Step 3: Hit on a winner.
To complement our editorial natures, we were given a brief to design a memoir by ABC foreign correspondent Eric Campbell about his time reporting from some of the world’s most dangerous places. As the designer assigned to this project, along with the written brief, a title (Absurdistan) and an extract from the book, I was presented with a large box packed full of memorabilia and tchothckes Eric had collected during his travels.
I toyed around with multiple concepts and eventually settled on around five that I thought were working well, including one idea involving having custom-made babushka dolls which resembled world leaders. Not having the resource immediately to hand, I instead roughly sketched a cover showing what they might looks like and how they’d sit.
Miraculously, we managed to convince both the Creative Director and Publisher to come into our studio for highly conceptual discussions. Upon arrival, they took one look at my rough sketch and declared it to be the cover—exactly as it was. Turns out they had good sense, as shortly after, the cover won the Australian Publishers Association Award for Best Designed Non-Fiction, and was also nominated for Cover of the Year.
(Oh, and to answer a question I get asked all the time: the typeface I used for the title and strapline is called: my handwriting.)
Here, we share some of our opinions on a range of subjects, adapted from lectures we've delivered at public events and universities and curated for your reading pleasure. Want our opinion on something? Drop us a line.
*Adapted from a lecture Katherine delivered at the 2009 Sydney Writer's Festival
Being a designer and consultant focussing primarily on editorial products and visual strategy, it’s probably important to note that at no stage have I ever really understood what goes on in the mind of a book publisher, author or even a bona-fide “book designer”. In fact, it is probably important to note that I have never set foot inside a book publishing house at all ... so I suppose the reason I’m here is to give a slightly different perspective on how someone like me fits into the book design world, and how that world fits in with me. To that end, I have constructed an invaluable tool that I like to call “10 Steps to Infiltrating The World of Book Design, In 10 Minutes”.
Step 1: Become an expert in editorial design.
Over the years I’ve been involved in so many editorial projects around the globe that I can barely remember all of them. Suffice to say, when you’ve had a hand in designing most of the major newspapers in the region, have art directed multiple magazines for very different audiences, and lecture on the subject to university students and other design professionals, you can probably call yourself a bit of an expert.
Step 2: Make an unexpected but fortuitous connection.
Many years ago, the company I worked for at the time (de Luxe & Associates) was approached by the then Creative Director of HarperCollins Jenny Grigg, to work on some covers for them — primarily because of our ’outsider‘ status and therefore hopefully unique perspective on book design. However, for all the good intentions, we really went together like oil and water, particularly on our very first project, which was a spectacular failure (from memory, an adult historical fiction title about Ancient Egypt ... or something like that). But to Jenny’s credit, she persisted with us.
Step 4: Hit your head against a few walls.
Experiences like the above aside, the more common scenario is that what begins as a great idea with strong support goes through so many revisions and last-minute changes due to politics, budgets, marketing managers and sometimes over-sensitive authors, that they often end up either nothing like what you originally intended (or would ever out your name to), or on the scrap heap. If you thought designing a national newspaper, in another country, working with a very large staff and with people who speak English as a second language, with a 6-month project timeline is a difficult thing to manage, you’ve obviously never tried to design a commercially-viable-yet-intrinsically-clever book cover.
Step 5: Go back to what you know.
When all else fails, do something you fully understand. Bring on the large, foreign staff of hostile newspaper sub-editors!
Step 6: Make a ‘random’ connection.
After a brief hiatus from the world of books, de Luxe was approached by a different publisher (Random House) to design a pitch for a magazine (something we actually knew about) which then lead to some more book covers. Which, as they tend to do, lead us to:
Step 7: Retire.
No more book design. Not ever. Until of course you decide to ...
Step 8: Start your own project.
Anyone who’s ever designed an entire book will tell you it’s an all-consuming task. Moreso when you’re generating the content as well. Over the years, I’ve been involved in a number of self-published book projects, from school reviews to books of poetry, to childrens’ picture books. Most notable of these was a book celebrating the 125-year anniversary of the school our director's children attended.
The ensuing labour of love far exceeded anything we'd ever attempted as studio, but the results were worth it — apart from the publishing awards the book received, staff, parents and most importantly students were presented with an absolutely unique and memorable keepsake from their time at school. Perhaps it’s in response to the frustration of working within the corporate publishing ‘machine’, but no matter how much love a self-publishing project requires, it’s always worth it for the creative freedom you’re allowed.
Step 9: Make sweeping assertions.
For reasons still unknown to me, I was invited to judge at the APA (now ABDA) awards. It opened my eyes to how many different people at all levels of publishing are involved in the commissioning and decision-making process. And to a degree, scared me witless! But that experience in turn lead me to:
Step 10: Enter the inner sanctum.
I can’t help but feel that being invited to speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, in a panel of highly regarded book designers, that I’ve somehow managed to find myself in some sort of book designer’s inner sanctum. Although I still can’t help feeling like a total outsider ... but I think I like it that way.