This is Jack Noel. Jack, 28, has one of the coolest jobs we can think of - he's a book designer for Walker Books. He recently stopped by In the Loop to tell us a bit more about his job, and provide some advice for any Reading Activists with an interest in careers in illustration and design.
What does a day in the life of a book designer look like?
Walker Books is based in an old mattress factory in Vauxhall, I work in the Fiction department on the top floor. We make books for kids, teens, Young Adults and New Adults (those last three are all the same thing).
Every day is kind of the same - sit at a Mac, flick between Entourage, Photoshop, InDesign and Firefox, drink coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, eat custard creams throughout. And every day is different - the process of designing a cover takes ages and at any one time I'll be working on at least half a dozen titles. I might be working on, say, a vampire love story, a romance anthology, historic fiction, an urban thriller and a graphic novel - in fact that's pretty much exactly what I've got on right now.
The first step is to read the manuscript and talk to the book's editor about their ideas. Then I'll go away and quite quickly start mocking up ideas in Photoshop. In the first round I usually make dozens of cover ideas, almost all of them awful. After a few days of this I'll then pick out the strongest routes with the help of my Art Director. The chosen three or so are then taken to our weekly Covers Meeting where the publishers, art directors and sales and marketing bosses pick out the best one (if any). From there I'll continue to refine the chosen idea: I'll get the views of the author, talk to Production and often commission an artist to help create the final imagery. The whole process takes months, but it is a fun one.
What are your favourite and least favourite things about the job?
We get to play around a lot when we're making covers - you have to in order to keep your designs fresh. Playing with type, images and ideas is pretty fun (for me, at least) and there are a lot of more talented and more experienced designers around around to help when I get stuck. Also there's a table tennis table which we can wheel into the canteen on Fridays.
You have to be quite organised which can be tricky (and boring). With many long-running simultaneous projects you need to be on top of it all, alongside dealing with artists, their agents and production costs.
Three books designed by Jack.
When did you decide you wanted to become a book designer and how did you set about pursuing this?
I've always liked books and art and stuff, but it took me a while to think of it as a possible career. At university I studied mathematics but whilst there I remembered that I really liked drawing (and didn't like maths). On graduation I built up a limited portfolio by setting myself projects and then secured three days of work experience in a design studio. The studio seemed to like me and I ended up working with them for the next three years, in which I learnt almost everything I now know about design. With that experience I then felt for the first time that I could really start to think about what I wanted to do, and quite quickly realised that it was to design books. I wrote to my two favourite publishers asking if I could come in for a meeting. Months later one of them, Walker Books, replied and invited me to interview for the role of Assistant Designer. There aren't that many positions in the whole industry so I was really lucky.
What advice would you give to any young people who would like to work in a similar role?
I would recommend doing as much as you can, right now. Do what you can to learn the computer programs (InDesign and Photoshop, mainly) and create a portfolio - fill it with whatever you want - redesigned book covers, logos for friends, posters for bands that don't exist. To be a designer you need a little bit of skill and a lot of enthusiasm and a portfolio of self-initiated projects is a good way to show both.
How important a role did work experience play in getting you to where you are today?
It was a work experience placement that eventually turned into my first job, so it definitely played an important role. To get that placement though I had to demonstrate my abilities, so that pre-work experience was pretty important too.
Is there a creative words-based career that you would like to know more about? Get in touch to let us know and we'll see if we can find someone to interview and tell you more.
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If you're aged 11 to 19 years-old and you'd like to write a piece for our website get in touch with Robert Sommerlad.