What is the best advice you can give to someone looking to get into the world of book design and print collateral?
You have to really, really, really love it! Book design is romanticized by many designers but it can be incredibly tedious and arduous work. It can also be a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding — especially when you see the end result. You have to have a lot of faith in the process, as you never truly know what the end result will be until you see it printed and bound — so it is not for the faint of heart.
What have you had to change in your practice to stay relevant?
Not changing is my ethos! Designers tend to feel like we need to be on top of every new design trend, or new software program (hello imposter syndrome . . . ). I am always learning but I choose to do (mostly) one thing and do it well.
How has print as a medium changed over the years? What are your favourite things about printed books?
Do they even print a phone book anymore? Now that up-to-date information can be quickly posted online, print has become more specialized and materials are considered more — even for mass produced items. My favourite thing about printed books are their tactile qualities — the weight of them in your hands, the super smooth glossiness of coated paper or the toothie warmth of uncoated paper. Books are an experience, not simply containers for information.
When looking for inspiration, what do you draw upon most? I’ve noticed your work is heavily influenced by the subject (ex: Warps, Heddles, Shuttles and Sheds).
I always draw my inspiration directly from the content I am working with. The first thing I tell my students to do is read the content — Googling won’t be enough! You won’t be inspired by the language used, or the cadence of the writing, or all of the hints or references the author includes buried in the subtext without reading it. You need to really understand the content you are working with before you can begin the design process otherwise you are just decorating.
What is the first thing you do when designing a book? Does it change depending on the subject matter?
I always start with the research: type research, visual research, material research, content-related research. The research phase can take longer than the design phase for most projects. Some projects come together quicker than others and some I need to let marinate before I can begin to see the way the content and the design can be connected.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
When I was studying graphic design at Parsons, I was really struggling with how to “make” design. I saw an exhibition at Cooper Union of Chip Kidd’s work where they showed his design process, from start to finish. It was an “ah ha” moment for me. Seeing the Campari bottle label and the actual tin toy bird that was his inspiration being developed into book covers helped me understand how to work through the design process. Oh and Irma Boom is always an inspiration … she is the world’s most famous book designer after all!
What was your path to becoming a book designer?
It was a bit circuitous! It took me over a decade after graduating from high school to determine that I wanted to be a graphic designer. After high school I attended OCAD, majoring in Sculpture and Installation. While at OCAD I participated in several co-op placements at various art galleries which led me to work as an arts administrator, including a stint at Prefix Photo magazine. I taught myself how to use QuarkXpress to design print collateral, such as invitations, brochures and vinyl wall signage and I soon realized this was the most rewarding part of my job so I decided to go back to school to study graphic design, attending Parsons School of Design. I interned at Toronto Life to gain some experience and got my first design job at Chatelaine, but I quickly realized that working at mass market magazines was not my forté. Luckily I landed a job working at The Office of Gilbert Li and the rest is history!
Do you have a favourite project? What makes it your favourite project?
My favourite projects are the ones where I was able to go beyond documentation and explore how to represent the spirit of the content so the book becomes an extension of a work of art, an exhibition or experience. Currently I am working on a book that aims to recreate the experience of walking around the gallery, seeing the wide range of work in the exhibition from various distances and angles, zooming in and out, contrasting details with wider views in order to highlight the thoughtful installation.
What is your favourite book design that you did not do?
There are too many to list! Anything by Irma Boom, of course. The Production Line of Happiness, designed by Abbott Miller is really inspiring from a conceptual standpoint and the Bruce Nauman Phaidon book is another great book that highlights how the form itself can connect to the content, becoming an interactive experience beyond simply turning pages. I can go on … and on ...
Lauren is an award-winning graphic designer and educator living and working in Hamilton, Ontario. She is passionate about designing books that help artists, art galleries and museums expand beyond their walls.