Q & A with Ozan Tortop
Ozan Tortop is a Brisbane-based designer who begun his career in advertising before making his way to the wonderful world of books, in particular children’s book design. He is the co-founder of TadaaBook, where he helps independent children’s authors bring their books to life.
Did you mean to end up as a book designer? What was your trajectory?
I always wanted to be a designer. But my intention was never designing books. When I was studying graphic design at uni the plan was working in advertising because it was so cool. You work with big brands, you design things you see every day, you attend meetings with big names, you do important things, you save the world. So I went down that path and worked in advertising and marketing in different roles. Then I realised that I wasn’t saving the world, I was just making someone’s logo bigger, someone else’s ego brighter. So I quit that world and started working as an art director at a small publisher. I started designing books there and have no intention of leaving this world.
Does art — gallery, museum art — inspire you? Or film, tv?
When I start a project, I start with research first. So inspiration comes from that step mostly. From the brief, the book, the client, other books on the market and other designers’ work.
A movie I watch, a building I step in, a bike I see on the road, a chef I watch – anything like that can serve as input. But I don’t call this input ‘inspiration’.
What do you listen to when you work?
Jazz, electronic, rock, ethnic; it depends on my mood. To name some: Pink Floyd, Gotan Project, Massive Attack, Frank Sinatra, Şevval Sam, Mercan Dede, Emir Kusturica, Gershwin … I can’t listen to podcasts or anything other than music while working. It’s just too much work for my monotask brain.
What question do you least enjoy from people when they discover you design books?
I don’t call myself a book designer; I call myself a designer, who designs books too. When they find out that I design children’s books some tend to say ‘I was drawing myself when I was …’, or ‘My daughter draws manga characters’. I don’t like that. It’s like telling an accountant your daughter knows how to add. Not necessary at all.
What is your favourite tool on the computer?
Being able to create virtual copies of a design, ruining it, then going back to an earlier version, ruining it with an alternative path and so on.
How do you know when a project is done?
I think it’s the hardest question of the design process. Honestly, I usually don’t know the answer clearly.
I work until I am happy-ish with the result or until I think the client would be happy, usually both. The budget factor also helps to plan my time. Then I show it to people around me and the client, and when everyone is happy, it’s done. Sometimes – just sometimes – there is a ta-da moment too, which I love. But usually, even if I am totally happy with the result, my inner voice never stops: You should have done this like that, done that like this, after everything is finished. Sometimes even years after. There are books that make me want to go back in time and redo everything again.
But I accept the fact that if I allow myself to keep going on working on a project, I can’t finish anything at all. I know that there is always a better version that hasn’t been created, and I am okay with that. It hurts a bit, but that’s okay. Okay-ish.
Walk us through your design process.
Most of the time I design picture books. And of course illustrations are the key visuals for that kind of book. As a designer, even if you do your work perfectly, when the illustrations are weak, wrong, or technically impossible to produce you may end up with crap work. So after assessing the project, I start my design process by communicating with the illustrators. We start with a storyboard, then work on the sketches and rough design at the same time, and finalise everything around the same time. Meanwhile I consistently communicate with the client to make sure they are happy. It’s a collaborative process, which includes me, the illustrator, the client, and sometimes the editor.
In the end, I love creating special barcodes for the books I design. I do that whenever the technology allows me to. I believe it adds something special to the invisible bridge between the designer and the reader. When I see a unique barcode on a product – not only a book, anything – I know that there is one person, doing an unnecessary – but beautiful – thing that most people won’t even realise. That makes me happy.
Which book would you like to design the cover for?
Not a specific title, but when I read great books with poor cover designs, it breaks my heart. I want to see them as better products. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to design them. I would happily design them for sure, but I am more than okay with seeing another designer’s good job with those particular covers. Most Asimov covers are a good example.
Who is one of your favourite book designers and why?
I love the work of Utku Lomlu. I find his work so close to old-school poster designers like Niklaus Troxler. When we design book covers, we also design thumbnails. And maybe thumbnails are the new posters. I also love David Pearson’s work. I think his design process is wider than many designers. Take the famous 1984 cover he designed for Penguin. He doesn’t start with ‘which typeface?’, he doesn’t start with ‘type or image?’, he starts with ‘should there be a title?’. I love works like that. You see how easy the solution is, when you see the finished work. But thinking of it, then convincing the necessary people to make it happen, may be the hardest work for a designer. I find the ideas behind This Is a Ball and The Book With No Pictures similar to this.
Your favourite place to look at books?
I love my local bookshop, Riverbend. Even though I see new covers on blogs and online stores before seeing them in the bookstore, touching the book allows you to feel it better. Sometimes I see book covers online, but I don’t realise how good they are until I hold them in my hands.
I also enjoy visiting Lifeline Bookfest. I can spend many hours losing myself among those dusty books.