Cover story

Inherently unique: a different cover for every Dawkins book

When you're tasked with updating the covers for one of the most influential biologists of all time, how do you make it special?

Richard Dawkins' Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable – his favourite book – are being re-issued this year for their 30th and 20th anniversaries. When you're tasked with updating the covers for one of the most influential biologists of all time, how do you make it special?

Claudia Toia, Mathieu Triay and Matthew Young take us through their process.
 


In the 1980s, Richard Dawkins started to work on a series of computer programs which would help illustrate how evolution and the transmission of genes from generation to generation works. These programs were able to produce insect-like pictures (called biomorphs) and renderings of shells. Unfortunately, the programs had become obsolete, and could no longer run on modern computers. Dawkins thought them lost to technological progress and asked us if we thought it would be possible to bring them back to life.

With this in mind — hoping we'd be able to reconstruct a modern version of the programs — we set to work on concepts for the covers. Noticing the importance of these programs, which are referenced throughout the books, and their uncanny ability to produce endless imagery, we thought it would be ideal to use these images directly on the covers. Working with the production team and the printers we managed to figure out a way to print a different design on every single book: we needed to supply them with one single file containing the thousands of different covers.

We then had to work on the code to make this idea a reality. We started the archeological exploration of Dawkins' 30 year old code, and after a few weeks of striving to understand the why and how of the programs, we finally managed to create a modern version of the algorithms. Our version was able to produce high quality graphics which could be included in the cover template using a specially crafted script. Once the covers were ready, the work on the digital side continued in order to create a website which makes extensive use of the new algorithms to illustrate the principles of artificial selection.

The result is a unique cover on each copy of Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable and Unweaving The Rainbow as well as a website where you can play with the original algorithms developed by Richard Dawkins: www.mountimprobable.com
 

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