour. We debated whether we should use  the evil eye that has long been a placeholder for the project. And we talked about bleed— of ink and margins not adversaries. 

Rhona took this feedback and spun up a wide range of designs that might suit, all orbiting codification, subversiveness and the concept of looking beneath or below. 

Here are just a few of the covers that we opted not to use, but that led us closer to our final cover design. 

A book cover is such an interesting design space, one that requires deep domain expertise and a delicate balance of form and function. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to experiment and learn. We’re very grateful to Rhona for coming on this journey with us and for letting our imagination run wild. 

You’ll all have to wait to see what our final cover looks like. We can tell you that it’s a marriage of classic lines, punctuated with subversive symbolism. Hopefully it will look marvelous on people’s shelves when it finally makes its way there. 

If you’re keen to register your interest in one of the first editions, you can register now. A pre-order page is coming soon!