Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The lunatics have taken over the asylum

New Association formed for
Book Designers and Book Design Awards

A new and exciting chapter is about to begin for book design in Australia.  It was announced recently that the Australian Publishers Association [‘APA’] will be handing over the baton of the organisation of the Annual Australian Publishers Association Book Design Awards to a dedicated and active group of leading Australian designers.  Welcome to The Australian Book Designers Association [‘ABDA’].  The ABDA Committee for 2013 consists of WH Chong, Sandy Cull, Jenny Grigg, Daniel New, Tony Palmer, Miriam Rosenbloom, Alex Ross and ZoĆ« Sadokierski. The APA is delighted to assist this group during the transition. 

The ABDA will highlight the role and importance of book designers in the promotion of Australian books, and provide a home for designers that is expansive, relevant, active and inclusive.  The ABDA is dedicated to ensuring that the unique history of the national awards, internationally recognised and celebrated, will not miss its 62nd consecutive year.  The tradition will continue in 2014, though in a very different form. Details about the new association, its committees, the awards event and the process for nominations will be reviewed and the ABDA will communicate news and developments as soon as possible in the new year. (Email the ABDA at

Sandy Cull on behalf of the committee says, ‘‘Australia is unique in having such a long history of book design awards. We thank the APA for its 62 years of support for the award program, its significant efforts to highlight the role of design since 1950, and for its willingness to hand on such an important archive to ensure its future.”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A codex of book designers?

Collective nouns have been part of the English language since The Book of Saint Albans included 165 of them in 1486, 32 years after Gutenberg changed the world forever with his ’31-line indulgence’.  The former volume included the beautifully poetic ‘melody of harpers’ and a ‘sentence of judges’. More recent and local collective nouns include ‘a chatroom of gallahs’ and ‘a carolling of currawongs’.

What I’m after is a collective noun for book designers. There may be a few different ones that each suggest the specific activity of the book designers at a particular time. For example, geese on land are a ‘gaggle’ and then a ‘skein’ when flying and then they become a ‘plump’ when flying closely together.

But what could we call a group of book designers having a long, overdue drink in a bar somewhere in Melbourne if not before Christmas, then sometime early in 2014?

See the handsome list below for inspiration and then forward you suggestions . . . and then we can get this Inaugural Melbourne gathering happening.

An erudition of editors
An absence of waiters
A cackle of hyenas
A fidget of altar boys
A hand of bananas
A murder of crows
A sleuth of bears
An ostentation of peacocks
A sounder of swine
An unkindness of ravens
A huddle of lawyers
A mess of officers
A mixture of pharmacists
A murmer of nuns
A parliament of rooks
A rhyme of poets

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Cover Story #1: The Luminaries. Designed by Jenny Grigg

There’s a stack of great covers out on the shelves at the moment, October being the month where publishers place their best-sellers and major titles of the year. Jenny Grigg’s design for Eleanor Catton’s ManBooker prize-winning The Luminaries is my personal fave. Jenny kindly agreed to be interviewed about designing The Luminaries.

Here’s the first in an ongoing series of cover stories with specific designers about specific books.

SC: Firstly, huge and hearty congratulations. It’s a most stunning cover, truly iconic. Can you give me a an idea of the timeline for designing The Luminaries. Did you work on the text?
JG: I knew from fairly early on book was a hardcover edition with a very wide spine so I planned to take advantage of what was going to be a solid object - a wide spine is a third surface to work with, great structural element. There was a fair amount of time in the early stages as Granta knew this was their big  book of the year. They place alot of importance on their covers and organise plenty of time to develop and tune ideas. I wasn't involved with the internal design at all. 

SC: Can you tell us a bit about the brief?
JG: The brief was very well considered and quite detailed but not in a restrictive way. The frame was setby describing what was going to work from a publishing point of view, but no attempt was made to find content for the frame. I had a clear idea of who the market was and that the cover must look like both historical and experimental fiction. It was an excellent brief. The publishing team knew what they wanted and were great at articulating that, great at setting the stage for visuals.

SC: Did you present more than one concept originally?
JG: I worked on many concepts to get my own head around the options; there are always so many possible directions that a design can take. At the beginning I was going around in circles, I had many nice elements but not a particular concept to make sense of anything. Once I thought of the idea of using phases of the moon as a graphic hook, I began forwarding designs to Granta. I knew it was a concept that could survive various incarnations. I knew that the grid of moon shapes communicated the novel was experimental, and would provide a vehicle for historical imagery.

SC: Set in the mid 19th century, I love, but am intrigued by the use of Futura for the type. Did you explore serif options and what was it that made you choose Futura?
JG: Yes, we explored many type options. In fact the moons in various iterations remained present all the way through the design process; it was the type that was thoroughly tested. Serifs gave a softer, historical, predictable feel; sans serif a more modern, small type positioned vertically more idiosyncratic ....  In the end , the large, confident, sans serif (in combination with four moons) communicated a modern, confident book. We found a good balance between historical and contemporary.

SC: In the US, the book is published by Little Brown with 12 crescents, smaller type and the ‘author of’ line, whilst the UK has opted for the more mysterious and cleaner 4 crescents. Can you talk a little about the differences working with overseas publishers?  
JG: The US picked up an earlier version of the design, apparently they preferred it because it looked more historical; I guess it felt more suitable for their market, they also chose to print it with a very reduced spine width by managing the internal paper stock.

SC: Clearly there would have been a huge amount of expectation around The Luminaries? Does this hamper or enhance the design potential?
JG: There was an enormous amount of expectation around the book and there's a responsibility to deliver a jacket everyone wants to work with. There was alot of hope for the book before it was time to think about the cover so it was important to get the design 'right'. The cover introduces the book to the market place and people's instinctive reactions are worth tapping into, or attempting to second guess.

Speaking generally as a cover designer though, it is frustrating when choices are being made that go against your design instincts. This wasn't the case with The Luminaries as there was an in-house art director who could weigh in if conversations were getting off track. With any kind of design it helps to put forward concepts that can survive editing here and there. Design is very subjective, it is never a straight line from A to B. And yes, I always feel pressure, a responsibility to produce something a publisher is excited about. If there is a level of excitement in the production stages, you hope this will translate to customers which is the whole point.

SC: Can you talk a little about the aftermath of The Luminaries being short-listed for and
then winning the ManBooker? I know you heard about the win on the ManBooker Twitterfeed but what sort of contact have you had from the publisher or from the author?

JG: Sarah Wasley the production manager sent me a bottle of French champagne, so lovely. Earlier on Max Porter the editor sent an email to say the cover made him happy every time he looked at it. Philip Gwynn Jones the publisher emailed me after the Booker announcement, insisting I get the cover up on my website so he could tweet it. It was a social media minor scrum that closed the gap between London and Melbourne, an exciting couple of days. This week I am participating in a New York Times online slideshow edited by John Williams. Some books get a whole lot of attention and you can ride the wave.

SC: There are lots of good covers out there but only a few iconic ones. Creative talent aside, what is the most important element that you most want as a designer to be able to create an iconic cover?
JG: A good relationship and shared sensibility with the publishing team. The briefs that probably work best are when a publisher has a good understanding of what they need, the market is understood and it is agreed how the market should be approached and as a designer you are able to offer solutions using your personal instincts. After the creative stage, ideally there's an open dialogue to hone aspects of a design. And to not miss the point: visually communicating something of the author's work to those who will want to read the author's work.A production budget that allows for some particulars usually helps nuance a result. A hard cover format is always going to look more handsome than a paperback.

SC: Do you have a favourite cover of all time?
JG: I still love Vanessa Bell's covers. They have a spirit to them that invite you in, give you some space as a reader.

Vanessa Bell designed many covers for her sister, Virginia Wolf.

You can find Jenny at:

Friday, August 23, 2013

Words are important

Words are important, right?
Well most of you must agree as threading words together forms a fundamental basis of our business  - book publishing.
So words are important.

But the way words are presented are often equally important especially in our visual culture. Typography is described as the process of setting and arranging letters but it is so much more than that. 
For a book cover type choice, positioning, colour and size can have a huge impact on the message:
"I'm a big masculine, brassy cop book with slab letterforms. You have the right to remain silent."
"I am a saccharin romance novel with slim, curved letterforms and bowed serifs. You may have my hand in marriage."
"I am a robot sent from the future to destroy the past. My letterforms are efficient, simple and square. Come with me if you want to live"
So you see typefaces contribute to the scene being set by the cover.

I am lucky enough to teach a beginners typography class at Billy Blue College of Design and one of the assignments I give my students is to design a movie poster using only type. For students with no prior background in design this is a huge stretch as most people, even seasoned design professionals find themselves relying heavily on images to tell the story. But ultimately those students who challenge themselves with this brief realise the strength and craft in typography. 

One thing I find in my beginners class is everyone knows what a 'font' is. Thanks to the early Mackintosh computers with their wide choice of fonts (a collection of Apple commissioned and classic typefaces) and later Microsoft's own release of operating system fonts, type choice and the knowledge of typefaces was no longer alchemy weaved by designers and printers but was quickly picked up by the masses. 

These days most people have a favourite typeface. From your granny pecking away writing a letter in Word, to your 11 year cousin and her Instant Messenger font set at Comic Sans. Font's are tools of your every day. 

And yet, it often surprises me when I see mention of a typeface or font in popular culture. Sure us designers have a chuckle at 'Comic Sans is the devil' memes, looking down from our educated type perches, but for me when I encounter instances that aren't necessarily connected to design or the visual it stops me in my tracks.

I am talking about typeface mentions in songs.

Songs like Vampire Weekend's "Holiday", mention Futura:
she'd never seen the word bombs blown up to 96 point Futura

While other song's sole focus (in a round about way) is a typeface, like this one by Towa Tei feat. Kylie Minogue "GBI (German Bold Italic)"

Or this rather fabulous version of Lady Gaga's "poker Face" twisted to become an ode to House Industries' Neutraface: "Neutra Face : An Ode On A Typeface (A Bearded Poker Face Parody)"

I'd love to add to this list, do you know any other typeface mentions in songs? Or better yet, any other odd places type has appeared? 

-- Astred

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

When Phil meets Hannah

I don't often get to hear the author speak about their book I've designed, let alone meet them. I'm not complaining; not at all. I have written before how terribly nervous I am around authors. So awestruck am I that some weird force takes over my powers of speech and I'm like the fumbling Phil from Monday Family . . . but much less funny.

Last night I sat in an intimate room in a Williamstown pub organized by our excellent local independent book shop, Book and Paper, and listened as Hannah Kent spoke generously and eloquently about her journey with ‘Burial Rites’.

When we met during the book signing I managed to keep it together, just; she was so beautifully humble. But I mentioned that the clever publisher at Macmillan had forwarded on a You Tube of the Swedish musician, Lykke Li, which really resonated for Hannah, and was a perfect piece of inspiration for a designer. Here it is again here.

And although it's enough to make any keen wordsmith hang up their writing gloves, you can read her fascinating insight into her BR journey here. It was first published in the literary journal that is co-published by Hannah, Kill Your Darlings.