Q & A with Murray Batten


Murray Batten is one of two designers shortlisted in the Young Designer of the Year category for the Australian Book Design Awards 2016Recent winners of this prize include Alissa Dinallo (2015), Kirby Armstrong (2014) and Evi O (2013).

Before the winner is announced on Friday 13 May at Shebeen in Melbourne, we wanted to get know more about Murray and his work.

How did you end up in book design? Was it an early ambition?
In my final year of study in 2012, I was lucky enough to have Paul McNally (former Publishing Director of Hardie Grant Books) view my portfolio. He offered me my first freelance publication project which was a book titled Surfing Australia by Phil Jarratt. Since then I have worked consistently as a freelance designer for Hardie Grant. Publication design was my favourite subject at uni, so I was really excited to be able to pursue this area of design straight after graduating.

Which was the first book cover you designed?
The first book cover I designed was at uni, and was shortlisted to be used as a cover for a poetry anthology titled Undertow. I don’t consider myself an illustrator, but my tutor at the time pushed me to experiment with different kinds of media and create a non-photographic image that represented the theme of the book. This project sparked an interest in book design for me, both in terms of image making for book covers, and typography/typesetting.

What project has been your favourite so far?
I loved working on the book Cantina by Paul Wilson. It was a really fun brief, as it allowed me to experiment with typography, and integrate lots of textures and colours inspired by Mexico. Other highlights for me would be the two projects I have worked on for chef/photographer Simon Bajada, The New Nordic and Nordic Light. Simon’s photography and aesthetic are amazing to work with as a designer. Recently I also worked on a book called Capturing the World by Nick Rains, where again, I got to work with stunning photography.



Which specific designs have inspired or influenced you?
I’ll always remember seeing Stefan Sagmeister at the agIdeas design conference in 2009 when I was a student and being completely blown away. Seeing him discuss his approach to design, and specifically typography, definitely left a lasting impression on me.

Beyond book design, where do you find inspiration?
Depending on the project, I think it’s important to immerse yourself in inspiration relevant to the brief that extends beyond existing book design. For example, I’m currently working on an Australian photography book, and for inspiration I looked at vintage field guides, old Reader’s Digest books about natural landscapes, and maps from the National Library’s archive.

What are the challenges facing a young designer today? What advice do you have for those still studying?
I think as a young designer it’s incredibly challenging to turn your passion, and take the work you’ve done during study, and turn it into a career. I think the most important thing I did at uni was to start building industry connections while I was studying, and a great way to do this is to get involved in industry based events. Internships are also an incredibly valuable way to demonstrate to a studio or company what you are capable of. The most important thing that I have found professionally is that people will give you a chance if you have a good attitude, a willingness to learn, and they like to work with you.

Do you think book design will change much over the next 10-20-30 years? Will you still be designing books?
I think that there is an undeniable shift in the way people consume content, that has already had an impact on the book industry. However, I strongly feel that people will always love to own and collect books as people will continue to buy them as collectable items and artefacts. My full-time job is actually in digital design, and I think a big opportunity for book designers lies in this area. Digital design is becoming more and more influenced by print in terms of layout, typography and the design elements that would traditionally be associated with a physical book. I think for this reason that book designers do have transferable skills into this digital area, so I hope to continue to do both in the future.



Next week we’ll be speaking with the other designer shortlisted for this year’s Young Designer of the Year Award, Amy Daoud.