Why I love to work for free (a book makeover project for Alastair Humphreys)

Why I love to work for free (a book makeover project for Alastair Humphreys)

Tonight after reading some of Gary V.’s new book Jab, Jab, Jab, Punch I followed his advice and searched Twitter for “book cover design” – by way of which I discovered Alastair Humphreys’ invitation for someone to redesign his book cover. I wasn’t familiar with Alastair so I would have passed the opportunity, but then I started reading the very opinionated comments.

Designers are quickly angered when asked to work for free – and it showed.

But I disagree, so I decided to take some time – about an hour – to redo Alastair’s cover. This is why:

1) Working for free gives me creative freedom

I love my clients, but it’s so great to get to do a cover design without any input from them. Alastair did provide several sample covers he liked – but they were almost all illustrated (which I don’t think will sell a general travel book as well as photographs) so I grabbed a few photos from his flickr page and also searched on 123rf.com for some more powerful stuff.

If he doesn’t like my samples, no big deal. He’ll probably still feature my samples on his blog (or maybe share this post).

2) Free exposure – in more ways than one

I like to work for free as much as I can, but it’s not really fair for my paying clients, especially if they are waiting for me to finish up something. So if they are truly sucking up too much time and they have nothing to offer, I may eventually say I can’t handle it. But Alastair isn’t offering nothing. He’s got fans, and 14,944 Twitter followers. Those are all people that I’m not connected with, that he could help introduce me to. Fans are power: the more fans/friends you have online, the easier it is to sell things and make money.

But it’s not enough to get in front of them, you have to make them like you.

Which is why I’m happy to work for free – it tells Alastair and all his friends that I’m not selfish with my time or skills, that I’m happy to collaborate for free on a fun project, and that I’m successful enough in my business that I can afford to.

I’m not worried about putting food on the table. And the more people you help out, the less you have to worry about it.

3) Building social karma

I’m happy to work for free because Alastair is doing some pretty sweet things – having lots of big adventures. He’s got skills and knowledge that I don’t have. Maybe someday I’ll be able to follow along or meet up on top of a mountain or at least take part in a small adventure. Or if I ever have some news that may be valuable to his followers, I could ask if he wants to share it.

Who knows. Maybe nothing will come of it, but it’s not a huge risk. I see it as an easy (and cheap!) way to build my platform and expand my exposure in an unconventional direction.

I have to wonder what those other designers are thinking when they say they won’t work for free. Are they only interested in keeping a job and getting clients? If you’re good at what you do, the more people who know about you, the less you have to worry about being successful. I almost never advertise – and I’m not really that great of a designer. But I’m good enough, and I’m easy to work with, and I can make just about anything… so finding clients (luckily) hasn’t been a big problem for me, probably because I sometimes offer to do free work with people can introduce me to lots of people.

So anyway, here are some samples (as well as some design commentary/feedback)

As I mentioned, I don’t think illustration can be pulled off well for this project. It’s too “cute” and I think Alastair’s potential fans will be more impressed by “Adventure” photos. He uploaded several samples that were basically one nice photo, with half the cover a simple color panel, and some clean typography. Those could work, so I took some photos and started trying things out.

The current cover, and the older cover (which was quite good actually! except that the author name is hard to read).

moods-of-future-joys-around-the-world-by-bike-part-1 11115172376_e61d9df3d1

The current cover (in blue)… the text reminds me of a “Joys of Cooking” recipe book. The map is distracting, the author name tiny, the subtitle hard to read and blurb distracting… altogether not great. I’d like to do something much more like the second (original cover).

These are a few that the author pointed out as liking.



Keywords to think about:

Nature, beauty, travel, adventure, freedom, bicycling, culture, ecology

Things to focus on:

Make the author name bigger/distinctive. Set up a style to make branding easier. Larger, bolder font for title. Make the blurb more visible.

This was the first I made:


I’m pretty happy with it – it looks like a book I might buy. I prefer to use Alastair’s real photos rather than stock, and that’s a great photo.

The next two, I was having trouble with my Photoshop crashing, so I could only save really little versions of these.

If a silhouette, I like this one looking over the landscape. I also like the shadow on the dry earth/tent, but the photo isn’t super powerful (I could make it more dramatic though). But it’s still a little ‘dark’.




I really liked the earlier cover though – that would have been the photo I chose, so I made some pretty similar to the original (if it’s not broken…etc.)

dm5 DM4


I think they will be attractive to adventure junkies, but maybe too exciting for regular readers.

Also I was beginning to notice the title and subtitle has some problems – “Moods of Future Joys” isn’t great for keywords and doesn’t really say much about the book (it seems to say something about life, philosophy, emotion… but it’s vague). And, I’m pretty sure it’s the series title, not the book title.

Or, maybe the series title is “Around the World by Bike”, and the title is “One: Africa”…. Maybe it should be:


Part one, Africa (Moods of Future Joys).

Anyway, it’s a lot of text, and I think emphasizing “Biking in Africa” makes most sense, so I made another, more illustrated one:



It’s cute and looks professional, but I don’t see it “branding” the author as much as he deserves. It is pretty cool though.

Since this will be a series though…

The one above is too global – it will be hard to change per geography. What I’d really love to see is a photo like this:



I think since it’s (sort of) focused on travel and bicycling, a handlebar shot like this could be used in each, and swap out a magnificent nature landscape from each area.

Or a side photo of Alastair on his book could be put like this, in front of different landscapes.

dm8 DM91


The only draw back on these is they are too much about “nature”, and I think Alastair’s travels focus as much on people and culture…

So out of all of them, I still think I’d go back to the very first one.

These are really rough mockups, just to show some potential.
Do you like any? Which ones?


  • Ari Lessiers Posted

    woah, nice! I love the first one you did and the one with the world as wheels. I can totally see that being made more country appropriate with some vectors of ‘African things ie, crocs, lions etc, I’d totally pick up either of those in any store.

  • Amanda Alessi Posted

    Great article. I like the first design best 🙂

  • Lena Goldfinch Posted

    Great covers. I love the first one best. It would be great to see it with the reworked title emphasis.

    Thanks for sharing this.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *