Right Use of Power Cover

The UX of Cover Design

In Uncategorized by Richard BarrettLeave a Comment

Cedar Barstow, founder and director of the Right Use of Power Institute, asked me to create an original piece of artwork for the new cover of the 10th anniversary edition of her book, Right Use of Power: The Heart of Ethics. See how a UX based approach helped to create the cover Cedar was hoping for.


The brief was simple and pivoted around Cedar’s idea of “Power With Heart”. She was insistent that this concept serve as a narrative to guide the design process because this is the defining message of her book.

“I adore my book cover. Right Use of Power: The Heart of Ethics, is a tough concept to convey visually. Richard is beyond creative. While he assured me we would have a great cover by the deadline, he also made the process feel very spacious. He would send me ideas and get my feedback, fine-tune, and send me more ideas. I felt that Richard was really getting to know me and what I wanted. We worked collaboratively and once we got the main idea, Richard began his magic of putting it all together in a technically complex way that as a result looks blissfully simple. He is a fine craftsman using technology as his art form.”Cedar Barstow, Founder and Director of the Right Use of Power Institute


Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do

To be honest, I had never really thought about the ethics of power, or what that really meant, before being asked to design the cover and I didn’t think it was necessary to read up on the subject in order to be able to create the kind of cover Cedar was looking for. Also, personas, touch points, channels and timelines weren’t going to provide me with much of what I needed, so I put aside the thought of employing these UX practices.

It was quite clear to me early on that what I really needed to do was get a picture of what “Power With Heart” and “The Heart of Ethics” meant to Cedar and the best tool for the job was an empathy map. With this in mind, I kicked the process off by asking Cedar for a list of keywords and phrases that best summed up Cedar’s mind’s-eye picture of her book. You can think of this step as lensed brainstorming exercise that would not only serve as an input for the empathy map, but also frame the project narrative.


  • Ethics with wisdom
  • Power with heart
  • Power differential or difference
  • Power dynamics
  • Feedback
  • Pro-activity
  • Vision
  • Values and moral compass
  • Resolving and repairing
  • Right relationship


  • Staying connected and accountable
  • Being informed and guided
  • Being aware and compassionate
  • Being wise and skillful
  • Using power wisely and well

Once Cedar had replied with her keywords and phrases, I placed them into their respective empathy map sections. However, there were a couple I just wasn’t able to place confidently. These were: Power differential or difference & Power dynamics. Where should these go? I have absolutely no idea!

As you can see from the empathy map, Thinking & Feeling, Saying & Doing are the predominant sections. This is a great indication that the cover concept should represent these areas more so than the areas of Hearing & Seeing.

Armed with this information, I created a series of simple mock-ups using the empathy map as my guide. I deliberately kept these simple because I didn’t want to concrete any ideas at this stage, I just wanted to add a little oil to the gears of Cedar’s visual imagination.

After receiving feedback on the mock-ups, what worked, what didn’t work, I felt we weren’t quite ready to move into full design, so my next step was to ask Cedar to collect images from around the web that best summarised the kinds of feelings she was having when imagining the new book cover. In this instance, a mood board acts as a kind of visual, reversed version of the keyword & phrase stage as well as supplementing the empathy map.

As you can see from the mood board above, hearts and human contact with nature and the environment is a prevailing theme. Rocks, hands, and emanating the power within are also strong themes. Overall, this mood board is very organic.

Design and Development

Putting all the pieces together

After much discussion back and forth, aided by a few more simple mock-ups, it was decided that a heart-shaped cave occupied by a figure meditating at its entrance looking outwards upon some kind of idyllic natural scene was the strongest concept.

I spent a few days in Photoshop creating the cave entrance and basic meditating figure. Thereafter, it was an easy thing to swap in external scenes and discuss which compositions were the strongest. Here are a few examples.

Eventually, Cedar decided that a lake surrounded by trees sitting at the foot of a snow-capped mountain would provide the best exterior view. From here, the search began in earnest to find just the right type of image for the job. Once a close enough match was found it took just a little extra tweaking in Photoshop to complete the front cover.

Job almost done. There was still the typography, colour work, spine and back cover to do, but that stage proceeded relatively quickly because Cedar had already prepared the copy and assets in advance. It took a little persuading to convince Cedar that a purple theme was the way to go, purple is unofficial colour of the institute but Cedar was imagining a black background for the cover and spine, but after sleeping on the idea she concurred and we were good to go to print.


Judging a book by its cover

Of course, the real acid test was whether Cedar’s friends, loyal readership and institute patrons liked the new cover or not. By all accounts, it has been well received and apparently looks better in real life than it does on a computer screen. My copy is on its way and I can’t wait to turn it over in my hands and give it a good sniff; because who doesn’t love the smell of a new book?

You can pick up a paperback copy of the 10th anniversary edition of Right Use of Power: The Heart of Ethics for yourself at Cedar’s website or Amazon.

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