As Faye says towards the end of the interview, many people don't realise book designers exist, or what their role might involve. Faye is responsible for the look of The Rainbow Orchid as a book, the design of the covers and title pages, the setting of the lettering - and all kinds of important little details you wouldn't normally think of. As well as being artistically creative, she knows her stuff on the technical side too, from desktop publishing to the mysteries of printing and colour.
These interviews have been separating out the jobs, but in reality there is a lot of overlap, with the designer and editor working very closely together on a project - it's a real team effort.
How did you end up becoming a designer? Was it an ambition, or something you fell into?
It was a bit of both. I've always been creative, and Art and Design at school always felt more like play than studying. I ended up at Norwich Art School studying Graphic Design where I could experiment with several areas of graphics including Publishing.
And how about book design in particular - was that something you had an interest in, or was it initially just a job you applied for and got into it that way?
I didn't realise I had such a geeky love of type until I was part-way through my degree. I was lucky enough to work at some great publishers while on work experience (Walker Books and Dorling Kindersley) and by doing that decided that children's publishing was where I really wanted to be. Even as a child I'd made and designed books - I remember playing 'Teachers' and spending more time designing the register than actually taking part in the game!
What are your responsibilities as a book designer? What does a typical day consist of in your job?
My main responsibility are the books themselves (strangely!) - designing them for the correct market, to suit the editorial content and to Egmont's consistently high standards. I work closely with other departments, particularly Editorial, Production and Sales as there are so many variables in producing a book, novelty books in particular.
A typical day consists of finding inspiration (this usually hits you straight off the page from the text the editor has provided or from the style guide a licensor has supplied) and turning that in to a design. Other than physically designing, I can spend my time talking with/sourcing illustrators, organising schedules, creating sales material, picture researching, researching out on location... it can be pretty varied.
Do you do anything besides design work at Egmont? e.g. are you involved in any writing or research?
I like the idea of writing and illustrating and ideas tend to pop in and out of my head, but (as you well know!) my drawing skills are somewhat to be desired and I'm pretty sure my writing could do with a thorough sifting too. If I do anything, it's not for public inspection, purely my own enjoyment!
Besides The Rainbow Orchid, what other titles have you worked on?
I've worked across many brands and licenses in the four years that I've worked for Egmont. Barbie, Ben10, LazyTown, Postman Pat, Fireman Sam, Rupert Bear, Wacky Races, Disney Princess, Mr Men... so many! Most are colour and activity formats, novelty or short storybooks, and all brilliant fun to have been a part of. I have to admit though, my favourite character is Winnie-the-Pooh (I have a deep love for this bear and his world). A couple of years ago, we produced a book called The Wonderful World of Winnie-the-Pooh which was a deluxe format including many original sketches and illustrations by E. H. Shepard. I was able to visit Shepard's archive at the University of Surrey and was thoroughly in awe of his genius.
Am I right in saying you've also worked on the Tintin books?
As a senior designer I'm responsible for Tintin but new Tintin books are created by Moulinsart. The original albums are very rarely changed, so there isn't really a great deal of design work for me to do.
What's the best thing about your job?
I think the best thing is being paid to be creative. It's a bit like someone paying you to have a hobby (though don't tell my boss that!). It's also lovely to see your books on the shelves and in the hands of the consumer (adults or kids).
If someone wanted to work in book design, what areas should they study and develop? What particular skills would you need?
You can come at it from a few angles. I personally took a very direct route from a Graphic Design degree, great work experience and finally a Masters in Publishing Production (an unnecessary top up really but it was something I felt I wanted to do). Many designers come with a graphic design background though you also find a lot of illustrators in designer roles too. I think the main thing to remember is that you have to love books... as objects/design pieces/illustration/art etc. You can learn how to use the software but other than knowing what makes a good page layout or cover design, it's largely about empathy for the content, format, customer (by that I mean book seller) and end user that makes a good designer (in my humble opinion!)
Had you much experience of working with comics prior to taking on The Rainbow Orchid?
I'd not worked on any comics before The Rainbow Orchid so it was a totally refreshing genre to experience. I'd been used to creating licensed books totally from scratch (and therefore pretty much having entire control over their appearance) and suddenly I was presented with a book that was practically finished (plus a real life author/illustrator!). It felt a bit like handling something terribly precious, wearing white gloves and holding it up by the very corners, as opposed to rolling up my sleeves, wading in and organising the masses.
What would you say is the main difference between working on a comic album, a licensed character title, and a children's picture book?
Well, a bit like I've explained above. When I have total freedom of a style guide supplied by a licensor it's almost like collage or putting a slightly free-from jigsaw together. Empathy for the brand is essential, for example a design that suits Ben10 wouldn't be appropriate for Barbie but a large part of the design decision process falls on the shoulders of the individual designer. The licensor, of course, has approval but that's usually to do with the product being 'on brand'.
Working on picture books is a far more fluid and personal process as you sometimes have three or four people involved in a single title - author, illustrator (if they're not one and the same), editor and designer. That relationship is about managing ideas and directions as the book is sometimes a very intimate article for the author and/or illustrator, however the book also needs to be appropriate for the publishing list, which is where the publisher plays a vital role. Comic albums are similar I think, though they seem to be much more intense as a 32-page picture book story is usually far simpler than any form of fast-paced comic album.
Do you read comics, and are there any titles or creators you particularly enjoy?
Well other than one particularly stunning comic album (!!) I like Frank Miller's work. It came about after watching the film 300 (which is probably not a pure way of discovering Miller) but the cinematography was so stunning that I wanted to see how true the film had been to the book. It seems it was loosely based on his art using iconic panels, but not a direct take. To me, both versions are breathtaking.
Working with books and manuscripts all day, can you read for pleasure? What do you like to read for pleasure?
D'you know? I hardly read at all. For me, books are visual, tactile objects so it's about the images, the type, the paper, the layout, the format, sometimes even the smell! The text comes second in my world (Pete [editor] will hate me for saying that!) but then I wouldn't be a designer if it wasn't about The Design.
I saw (see, not read!) an interview with Dieter Rams recently (a respected product designer) and among his Ten Design Commandments he states that 'Good design is unobtrusive'. I like that. Many people don't even realise that book designers exist. They assume the author or illustrator takes full responsibility for how a book appears when actually there's a whole publishing house working behind the scenes to bring the book to fruition. Good design means you don't even realise it's there!
My favourite book is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I haven't read it for a while.
Thank you very much, Faye!