Awards Book Archive

Mary Callahan: Hall of Fame 2021
  • Winner

Designed by
Mary Callahan
Hall of Fame

About the Designer

Mary has been designing books for more than 20 years. Her passion for this pursuit has resulted in a high profile throughout the publishing industry and is recognized by the many awards her book designs have received. Since expanding her practice, she designs for a wide range of clients including art galleries, museums and private clients.

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Design Rationale

Mary Callahan’s work as a book designer has contributed in a large part to the ongoing excellence of Australian book design. Through her teaching at RMIT she is passionate about working with emerging designers and imparting her publication design skills to a new generation. Without formal training in book design, Mary began working with books after inveigling herself into the bohemian offices of McPhee Gribble in 1987. With hot wax and roller, she pasted up galleys of bromides and became intimate with the physical process of editing text with a scalpel. Over time the company allowed her to begin designing covers.

After broadening her experience through roles at Penguin Books and Viking O’Neill, she was invited to join Text Publishing by Di Gribble to design and produce her new list of titles. 1994 saw an invitation from Hilary McPhee to design the Picador list for Pan Macmillan. Preferring to be an independent designer, Mary began her freelance career and was contracted by Picador instead. Subsequently working with Nikki Christer, the designs from this time include Drusilla Modjeska’s The Orchard, Helen Garner’s The First Stone, Rob Drewe’s The Drowner, Robert Dessaix’s Nightletters, Richard Flanagan’s The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish and The Narrow Road to the Deep North. These book designs were hugely influential for other designers and publishers, demonstrating that a book could be an object of beauty – desirable and something to be treasured. This lifting of the standards of book design in Australia paved the way for a multitude of subsequent designers to ‘push the boundaries’ and has resulted in a proliferation of exciting and groundbreaking design in the industry. The calibre of Mary’s contribution to Australian book design was acknowledged with the awarding in 1998 of a Churchill Fellowship to study Book Design Practices internationally. She is a two-time winner of the ABDA Best Designed Book of the Year Award (1998, 2002), and has won a multitude of other ABDA awards.

Mary’s writing on design has been published in Meanjin, and The Age amongst others. She is passionate about having conversations with publishers and editors to promote better communication so that both can work together more productively with constructive mutual insights into each other’s sometimes competing demands. Her commitment to improving the lot of the book designer led her to instigate the ABDA Survey. Through a pragmatic approach to collecting real data this raised awareness about issues including contracts, copyright and better ways of formulating briefs. This became a collaborative project that generated valuable conversations among often isolated freelancers and the sharing of information and a strengthening of the book design community at large. This has ongoing implications for improvements in industry practices including copyright and contracts.Alongside her design practice, Mary completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honours at Monash in 2003. Mary’s knowledge and experience is being enthusiastically shared to a generation of student designers through her teaching at the RMIT School of Design. She is actively promoting ABDA and the Design Awards to RMIT students, with a record number of student entrants this year. Across these different areas Mary evidences her passion for a creative, fair and sustainable book design industry and community in Australia.

List of Nominations and Awards

Australian Book Design Awards

2017 Winner: Best Designed Non-Fiction Book
Damon Young, The Art of Reading

2007 Shortlisted: Best Designed Specialist Illustrated Book
Cave, Barrand and Fox, Nick Cave Stories

2006 Highly Commended: Best Designed Literary Fiction Book
Delia Falconer, The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers

2004 Winner: Best Designed Cover of the Year
Elliot Perlman, Seven Types of Ambiguity

2004 Highly Commended: Best Designed Literary Fiction Book
Elliot Perlman, Seven Types of Ambiguity

2002 Winner: Best Designed Book of the Year
Richard Flanagan, Gould’s Book of Fish

2002 Joint Winner: Best Designed Literary Fiction Book
Richard Flanagan, Gould’s Book of Fish

1999 Winner: Best Designed Hardback Book
Drusilla Modjeska, Stravinsky’s Lunch

1998 Winner: Best Designed Book of the Year
Richard Flanagan, The Sound of One Hand Clapping

1998 Winner: Hodder Headline Award for the Best Designed Book
Richard Flanagan, The Sound of One Hand Clapping

1997 Winner: Designed Popular Reference Book
Terry Durack, Yum

1997 Joint Winner: Best Cover/Jacket Design
Terry Durack, Yum

1997 Joint Winner: Best Designed Book Above $25 – Below $50
Rob Drewe, The Drowner

1997 Commended: Best Designed Book of the Year
Terry Durack, Yum

1997 Commended: Best Cover/Jacket Design
Rodney Hall, The Island in the Mind

Multimedia and Publications Design Awards (MAPDA)

2009 Joint Winner: Exhibition catalogue, (Small)
Exhibition catalogue for Peter Allen (Arts Centre Melbourne)