SR5 Graphic Design Blog: The Cover Is Everything

By now, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the cover of Shadowrun, Fifth Edition. If not, here it is:


Today we’re going to talk a little about how it came to look like that. Near the end of July 2012, the core group of Shadowrun developers/authors/management met up in Seattle to talk about a new edition of the game. At that time we had a good idea of what was on the table as far as rules tweaks and changes to game mechanics, so we spent a lot of time talking about presentation of the books themselves. How would it look on your shelf? How would it be presented in a store? How do we stay true to the Shadowrun look?

Everything was up for discussion, but we needed to do some research to make an informed decision. After all, the decision we were going to make would impact the line for years to come. Talk about pressure!

book spread

First, we looted eBook developer Peter M. Andrew Jr.’s massive Shadowrun collection and covered every available horizontal surface with books. It was like a bomb went off, but instead of damage and carnage, it left only Sixth World awesomeness. We then chose aspects of the books we liked, pointed out things we didn’t like, and made suggestions on what could change. We noted everything down and then went to Step 2, a retail excursion.

The folks at Olympic Cards & Comics ( let us take over their RPG section (it’s huge—stop at their store if you’re ever in the area, it’s absolutely worth your time) for a few hours to study the presentation of RPG books in general. Not only could we see directly what works and what doesn’t work in a retail environment, but the staff were also happy to tell us what worked from their perspective. This was great, because a lot of their points were things most people might not think about and are used in a different way by retailers than they are by players: location and size of the product number, orientation of text on the spine and even the type of binding they like to see on books.

Once the research was done we started making notes and drawing sketches. We came up with a list of ideas:

1. Logo needs to be big and up top. It gives the book pop, and many retailers show off books in a “waterfall orientation” where the upper portion of the book will be showing.

2. The spine needs to identify the game immediately and be easily readable.

3. We should have a framing element for the cover. The SR4 line of books nearly all used full-bleed art for the covers. This was cool and gave flexibility to the designer, but over time lead to a disparate look to the books. A frame would allow us to keep the look concise and consistent, at least for the first year or so of books.

4. We could do away with the regular Catalyst branding elements: the black bar across the bottom and white text identifying the type of book. When CGL was young, it helps immediately identify a Catalyst book and help establish the company, but wasn’t necessary any more. The CGL logo would stay on the cover, but we could now move on from that standard branding.

5. It’s all about characters. Focus the covers on characters as much as you can, at least on the core line of books. Don’t get me wrong, cityscapes and gear illustrations are awesome, but when it comes down to it, it’s the characters that matter, acting as a proxy for the players.

6. The back cover copy needs to be concise and to the point. You hear it all the time—attention spans are getting shorter. Don’t go on and on about what’s in the book. You should be able to both summarize the book and draw a player in with only a few short paragraphs.

So, with those notes I immediately went to work. That night in my hotel room I started putting together ideas. And they sucked! They sucked so hard I’m not even going to post samples here. But, that’s all part of the process—very few projects are perfect on the first attempt.

Over the next few weeks and months, I went back and forth on the design, streamlining and tweaking it until we had what we wanted. I’m very, very happy with the final product and think it stands up strong against the covers of the previous edition core rulebook covers (I went through and applied the SR5 cover art to the different editions because why not?).



Matt Heerdt
“I’m Not Sure What My Actual Title Is So Let’s Go With ‘Media Design & Production Guy'”

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.