The 2017 ABDA Awards President’s Report

The ABDA catalogue celebrates the books shortlisted in the 65th annual Australian Book Design Awards. Selected from 341 entries submitted across 16 categories, these designs are the cream of the crop of books published between 1 January and 31 December 2016.

Judged by our formidable panel of designers and design lovers: Reg Abos, Murray Batten, Melanie Feddersen, Stuart Geddes, Sarah Jane Jones, Foong Ling Kong, Michelle Mackintosh, Susan Wyndham and international judge Dan Wagstaff. As always, the panel is carefully balanced, representing designers who specialise in different genres, as well as educators, publishers and critics (see their profiles on the following pages). Our heartfelt thanks to all who volunteered their time and expertise.

The judging process is twofold. An initial longlist is drawn through an online judging portal. The judges see multiple images of all the books entered into the awards and read the designers’ statements on screen. Hard copies of the longlisted books are submitted for a second round of judging ‘in the flesh’.

As with last year, we saw books that received the top score in the digital round not make the final shortlist, and books that barely scraped into the longlist win a category. There are a few things to take from this. First, books still exist in our lives as objects – tangible things that we respond to with our hands as well as our eyes. A well-chosen stock, a thoughtful embellishment, the way an image or typography moves around the book, a surprising endpaper – these design decisions significantly impact the way a reader responds to a book. Seeing design at the right scale is important. The judges I observed in Sydney all exclaimed at least once, upon seeing a book, ‘Oh, I didn’t expect/realise that …’ These awards celebrate book design and designers, but they also celebrate the delights of reading a physical book.

A second thing to take from the judging results is that the way the books are photographed and presented on screen affects the judges’ decisions. Increasingly, we discover and buy books online. Even those of us who hold onto being purely print, rather than digital, designers need to consider how our work looks on screen.

We encourage you – designers and publishers – to read the submission guidelines carefully. Designers, speak to the publishing houses you work with or for, and make sure they submit good quality images of your work. Go to the ABDA blog for tips on how to photograph and write about your work. Every time you finish a book you think is great, make a folder of images and write a designer’s statement for it, so you’re ready when the call for entries comes around. Take the time to write a designer’s statement that tells a little about the book and what your concept was in relation to the content of the book, or the brief. Some covers are loud and immediate, others are more subtle, revealing a clever idea or metaphor as the reader becomes familiar with the world of the book. If the judges are not familiar with a book, it’s almost impossible for them to tell whether a cover is effective or appropriate to that book unless you give them that information. We want the introverts and lesser known books to have their moment in the sun too.

Overall the judges thought that the quality of Australian book design remains very high and the variety of styles impressive. Noted trends were paper-cut style illustrations and typography across most categories, sprayed book blocks, as well as an ongoing trend toward hand-lettering and script typography which, ‘at its best gives a lovely artisan feeling to a book, but has started to look a little same-ish’.

Susan Wyndham appreciated seeing ‘fewer women’s body parts scattered across covers. The most common usage was in literary fiction, where the headless “everywoman” – sometimes floating or flying – continues to solve a lot of design problems’.

Reg Abos noted that ‘the entries seemed to be a mixed bag of commercially orientated designs (authors’ photographs on covers, busy layouts) and designs that designers love to love (bold, graphic shapes and bespoke typography). Besides the Independent Book category, there weren’t many designs that truly showed innovation in terms of general approach or format.’ She suggests, ‘Perhaps this is due to publishers cutting back on production budgets.’

This year we saw more entries from publishers who hadn’t previously submitted books, indicating the reputation of the Awards is expanding beyond the traditional large publishing houses (who happily remain well represented). In particular, submissions in the Independent category almost doubled this year.

As is ABDA tradition, the three Designers’ Choice categories – Book of the Year, Cover of the Year, and Children’s/YA Cover of the Year – are voted on the night by members of the Association from the shortlisted books. Don’t forget to fill in the winners in this catalogue on the night, or check in on the website after the awards party to find out the 2017 winners, as assessed by the ‘jury of peers’.


After the success of the 2015 David Pearson tour, in September 2016 ABDA brought acclaimed London-based book designer Jon Gray, aka Gray318, to our shores for a series of talks and masterclasses in Sydney and Melbourne. All the events were well attended and received fantastic feedback. We plan to have international guests every two years, to allow us to shine the spotlight on local book design talent through similar talks and workshops in alternating years.

The ABDA website continues to stream news and events, provide excellent procrastination material through blog posts and the expanding Awards Archive.

Our social calendar is filling up with regular local events: film screenings, end-of-year drinks, tours of the rare book collections at the State Library of Victoria and the State Library of NSW. Our platinum sponsors the Australian Academic Design Libraries will again host a national tour of the shortlisted books to regional areas and capital cities around the country to raise awareness of the exceptional work done by Australian designers. The events committee is working to plump up the social calendar even more – keep your eye on the website and social media channels for more events throughout the year.

In response to member feedback at the annual general meeting, we’ve been talking to the Australian Publishers Association (APA) about being included in conversations and decision-making that affects book designers. The APA continue to support us by taking the Book of the Year to the annual ‘The Most Beautiful Books from All over the World’ exhibition at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

After the Awards this year, we will be launching a book designers’ survey to gather information about the state of book design in Australia, the conditions we work in and the issues we face within the publishing industry. This is an opportunity for us, the book design community of Australia, to have a say about what we need and want at a time when the publishing industry is undergoing technological and structural changes. So please, find the time in your busy, full lives to contribute your voice.

The ABDA committee are caretakers of the Association, but the Association belongs to all of us. We all need to participate for the community to grow – to attend and suggest events, to propose ideas for or write blog posts, to give feedback at the annual general meetings or via email anytime to the manager or committee members.

I look forward to seeing you at the awards and events throughout the year.

Zoë Sadokierski, President