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August 30, 2016

For Dummies Cover Evolution

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

No one thought that DOS For Dummies would spawn a book publishing empire. Had that been the intention, more thought would have gone into that first cover. Regardless, that cover has spawned multiple generations of book series covers and trade dress.

The original DOS For Dummies cover is shown in Figure 1. This cover style was retained for all editions of DOS For Dummies, even when other books came along with an updated cover.

Figure 1. The original cover of DOS For Dummies, the first For Dummies title, published in 1991.

Figure 1. The original cover of DOS For Dummies, the first For Dummies title, published in 1991.

In 1994, with dozens of titles in the series, the publisher sought a more uniform design. Figure 2 illustrates a second generation cover, which came out just two years after DOS For Dummies debuted. It’s very similar to the original cover (Figure 1), because the publisher was openly superstitious about changing anything. (As if the cover mattered more than the contents — which turned out to be true, by the way.)

Figure 2. The first major cover re-design was very subtle.

Figure 2. The first major cover re-design was very subtle.

In Figure 2, you see a lot more marketing babble on the cover. They really went nuts with starbursts and flags and all sorts of gimmicks. Those additions didn’t help the contents and I would argue that few of the items convinced anyone to buy the book more than the title.

See the arm holding up the sign in Figure 2? The publisher actually had a heated discussion on whether or not that arm belonged to the “Dummies Man.”

To me, The Dummies Man was the Technical Stuff icon. He was designed as a nerd, not the “Dummies Man.” But he was the only anthropomorphic part of the first book, so he suddenly became the mascot, as you can see in the first major, albeit subtle, cover design change shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. The first truly major overhaul of the For Dummies cover.

Figure 3. The first truly major overhaul of the For Dummies cover.

PCs For Dummies 7th Edition was published in 1999. The series trade dress was updated to reflect a sleeker, more modern cover. Gone was all the promotional bullshit from the early days (Figure 2).

The 1999 overhaul changed in about 2006 or so. They replaced the Dummies Man with a stock photo, which I found unimpressive, so I won’t show it here.

The latest redesign took place this year. After a lot of research and consultations, the update is shown in Figure 4, which illustrates the cover for my latest book, WordPerfect 2016 For Professionals For Dummies.

Figure 3. The current cover design for the For Dummies series.

Figure 3. The current cover design for the For Dummies series.

Once again, the Dummies Man makes an appearance on the cover, though he’s been updated and softened. The original Technical Stuff icon remains, and with the Dummies Man being evicted from the cover in 2006, it makes me wonder why they decided to bring him back. Anyway.

Also missing from the cover is the phrase, “A Reference for the Rest of Us.” The big deal with For Dummies was that it’s a reference, not a tutorial. Yet, the new covers all say, “Learning Made Easy.” That’s a major paradigm shift for the series.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of DOS For Dummies. So the books have come a long way and they’re still around, which I find remarkable. I recall my agent telling me that DOS For Dummies would probably sell well for about 6 months and that would be it. I’m glad that he was wrong!

3 Comments

  1. The first dummies book I got was C For Dummies Vol 1, at a University book store sat on the shelf for months until I got bored in the summer and read it doing the exercises. The end result was when I had to the intro to C course I knew more than the Post Grad teaching it!

    Comment by glennp — August 30, 2016 @ 3:22 am

  2. Finding the Dummies man on the new cover is almost as hard as finding Waldo 🙂

    Comment by The Gnome Whisperer — August 30, 2016 @ 6:29 am

  3. That’s pretty cool, glennp.

    Looking back at the covers now, I see that the original was more of a protest. The disembodied hand is holding a sign protesting the fact that no one wrote good material for beginners.

    Comment by admin — August 30, 2016 @ 7:19 am

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