In black and white: creating the cover for Reni Eddo-Lodge’s new book on racism

By Rachael Steven

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. The book is published by Bloomsbury on June 1 and the cover was designed by Greg Heinimann

In 2014, journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge published a blog post titled Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. In it, she argued that discussions on racism in Britain are led by those who haven’t been affected by it – in particular, “white people who refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms”.

After publishing the post, Eddo-Lodge received comments from people around the world who wanted to share their experiences of racism and discrimination. Their comments inspired her to write a book on race and racism. Published on June 1, it examines issues from white privilege to the link between class and race and what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today.

The book’s cover is a minimal but powerful design. The title is printed in bold black text save for the words ‘to white people’, which are blind debossed. The debossed letters are invisible from afar and only revealed on closer inspection – a visual representation of the idea that white people are often blind to racism or simply refuse to see it.

We asked Greg Heinimann – an assistant art director at Bloomsbury – about the process of creating the cover and the ideas that led to the final design.

CR: What was the brief for the cover? It’s a provocative title – did you decide to use a typographic design from the outset?

Greg Heinimann: Yes. As we design the cover at least a year in advance of publication, sometimes there is no manuscript – perhaps an outline, or a very rough draft if we’re lucky. With this project I only had the title (which was a gift in itself) and Reni’s brilliant blog post (from which the book is an expansion) to go on.

The brief was short and quite straightforward in that it should be purely typographic, which was perfect. It’s such a strong, provocative title that I felt adding anything else to the mix would have been overkill.

How did the idea to use debossed text on the cover come about? And why did you feel it worked particularly well for this book?

I was trying to convey the human interaction behind the title. More importantly, I wanted to play with people’s first impressions and interactions with the book and create a double take in public. The crux of the book is that white people won’t engage in conversation on the topic [of race].

I wanted to get across a sense of disengagement and the notion of white people trying to sweep the argument under-the-carpet by treating the text as a ghost, or as someone not present. My decision for the text to be colourless or white was so that I could hint at the ideas in the book of purity and false virtue and show that white supremacy is a hollow, blank idea.

By the time this got to press, I asked the printers to use a lot of force on the deboss to make it heavy and deep – having a shallow deboss wouldn’t convey the weight of the argument.

As a first visual encounter with the book, I wanted to create a double take. It seems to read ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking … About Race’, which is fine from a distance, but on closer inspection the blind deboss reveals itself, changing the argument into something much more provocative. It will be very interesting to see this read on the morning commute!

Did you try out many other ideas before this one?

I did various concepts – some with hand-drawn type, some involving tears (too on the nose), some using Op-Art-esque black and white patterns … but in the end, they all became superfluous. It’s such a strong title that a simple approach was all that was needed. For the rest of the package, I chose black foil on black boards, ebony endpapers, and for the head and tail bands I chose black at the top and white at the bottom – which is a nice touch when you remove the dust jacket, and on the whole very Spinal Tap!

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is published by Bloomsbury on June 1 and priced at £14.99. You can pre-order copies here.

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