Tag Archives: designer

Kayleigh Pullinger: Interview with a Book Designer

This is an interview with Kayleigh Pullinger, Designer at emc design. emc design is the largest design agency dedicated to book publishing in the UK. Kayleigh joined emc in 2017 after earning her designer’s stripes in the big city. Although new to book design, she is excited to learn new skills and over the moon that she can now spend more time with her lopsided pet rabbit (Bobbity) instead of commuting.

1) How did you start your career? And do you have any tips for people wanting to cross over from graphic to book design?

My first job was working as an in-house designer for a charity, followed by two jobs working for design agencies with clients varying from independent start-ups to big FTSE100 corporates.

My tips to those who’d like to cross over from graphic design to book design would be to familiarise yourself with inDesign as much as possible, and brush up on your basic Photoshop skills. Knowing the software that you’ll use day in day out will speed you up and free some headspace for getting creative with the realia (realia is the term used for images on the page, used to illustrate a language learning point). Start looking at the world around you, which, as designers, you probably do anyway. Take notice of how websites work, what makes an online article look different to one in a magazine? Study the pizza menu next time you’re out and about and make a mental note of how the menu is designed. All these little things help in really unexpected places.

2) What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your job?

My favourite part of my job is definitely styling realia, closely followed by a good stint of text formatting. I love how quickly you can go from a completely unstyled page of text to something visually engaging. I have to say that my least favourite part of my job is checking my own proofs, as I’m terrified of missing a big blunder.

3) If you could travel five years back in time, what advice would you give yourself?

Don’t panic if what you’re doing feels unfulfilling at the time, it’s all a learning curve, and eventually you’ll end up doing something that engages you properly. Take your time over every job, no matter how small. Get off the internet and go out into the world more, to museums and galleries and concerts and even just down the road.

4) Who do you admire and why?

Jessica Hische is my hero. She’s a lettering artist and illustrator, which is a far cry from what I do, but her career path and drive inspire me. She also keeps a lot of personal projects on the boil, which I think really helps keeps your creative cogs oiled. Oh, and she can code too!

5) Will you be at London Book Fair and if so, what are you most looking forward to? 

I won’t be personally this year, but some of my emc design colleagues are going down, so feel free to say hello to John and Ben.

Bonus Q: What book characters would you invite to your fantasy literary dinner party?

Being a child of the Harry Potter generation, I’m definitely inviting Albus Dumbledore, Luna Lovegood and Dobby. Let’s also throw in Anne Elliot, Lyra and  Marvin the Paranoid Android to mix it up a bit.

Thanks Kayleigh for taking the time to answer our questions! You’ve made me want to try my hand at book design now…

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Creative CV Design: the do’s and don’ts.

Creative CV Design: the do's and don'ts

There is lots of advice out there on how to write a good CV for most roles in publishing, and one of the key things you are told is not to put images in and not to get too creative with your layout.

But what if you are designer and images and creative layout are what you do?

So here are some things to help when applying for book designer roles * (this will post mainly talk about roles in Trade book design, but the same hints/tips can be applicable for most sectors).

Before we get started:
Firstly, bear in mind that the CV, cover letter, and your portfolio, all need to work together. Let’s call this bundle “the application pack”. Whist most people will read a cover letter first, you cannot guarantee it won’t be the CV (or even the portfolio) that they start with. So make sure each part of your application pack gives the very best impression of you and your skills that they can.

Next, remember you are a designer. You profession is essentially about imparting information in a visually impactful way. The application pack are the first pieces of your work a potential employer will see. So make sure they are good!

One hiring manager I spoke to takes all the application packs submitted for a particular job, prints them out (in black and white) and spreads them over the meeting room table. All the team then walk around, picking up their favourites. The lesson to take from this? You have to be prepared for the application pack to be viewed in multiple ways – print, screen, colour, black and white… The way to go is A4 and portrait for the CV and cover letter. A4 and either portrait or landscape for the portfolio.

Creative CV Advice

Designers, a “creative CV” can be helpful. However, it can go horribly wrong if it is badly designed or illegible.

  1. Make sure the layout is clean and readable. It is quite common to have a one page CV as a designer, but if you need more room take the full two pages.
  2. Get some personality in there – don’t just use a stock template.
  3. At the same time, don’t go over the top. The CV has a fairly traditional format for a reason. If it doesn’t clearly show your past work experience, education, and relevant skills, then it isn’t doing its job.
  4. Put dates on your CV – dates of qualifications, education, and past employment.
  5. Include a link to your portfolio on the CV. Be prepared for the CV to get separated from the rest of the application pack and handed/emailed round the office. Make it easy for the person viewing just your CV to get to the relevant information about you.
  6. Detail what your responsibilities were in each role: if you were working on covers; did layout; worked with illustrated books, children’s or adults; if you were dealing with illustrators; if you were commissioning freelancers, managing staff, etc. It’s not all about your design skills, you also have other skills to show!
  7. If your CV is in PDF format (standard for designers) and you’ve put in a link to your portfolio, make sure that the link is clickable but also fully visible. Show the person viewing on a screen that you are aware of the possibilities of InDesign. Show the person viewing a print-out that you can design for multiple audiences.
  8. Lastly, (and to reiterate the first point) it needs to be readable! Showing your skills and your creativity is great, but most importantly we need to be able to see at a glance what your experience is. If it is too much of an effort to see what you’ve been up to, the recruiter/HR might give up quickly as they likely have a big pile of CVs to go through.

Portfolio Advice

As a designer, a portfolio is essential to show that you actually have the skills you said you have in the CV.

  1. We highly recommend you have a website version of your portfolio. You don’t have to pay for a personal domain, or for a very elaborate design – unless you want to! There are lots of free services out there – behance, Tumblr, WordPress, Deviantart to name just a few. At a minimum you need a place to display examples of your work. It also shows recruiters you have technical skills in digital software
  2. But you also need to have a curated PDF version of your portfolio ready to supply if asked for it (especially if the advert expressly wants this). This demonstrates your ability to select your work, and to present it in an orderly and beautifully designed way.
  3. Try to make sure this is a fairly small file size because quite a lot of companies limit the size of attachments that can be received. 4MB is a good guide size. It also shows you are capable of choosing the appropriate resolution and image size for your audience.
  4. Avoid dark backgrounds in your application pack – it is still very common to print out applications, and often only on a B&W printer. Dark backgrounds become unreadable really easily.
  5. TAILOR YOUR PORTFOLIO – applying for a print job? Make sure your book/magazine layouts are at the top. Web-design? Feature them first. And be aware of your audience – applying for a job at a children’s publisher? Don’t feature NSFW art!
  6. In the portfolio – both web and PDF – consider using headings (books, web design, product design, adverts) and providing a bit more description about each project (e.g., “I did the full layout for this book for a paying client” , or “This is a self-started cover design to practice” …)

Cover Letter Advice

We’ve talked about cover letters before on the blog and all of that advice still holds true for designer roles. Whilst your portfolio is your main selling tool for design jobs, don’t ignore the cover letter – especially in publishing, where words matter. Take the one A4 page to clearly demonstrate your suitable skills and why you want this particular job at this particular company (and don’t forget to include that link to your portfolio!)

Some general advice

(a.k.a what-not-to-dos from a recruiter who has looked at a lot of CVs from Designers of all levels in the last few months):

  1. Illustration is not book design. Whilst the two are related, and there is often overlap, the two are different skill sets. For example, your experience illustrating gift cards doesn’t necessarily mean you have what it takes to do interior layouts for text books. Know what you are applying for and what your relevant skills/experience are.
  2. And book design can be more than just cover design. You will often need to be able to do layouts, both text and visuals. If this is specified in the job description, make sure your portfolio (and CV) details any relevant experience you have.
  3. Don’t have printers/formatting marks on the edges of your CV/portfolio/cover letter. The first impression these give is that you cannot export a document from InDesign that is suitable for your audience.
  4. Don’t try and take over my screen with Full Screen mode in the PDF. It’s just rude. Most of us live with multiple windows open.
  5. Keep your website simple – see everything I’ve already said about making things easy and readable – (and please avoid Flash if you possibly can!)

And that is it from us. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please do add them in the comments.

If you have any questions we haven’t answered through our blog or website let us know through anyone of our social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.

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Kate Adams: children’s book designer

Book designers are a crucial part of the publishing process, so I am delighted to bring you this interview with the very talented (and truly delightful) Kate Adams, Senior Designer at Oxford University Press.


My name is Kate Adams and I live in a small village near Stroud, in Gloucestershire. I am a highly creative and experienced senior designer, with a passion for children’s publishing. I’ve just celebrated my 7th Anniversary working for Oxford University Press – Children’s Books; where I work on a varied list (including children’s picture books, young fiction, teen fiction, home-learning and dictionaries) with many high profile authors and illustrators. Alongside design, I have a keen and active interest in photography, and have always got a camera to hand. I love being outdoors; walking, running, horse-riding and cycling are some of the activities I enjoy. I also keep fit by attending a gym on a regular basis. I also participate in events such as the Cancer Research Race for Life, and duathlons. I am currently training for Tough Mudder in August.

How did you start your career? And do you have any tips for people wanting to cross over from graphic to book design?
I was lucky enough to start my career in publishing almost immediately after graduating from Bath Spa University with a degree in Graphic Design. I had originally though that I might peruse a career in advertising graphics or magazines, but I joined a book packaging company as Junior Designer. My first day with the team there was to be a model for a photoshoot for the Eyewitness – Shakespeare guide that had been commissioned by Dorling Kindersley. Dressed in costumes from the RSC, and with my hair and make-up done by stylists; I was an Apple–seller for the day. Being on the models side of the camera was my very first lesson in how to art direct a photoshoot, the photographer and the complexities that go into it.

After a short time, I was promoted to Senior Art Editor. This enabled me to work on numerous projects for a variety of national and international publishers, including Dorling Kindersley, Kingfisher, Oxford University Press, Pearson, Pinwheel, Readers Digest and Two-Can Publishing. I was lucky enough to work with some lovely authors and photographers on some fantastic non-fiction titles. I left Bookwork after 6 years with them to pursue some freelance opportunities, before coming to work in the Children’s Design team at Oxford University Press. I am now in my 7th year here. I love my job, and I’m very proud to have worked on some fabulous award winning titles, including Sky Hawk & White Dolphin by Gill Lewis, and Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes. I am also the lead designer on all of the Winnie the Witch publishing. Winnie is OUP’s biggest children’s character property, and has sold over 5 million copies world wide having been translated into over 30 languages.

It’s true to say that being straight out of University, I had very little book publishing experience or knowledge, I was completely naive to the whole “book-design” process, so I always consider myself to have been really lucky to have been mentored by my first boss. She is one of the best designers I’ve ever worked with, and who taught me the general “how-to-do studio stuff”. She also taught me to trust my gut instinct and my creative awareness and ability. I think for any graduates looking to get into any graphic communication based role now, particularly publishing, really must be able to demonstrate that they have a great creative eye and an awareness of trends and markets – but they also need to be good communicators. They need to be people who can express and who can discuss their ideas freely. Being able to give and to receive critique is key, and it’s essential across every aspect of design and creative industries.

What is it like to work on other people’s art work rather than your own? (Do you ever think you could do a better job than the illustrator?)
Working in children’s books gives me the opportunity to keep in touch with my “inner child”. I love to be in the process where we can give colour and life to an idea. Working with such fantastic artists, as I’m lucky enough to do, gives me the opportunity to express my creativity without getting the paints out. I have illustrated a couple of books but in no way can I call myself an illustrator! I am in awe of them all and what they do! I would love to be able to say that I could do.

What is the best bit of your job? (and the worst?)
The best bit of my job is when I see a book that I’ve worked on, in the hands of a child, or in the shops. It’s real sense of pride and “Look! I did that”. It’s a really great feeling, when you think back to a project that you’ve worked on, and remember all the hard work; the coming up with the concepts, the looking for images or artists, the toing-and-froing and approval stages (which sometimes seem endless). I definitely have to put ALL my books at the front when I see them, or talk really loudly about “how I came up with the idea” or “what a star A.N Illustrator was to work with” 😉

The worst bit of my job, is when a cover design just isn’t working, or right for what ever reason. Sometimes we try to “fix”, when really we need to say “its not working, we need to stop, and start over”. I’m a passionate person and put my whole heart into everything I do, so its hard when you hear negative feedback about something you’ve been working on and have become so close to. But I always try to be half full rather than half empty, so all feedback is good feedback, and I always try to make a success out of a failure.

What’s the one picture book you wish you could have worked on?
There are so many picture books that I wish that I could have worked on, but if I could pick one it would have to be … Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. The story centres on a lonely and temperamental boy, Max, who, having been sent to bed without dinner, imagines a sea in his bedroom and sets sail to the land of the wild things where he quickly becomes King.
Initially it was a critical failure, being giving much negative feedback and even banned in some libraries! But the had to realize that children were flocking to the book, checking it out over and over again, and critics relaxed their views. Since then, it has received high critical acclaim. But this is a book that has gone on to sell more than 19 million copies.

I’m a HUGE Wilbur fan – what is your favourite Winnie adventure?
There are so many Winnie – Adventures – my favourite is Winnie’s Pirate Adventure. From the start it’s full of humour and Korky Paul’s wonderful illustrations. The story starts when Winnie and Wilbur arrive at Cousin Cuthbert’s party dressed as a pirate and a parrot, they discover a whole crew in fancy dress, eager for excitement on the high seas! Winnie is ready with her magic to whisk her shipmates aboard, but will they be back with the treasure before the party’s over?

Bonus question – if you could recommend only one book you worked on in the last five years, what would it be?
I would recommend Sky Hawk, by Gill Lewis. It’s such an amazing story about what happens when two Scottish children discover an Osprey and have to struggle to protect the rare birds at all costs.
The main characters are Callum and Iona – the granddaughter of the local recluse – and the story is also about how the discovery of the Osprey pushes them into forging a friendship. Written by a real talent, Gill a former vet, took up writing after winning ‘Most Promising Writer’ prize on the Bath Spa University MA course and her debut novel is a wonderful tale of friendship, kindness and the way that people from different continents can be united by something as straightforward as the welfare of a beautiful bird. The package is one that I’m very proud to have worked on. Sky Hawk has won many awards and has been shortlisted for many many others. It has also attracted praise from Michael Morpurgo, who said:

“Here’s a rare thing . . . that opens your eyes, touches your heart and is so engaging it almost turns the pages for you.”

Thank you Kate, for giving us a little peek into the life of a designer. Good luck in your Tough Mudder!
You can follow Kate on twitter (@KateAdams13), and the team at OUP on @OUPChildrens


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