Penguin Random House

By Its Cover: Suzanne Dean on good cover design

February 27th, 2017 by caroline_obrien | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on By Its Cover: Suzanne Dean on good cover design
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Suzanne Dean, the creative director for Penguin Random House, took the stage at this year’s Scottish Book Trade Conference to tell us all that, against a childhood’s worth of well-intentioned advice, we should, in fact, judge a book By Its Cover. Although much of her advice will be familiar to most of us at Stirling University from our design classes like all good advice it doesn’t hurt being repeated, and there was also much which was new and just as helpful. She was also able to offer an insightful and oftentimes very funny first-hand account of the frustrating, nerve-wracking, but ultimately fulfilling world of book cover design.

Dean was the one responsible for the Vintage logo update and some of her cover designs may be familiar to many of us, especially the work she did for Haruki Murakami’s novel. The simple, yet eye-catching, black white and red circle designs quickly became quintessentially Murakami. But, as any good designer will tell you, break your own rules. Dean certainly did, in an exceptionally well thought out way, by adding colour to Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki.

With quite a hefty bit of experience under her belt Dean is more well-versed than most on what effective design must be. Namely eye-catching, engaging to a reader, and thought provoking. After all, as Dean reminded us, we only have a few seconds in which to catch a browser’s eye and encourage them to pick our book up over all the others. In today’s world where books are increasingly becoming commodities like any others, sold on shelves between groceries and cleaning products, good cover design is more important than ever.

Through her work with Vintage Classics Dean is very well aware of this. Not only are classic books subject to the same fight for attention that new ones are, but they have a further added problem. As Dean asked, how do you convince someone to buy a book that’s probably freely available online?

Dean’s answer was simple.

By making them beautiful and desirable collectable objects.

Dean also found that a cover which hints at the contents receives a better reception than one which spells them out too heavily. Remember, with classics, the potential buyer has probably already read it, or at least is aware of the general plot, and so are more prone to spot and appreciate any little subtleties in the cover which, with a new novel, might only be appreciated after being read.

Of course, even while the contents of these classic books are well-known and familiar to many it is as important, if not more so, to keep the covers fresh and new. With content that has so many past covers it’s important not to become too similar. With their new Vintage Future editions Dean has managed to avoid this very pitfall. Using only a sheet of acetate and some line based designs this set of nine futuristic classics feature animated covers. The bold colours and psychedelic shapes combined with the animated feature and juxtaposed against the classic, black bordered layout perfectly capture the essence of these texts which, although written in the past, were always looking far into the future.

This seems to be a key theme brought by Dean to all her covers. Whilst they vary widely, and are each intricately tailored to suit their contents, there appears to be an emphasis on keeping them relevant, not just to our times but to all times.

But to achieve such beautiful, evocative, and timeless designs there is first a long process which must be traversed. As Dean revealed, one of her covers went through over seventy redesigns before it was finally accepted. It can also be very difficult to read a manuscript with the expectation upon you that a beautifully designed cover will simply emerge fully formed from your head. You must ‘rely upon the spark to happen’ and to keep on happening the next time and the next and the next. You must experiment, and engage with all forms of media. As Dean put it, ‘go out and see things,’ as many things as possible. You never know where inspiration will next come from.

And, most importantly, practice. For designers ‘just like dancers’ must practice before they can create something beautiful.

By Caroline O’Brien

“It is still about the Physical Book” – Meeting Scott Coning

January 16th, 2013 by Miriam Knafla | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on “It is still about the Physical Book” – Meeting Scott Coning
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As the semester 1 came to an end, Scott Coning, Managing Director of Better World Books, visited us on the 29th of November as the last speaker of the year to talk about the disrupted book market, the importance of discoverability and the positive prospect that the physical book is not going to die.

“If I leave you with more questions than answers, I’ll have done my job.”

Because that is exactly the state the publishing industry is in right now. Market disruption challenges everyone and nobody knows where we are going. The merger of Penguin Random House shows plainly that even the big players feel challenged and look for ways to survive. Scott proposes that publishers need to reorganise and get flexible; they have to reassure authors that they are worth while, put a lot of effort into meta-data management and guarantee the broadest possible reach for their products. At that, what has to be acknowledged is that every market is different, not just language-wise.

He also advises publishers to combine strengths with their competitors; share content and platforms in order to reach more customers. Furthermore, publishers should try to print as close to the customer as possible and reduce the many handlings of a book in its manufacturing process to the end-customer. Of course, due to such cost-saving measures warehouses have to cut down as not as many books go through. Bookstores, as well, need to reassess what consumers want, at what time and to what price. What is a book worth nowadays? Should content be free?

What he criticises about the online-buying trend is the loss of discoverability. How should customers discover books “when all they have is a search box?” Bookshops are all about the atmosphere, people usually go there in the hope to find a good read. The publishing dilemma is that with fewer bookstores there are fewer show rooms, less face to face enthusiasm and, hence, fewer channels to bring books to the consumer.

The blatant reality is that 72 bookshops closed last year; a trend that is about to deprive entire communities of one of their major and crucial ways to access books.

Scott suggested the idea that e-books are a welcome device to promote more reading. “It is still about the physical book,” though. The challenging question, however, is how to get it to the customer? It is the opportunity for bright minds and innovative thought to give the disrupted industry a new structure.

-Miriam Knafla

“Better World Books collects and sells books online, matching purchases with donations book for book, and contributing a portion of all revenues to literacy initiatives. It recently surpassed $10 million (£6 million) raised for literacy … [Scott] Coning [came] to Better World Books from leading UK book retailer Waterstone’s, where he worked for over 12 years overseeing operations as wide-ranging as customer service, branch management, and business strategy.” (source: Better World Books)