• The Publishing Post

Diversity and Trends in Book Design with Sophie McDonnell

By Juliette Tulloch, Giulia Caparrelli and Beccy Fish


What attracted you to pursue a career in Design in publishing?


Photo by Sophie McDonnell

“I fell into publishing by pure chance! I studied Graphic Communication & Typography at the University of Reading and I took part in a project run by Oxford University Press, where we had to re-jacket two covers: Pride & Prejudice and Treasure Island. I remember loving the project so much and my cover for P&P got selected to be used as the real cover. This made me realise that book design was a viable career option. My university also offers a MA in Book Design, so I stayed on and then started applying for Junior Design roles until I got a job at Bonnier Books UK.”



What is your typical process from start to finish for working on a new book design project?


“There are three main routes: typographical, photographic and illustrative. Normally you decide on one that is appropriate for both the subject matter and specific market. For a photographic route you can either do your own photoshoot or search for existing images. Once you’ve chosen your image(s), you create the cover on Adobe Photoshop and add typography. For an illustrative route, you will create initial sketches, get these approved and then search for illustrators that will suit your concept and the book. You negotiate price and delivery dates and direct the illustrator’s work from greyscale roughs to final artwork. We normally come up with a minimum of 3 - 4 different routes when we present our ideas, so sometimes you create several covers for a single project.”


What’s your favourite book design you’ve worked on and why?


“My favourite designs are constantly changing as I grow as a designer, but some of my all-time favourites include Voices of the Windrush Generation, Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry, The Forevers and The Ivory Key. Sometimes I’m proud of the concept I’ve managed to come up with, while other times because of the artists I’ve managed to work with i.e. Muhammed Nafay for The Forevers or Jade Deo for The Ivory Key. Also, I love a cover for the impact it can have, i.e. showing two dark skinned characters on a romance book like Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry.”


You’ve recently worked on The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman. From a designer perspective, have you seen any improvements to diversity in YA book covers? If not, what do you think it’s missing and what should be done more?


“Recently, I have seen a definite increase in diversity being showcased on covers, particularly in YA. One thing that could be improved is diversifying the artists commissioned for book covers. The way we champion “own voices” for authors should be extended to the illustrators. With The Ivory Key, a Pan-Indian story with Indian characters, it was important to find an illustrator of Indian heritage, which we did in the amazingly talented Jade Deo. There are aspects that Jade was able to bring to her work that I, as a white person, wouldn’t have thought about. I’m also keen on using alternative methods to find illustrators outside of traditional illustration agencies, which aren’t as diverse as they could be. For instance, searching for artists on social media can be more time-consuming, but it’s a great way to find new, sometimes never commissioned, talent.”


What books would you recommend that promote and celebrate diversity within the YA genre?


“There are so many amazing YA books that are promoting and celebrating diversity at the moment, it’s genuinely so exciting to see. There's Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry, a story about black love and joy, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, a queer fake-dating love story, Ace of Spades, an incredible thriller that literally had me gasping as I read it, Heartstopper, a LGTQIA+ graphic novel series and The Ivory Key, a pan-Indian inspired fantasy (published January 2022!!). There are honestly too many to list but the above have been some of my favourite reads of the year!”


Is there a recent or current trend in book designing that you really like?


“It's tricky to pinpoint one recent trend I love, they change so quickly. There's a lot of gorgeous abstract pattern designs, (like the background on Will by Will Smith, by Jade Pearl) and bold female characters is another trend I've really been enjoying. Strong and simple typographic covers also really appeal to me, like the manifesto aesthetic of The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye. And obviously, I just really love the diversification of characters being depicted on front covers in general. To know that people from all walks of life are finally seeing themselves represented on covers is very important to me.”


You can follow Sophie on Twitter here.


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