What does it take to design a book cover? How much do you need to engage with the author or understand the audience? What are sources of inspiration and what tips can one impart with aspiring designers? We talk to five of our favourite Irish book designers based in Ireland, the UK and US to find out why you can judge a book by its cover.
“I love trying to interpret imagery in abstract way, having a cover that lures a reader to pick it up and make it stand out in a bookshop.” – Anna Morrison, London
What pathway lead to you designing book covers?
A tutor at Camberwell, where I was studying illustration, suggested publishing might be an area for me to explore once I graduated. She thought I worked well with type and image. It was not something I had considered, so I’m so glad she pointed me in that direction. I contacted a few publishers and got a bit of work experience at Penguin and I think that helped me get a junior designer role at Random House.
What sparks ideas for book cover designs? Do you read the whole book/manuscript? Do plot, themes, characters, symbols, imagery or atmosphere impact on your choices?
I do try to read some of the book, if available, even just to get a flavour of the narrative and the author’s style. It’s usually within the text I can pick up certain imagery or ideas that can be translated onto the cover.
I love trying to interpret imagery in abstract way, having a cover that lures a reader to pick it up and make it stand out in a bookshop.
How does your interaction with the commissioning editor/art director/author work and vary? Do you always, or never, speak directly to the author?
Again, this depends very much on the publisher. Smaller houses sometimes don’t have an art department so, often, it’s the editor who gets in touch. I do tend to mostly liaise with art directors. Very rarely do I speak with authors, although recently I’ve had an author Natasha Lunn reach out to me to see if I could design her cover to her wonderful book Conversations on Love.
The art director agreed so they commissioned me. I was so thrilled that she had asked specifically for me.
Did moving to London seem an inevitable step for you? What benefits and challenges has it brought to your role?
I moved to London to go to art college. I’d always dreamed of living here when I was a young teenager, it seemed so exciting and was where everything I was interested in was happening. It was difficult at first, a bit lonely, coming from Belfast which was so much smaller and easier to get about. Everybody knows everyone at home too. I was so naïve when I moved here, living in east London and travelling to Peckham everyday and I had no money to get the tube. I spent a lot of time on buses!
But, on the plus side there was so much going on, all the art galleries, night life etc… I got a job in a pub and met so many interesting and inspiring people from all walks of life, I relished in the diversity of people I met which was very different from Belfast. I loved it.
Which designers and covers do you admire most?
Jaysus, there’s so many designers I think are insanely talented. Fellow Irish designer Jack Smyth is one of them, some others are Jo Walker, Kishan Rajani, Holly Ovenden, Micaela Alcaino, Luke Bird, David Pearson, I could literally go on for days!!
So much talent out there. A real stand out cover for me was Jack Smyth’s The Plot, so bloody clever!! Also, loved Holly’s cover for The Wolf Den, just so beautiful.
If you had one piece of wisdom to impart which you have learned to date…
You are only as good as your last job!!