The Making of ‘Lifespan of Starlight’

A post by ABDA member Josh Durham

Winning the Best Designed Young Adult Book at the 2016 Australian Book Design Awards, Josh Durham, aka Design by Committee, takes us behind the scenes of the cover design and series look.

Lifespan of Starlight is the first book in a three-part YA series about a time travelling girl called Scout. She can ‘time skip’ forwards – but she can’t go back. Designing a series ‘look’ is always a delicious challenge – get the first one right and everything can fall into place. As usual I took a more circuitous route.

I started off all spacey, wafty (and some might say cheesy) but the typography and indistinct nature of the image treatment makes these look more like stand-alone covers than a definitive series look. I started mucking around with the type a bit after submitting these, with the idea of building a unique set of letter shapes. I made a mental note at this point and it ended up being a direction I would return to but we’ll get to that later. I had more dead ends to merrily dance down first.

Lifespan cover concepts

A more graphic novel approach: trying to do something more dynamic and bold with punchy colours and a much stronger series flavour. Pretty much the opposite of the first batch. I imagined the spinning figure would be in different positions for each cover, I was just too lazy to apply it to the mockup (perhaps a fatal mistake?). These were rejected outright (and I’m running out of time).

Lifespan cover concepts

This is the point where I am actively trying to visually manipulate the client into going in a particular direction by mocking up a 3-dimensional full series look. I thought these looked kinetic and hip, but in retrospect they are perhaps a little too James Bond crossed with Saul Bass’ Vertigo titles. They were also rejected outright. So much for my cunning plan.

Lifespan cover concepts
Hold music (descent into mild anxiety-driven fervour). Truth be told a number of these are colour variations and type change ups. A few are downright hideous! I could show you all forty covers but that would be its own kind of insanity yeah?

So we are sitting pretty at Lifespan_40. I was in a bit of a funk. Getting desperate, overthinking, underthinking, removing onion weed from the shaded side of the house, checking eBay (hey it’s not my fault! A guy was selling a collection of rare Japanese jazz pressings on the Impulse label), employment opportunities in Tajikistan. I knew I had one trump card to play, the one that all creatively flexible book designers lean on when up against the concept wall, the, wait for it, ‘typographic cover option’.

I went back to the first roughs where I had started mucking around with three dimensional letter shapes loosely inspired by the shapes on star maps. I added some deep 3D shadows and it kinda became a thing so I hastily mocked up two samples using the step map background from the Bond covers and shot it through to the client thinking I best not do the whole bloody cover incase it gets the kabosh. They loved it! Well at least the bit I sent.

Lifespan type concepts

Developing it further I added an outline figure of a girl running into the star map shapes with an eye on this being something that could shift and change and be a recurring element for each cover. I crafted all the type and gave it a groovy glow in the dark colour and began work on the full cover.  The spines recreate the running girl figure when all 3 books are lined up together – a neat trick the publisher suggested to further tie the series together. The second book, Split Infinity,  is out now and third is due to start in a month or two.

Lifespan full cover

Split Infinity full cover


Nail biting? You better believe it! While chasing down pics for this blog post I discovered that Split Infinity had been transformed into a beautiful set of nail art courtesy of Amanda Salles, The Bookish Manicurist.

Split Infinity nail art

Fact or fiction? This blog post was tapped out on a pink champagne iPhone with a gratis pair adorning my scaly mitts.

Select imagery used in draft cover concepts is shown here for the purpose of education and review only.