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A Mystery Map for Online Content

BLOG POST • April 23, 2017

Inspiration / By Matt Checkowski

Starting in 1943 and lasting for nearly a decade, Dell published Mapbacks—mostly crime & mysteries—with beautiful covers, a signature eye-in-keyhole logo, amazing typography on the cover and spine and, as the name suggests, back covers with illustrated maps of the story and crime scenes.

They took the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ and attacked it head-on with great design and visual storytelling. The amazing front cover illustration establishes the themes, the back cover establishes the world and core action, the first page launches you into the story with a teaser that sets the stage, and the second page lays out the key characters that will ultimately carry us through the story. It’s like an onion peel of teases for a busy and discerning audience; each layer pulls you into the story and literally into the pages of the book.

I think what’s great about the Mapbacks is that Dell was attempting to innovate the book format to stand out against its competitors and provide more opportunities for engagement with its audience (or cultivate new audiences.) They were playing with expectation.


Format or media expectation helps us engage in story: When we sit in a movie theater and the lights go down we know exactly what the rules are and how to engage in the story that’s about to start. We’re not thinking about how to do it because we understand the format. We’re gliding into it based on feeling. But in another way it can build expectations in your audience that are hard to overcome, like TV commercials today. People skip them because they think they know what’s coming.



Those rules are up in the air when it comes to new experiences and how storytelling plays on digital media. It’s harder to get an audience into “the glide” when they are continuously confronted with the new. I believe there are lessons in the mapbacks and its flexible design system that provides multiple on-ramps to the storytelling experience. They’re presenting the same story through a variety of lenses —the front cover, the back cover, the opening pages— to introduce a fuller, more dimensional world and engage their audience in a more meaningful way.


And more beautifully and effectively designed onramps are only going to get more people, engaged more often.

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