I think it's kind of interesting that this was published at around the same time as that new Bowie album cover design appeared. They're clearly not really connected but they do have obvious things in common.
I'll be totally up front: I think they're both fantastic. Great, brave, strong ideas. Both feel radical in a time when it seems everything has been done. Not that blacking out text or regurgitating old artwork haven't been done before, of course they have. But when considered in context (and context is so important isn't it?) I do think both are challenging ideas. They are, it's undeniable. If they weren't, they wouldn't have triggered such discourse. Love them or hate them, in their contexts they're challenging - and in their contexts, challenging is good.
David Pearson's book cover is the antithesis of conventional book cover design and, perhaps, could only have been achieved with a book like this. Unless the cover is laughably unsuitable 1984 will sell. As it is, I have a suspicion that this cover will create new, invigorated interest and ultimately greater sales than if a more conventional approach had been taken. Why? Partly because of what I just said: 1984 will sell anyway but mostly because of the times we live in. Dare I believe that "good design" is recognised and embraced more than ever? Pearson's design has certainly caused a stir.
I remember my gut response to seeing the cover for the first time on Dan's blog. I immediately thought, "That would never have happened if it wasn't for the Great Ideas covers". Those series', in my humble opinion, shifted the perception of not only what you could get away with but how intelligent, considered, restrained design could actually sell books. Particularly at Penguin, I imagine those series' proved something. Perhaps a "something" that could only apply to re-issued older volumes but a new something nevertheless.
I can easily believe that this new cover may be an outcome of what was learned: innovate and people will buy. And Penguin deserve to be aplauded accordingly.
But what about Barnbrook's Bowie cover? The album's not even out yet but the debate is ferocious. Again: loved and hated, the big and simple question is: Is the design any good?
I think there's plently being said about it so I'm not going to spark another fight here. I don't think whether you love or hate the aethetics is really the point. What's important about it is that an artist like Bowie, at his age and position, opts for a design that shakes things up; that pisses people off. In one discussion I've been involved in we speculated over whether the re-hashing of an old album cover had been done before; Massive Attack was mentioned. But it's not just any old cover being re-hashed is it? It's an iconic album cover, provocatively bastardised. Vialated. Imagine doing that to Sgt Pepper or Revolver or Pet Sounds (OK, perhaps Heroes isn't quite up there with those but you get the idea).
Again, I feel that wouldn't have happened a few years ago. For some reason, and I'm not totally sure why, it feels like both the Bowie cover and the Orwell cover are products of our time. Is it a post-post-post-modern thing? I don't really know what that means. Is it because we live in a mashed-up digital world where "design" is embracing so many new things (3D printing, digital/print colaborations, craft/digital assimilations, lots of other stuff)?
I know I haven't got any real answers and this post is little more than my ramblings but I felt moved to put thoughts down because I think both covers are, if nothing else, provocative and it seems that it's been a while since we enjoyed such goading.