Sometimes I’m a designer

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Sometimes blogs provide an creative outlet for those who need them, when their creative needs aren’t being fulfilled in other areas. Sometimes blogs are adjuncts to creative outlets or the cherry on top of everything you do. Sometimes blogs are your only form of creative outlet.

My blog has always been an additional outlet, something that gives me the option to expand on other areas of social media and sometimes my actual work work.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything about my work on my blog (it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on my blog) but if you’ve been watching you may have noticed I updated my portfolio section with a few projects I did last year.

I don’t know how long I can continue to profess how exceptional lucky I feel working in the Australian publishing industry until it sounds insincere and contrived. But if I won the lottery tomorrow I would show up on Monday morning ready for work because the people and the projects make this a career I’ve worked very hard to realise and I wouldn’t give it up for nuts.

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It’s a job, there are highs and lows just as any other work but over years I have built some wonderful relationships with publishers and editors that have given me an outlet to play and push myself further in my design practice, question my abilities, reach further into my conceptional mind, doubt myself terribly one day only to perform crazy dances for my dogs when I am finally successful the next day. I am not a robot at a computer pushing pixels for someone else’s idea but a collaborator – my ideas are respected and my voice heard.

And the end product is extremely satisfying. Who doesn’t love browsing through a book shop? Or flipping through the pages of a lifestyle book on a friend’s coffee table? People remember their favourite book as a child, and most people relish the gateway that a good story provides.

Being able to clothe a manuscript – give it a form that presents itself to the reader, introduces and entices, strikes a chord, generates goodwill – is a lot of responsibility.

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One of the questions I am frequently asked is do I read the manuscript before designing and my answer is: I try to read as much and as many as I can. I have worked out a few tricks for reading the MS (that’s manuscript in publishing abbreviation) like reading them on my iPad in the evenings; using the Text-to-Speech function on my computer so my Mac reads to me as I work; having a text reader app on my iPhone which is like having vaguely personable robot read an audio book (but is great for the gym or when I commute). But I don’t have the luxury of sitting around for days reading books, I have work to do and as a freelancer deadlines wait for no one.

Some books I get very excited about reading and fan out about them – last year I designed the cover for the Australian release of ZEROES . I devoured the MS and loved the story – I am a sucker for super hero storylines and particularly like the UK TV series Misfits – and I have recently been started designing the second book in Zeroes series and am so excited to get to read the MS (for designing purposes only – er-hem!).

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Some books I get stumped by and I have to call my braintrust and talk at them for a while until I can unknot the concept from my tangled thoughts.

I would say 60% of my job is thinking. Just thinking not actually doing or producing but considering the message and audience and thinking of how to create a window into the story. Some concepts can take days, if not weeks of labouring to get a design that feels right, others can be knocked out in a morning (but only after quite a bit of thinking). It’s not an exact science and I don’t have a formula, but I do use the principles of design as a base.

Sometimes I have to design 35 cover concepts until the cover is approved, sometimes the final cover is chosen from the first round of concepts. Sometimes I think I’ve nailed it and the publisher goes in a different direction.

Sometimes I use stock images, other times I shoot my own photographs and on very special occasions I get to commission a photographer. I illustrate stuff, work with commissioned illustrators. I hand draw type and nerd out over fonts.

I’ve given talks and run workshops about book design with publishers and editors, aspirating writers, primary school kids and tertiary design students. I can talk your ear off about colour meaning and type placement.

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My work is shown across social media via publishers, authors, book reviewers and readers. Most people wouldn’t have a clue who I was, or even think about the actual designer behind the book and that’s completely fine. Sometimes I get tagged in an appreciative post twitter or instagram by people who know me or my work, which I am always grateful for. I love finding discussions about book covers I’ve created, it gives me enormous insight to be a fly on the social media wall.

As a freelancer I find it hard to say no to work, it’s the nature of the job sometimes. But most of the time I can’t say no because the project I am being offered is just so damned good I’d be a fool to pass it up. I have come to the point in my career that I am able to say no but (due to the aforementioned smug love of my job) I just won’t.