Stunning Spines and Fabulous Face-outs: Book Design in 2019

This week The Read is catching up with the state of book design in Aotearoa ahead of the official PANZ Book Design Awards ceremony on 25 July.

We spoke to awards judges David Coventon and Kiran Dass; bookseller Kit Lyall; publishers Nicola Legat and Sarah Pepperle; up and coming book designers Katie Kerr and Te Kani Price; and publishing tutor Odessa Owens.

Always Judge a Book by its Cover
David Coventon is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Art and Design at AUT, and is this year’s convening judge of the PANZ Book Design Awards. He says that the judging process has been an absolute pleasure, and that Kiwi designers consistently deliver to a world class standard.

‘Book design has to respond to and work within a retail environment, and is ultimately judged on sales. Nothing beats the thrill of going into a bookshop and seeing a stack of your books on display!’

PANZ David Coventon
David Coventon

Kiran Dass is a Buyer at Time Out Bookstore, and is another of this year’s judges. She says: ‘Current trends show graphic and bold design, striking use of colour, clean typography and, in some cases, an interesting approach to binding and endpapers. There is some real care and craft. This year we saw a lot of muted peach and aqua tones coming through and I'm pleased to see that attention is being paid to the spines!’

This year, Te Papa Press and Massey University Press between them have picked up an impressive number of award shortlistings. Publisher Nicola Legat says: ‘You don’t get great design unless you have great designers, and we are incredibly lucky to have worked on these books with Arch MacDonnell and the InHouse team, with Anna Brown of Massey University’s College of Creative Arts, with Aaron McKirdy and with Kate Barraclough. We trust and respect them hugely.’

Designing for print in the age of digital
These days of course the retail environment is digital as well as physical. Coventon notes that a book cover has to work in a variety of spaces: ‘The reader’s first encounter with a book might be a tiny thumbnail. Online, the book’s cover has to convey the spirit of the book without relying on tactility. That’s where the designer’s skill really comes in.’

Odessa Owens was for many years a Senior Editor at Te Papa Press, and now runs the publishing course at Whitireia. She says: ‘Trying to make book covers legible at tiny thumbnail sizes hasn’t done books any favours. Bold typographic covers are great when that choice is made for aesthetic reasons, but it’s a shame when covers are oversimplified due to a fear of losing online sales.’

Katie Kerr is one of two nominees for Young Designer of the Year. She says: ‘I believe the book can play an important role in introducing us to content outside of our digital echo-chamber. Algorithms are lessening our chance of discovering something unexpected online — to the point where you are more likely to encounter content that interrupts your usual frames of reference at a bookstore than you are on your bookmarked web-pages. I think that’s a really exciting space to be working within.’

spine design by Katie Kerr
Spine Design by Katie Kerr

Recognising great design in-store
Kit Lyall is a Shop Floor Manager at Scorpio Books, where they are planning a window display to celebrate the PANZ Book Design Awards. ‘Most often, book awards are heavily centered around the authors, but it takes such a huge team to get a book on the shelves of shops. Why shouldn’t we pay equal respect to the folks behind the covers and designs?’

Scorpio Books
Book design awards display, Scorpio Books Christchurch

Time Out Bookstore will also be displaying the award-winning books. Dass says: ‘I’ve seen customers’ responses in the shop to some of the books we have looked at for the PANZ Book Design Awards and there are some books that are so ravishing and tempting that customers instantly gravitate to them when they see them on display.’

Design as teamwork
One of the skills Owens is passing on to the Whitireia publishing students is how to manage the design process. She says: ‘Book design isn’t just important, it’s integral. A great relationship with the designer is key.’

Sarah Pepperle is in charge of publications at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū and this year has two books shortlisted in the PANZ Book Design Awards, both of which were designed by Aaron Beehre.

She says: ‘For ART-TASTIC, Aaron managed a team of three of his graduates [at Ilam School of Fine Arts] who came up with a pretty spectacular array of wonky page layouts, home-made typefaces and zombies. I can safely say that this project wasn’t a cakewalk for Aaron, who spends most of his design time in a much more rarefied atmosphere—he’s since said the book is “a blinding assault on good design taste”.

internal ART-TASTIC
Internal spread from ART-TASTIC, designed by Aaron Beehre and his team from Ilam School of Fine Arts

‘The design brief was to create a riotous-looking book for kids that matched the irreverent tone of the text—bright pandemonium on the page, no obvious sense of order or structure, messy, warm and full of connections. Equally important, the design had be respectful in the treatment and layout of the works of art. Somehow, Aaron managed to create a book bright with mayhem while still letting the stars of the show—the artworks—own their page.’

Designers of the future
Alongside Kerr, the other nominee for Young Designer of the Year this year is Te Kani Price, who works as an in-house book designer at Huia Publishers. He says: ‘I really like being involved in the story-telling process - finding ways to make the colours, pacing and typography get the layers of meaning across is addictive.

internal spread treasures of tane
Internal spread, Treasures of Tāne (designed by Te Kani Price, published by Huia Publishers)

‘At Huia, we approach the book design process from a place of manaakitanga. The author’s and the audience’s needs are paramount: does the design accurately depict their nuances and have the right connotations? Is the text set in a way that the user will find comfort in? Will it spark the right discussions among readers? As a cohesive piece, is the design telling the story that is required, are there any distractions to that narrative on the page? These are always the main considerations before I start worrying about the technical details.’

With so much disruption in the industry it’s great to know that the next generation of book designers are enthusiastic, talented - and have plenty of work.

Kerr says: ‘Now, as well as designing publications for a range of clients, publishers, galleries, musicians and artists, I produce experimental paperbacks through GLORIA, a small publishing platform that I run with Berlin-based photographer Alice Connew. I’ve also organised a few art book fairs and helped launch a little art book store called Strange Goods on Karangahape Road.

instagram images of strange goods
From Strange Goods' Instagram capture

‘So books surround me all the time, which, of course, is the best way to live.’