One Year On with 2020 Emerging Designer, Akiko Chan

As we look forward to the 69th ABDA Awards next week and celebrate our shortlisted designers, we thought it would be a good time to check in with the 2020 winner of the Emerging Designer Award – Akiko Chan. ABDA spoke with Akiko this month to reflect on her win, her recent work and designing the catalogue for this year’s awards.

How did you end up in book design? Was it an early ambition?
I always had a passion for print and publication design, and was curious about book design since my university days. I had an opportunity to work on magazines and book marketing while living in New York, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I was able to work in book design. To my delight my gut instinct had been right all along and I really enjoyed it. The pace of it suits me, I never get sick of responding to content and the collaborative nature of putting a book out onto the shelves and into people’s hands.

Which was the first book cover you designed?
The very first cover I worked on at Black Inc. Books was a book about Donald Trump called Tired of Winning. We went through multiple rounds and various images, but ultimately ended up using an image of the back of Trump’s head with his unmistakeable hair. I was glad that the cover was more subdued and unconventional in a sea of other Trump biographies and books at the time.

What project has been your favourite so far?
This is a tricky question, and hopefully it’s always the last book I worked on! Several illustrated projects, MMXX and The Story of Australia have been highlights in recent months.

I do have to say that working on children’s books since I’ve had a baby has been extra special too – to think my daughter will read the books I’ve worked on one day.

Which specific designs have inspired or influenced you?
I’ve always loved classical book design, the work of Jost Hochuli, David Pearson for Penguin and Dutch type and book design. The first book designer I heard speak was Chip Kidd at AGIdeas when I was at university and I remember being equal parts intrigued and intimidated. I now find book design to be invigorating, but haven’t lost the feeling of sheer terror of a book coming back from the printer!

Beyond book design, where do you find inspiration?
I love finding inspiration in travel, in the vernacular – in transport, supermarket aisles and in second-hand bookshops. I’ve always moved around, and have never been in one place this long without travelling! I do also try to look for inspiration in books and original printed matter before looking too much online.

You have done an incredible job designing this year’s 69th Australian Book Design Awards catalogue and associated collateral. Can you talk us through your thought process and design rationale?
Thank you, I couldn’t have done it without the amazing support of the committee and the sponsor (Ligare Book Printers). I wanted to focus on the process of book design, and lean into aspects of the process that may be imperfect or unfinished.

I also liked the idea of exposing, looking under the hood of the process. The catalogue is a ‘naked’ book block with a soft cover, where the binding is exposed and there are nods to printers’ marks and tests throughout – but complete in the sense of content. The accompanying notebook is the opposite, a complete book in the traditional sense with a hard cover and but it’s empty inside. My hope is that designers fill these with their own creative process.

We worked with Ligare Book Printers and Splitting Image through rounds of samples, dummies and proofs to achieve the best result and showcase the book covers as accurately as possible. Special thanks to Nada Backovic for casting her eagle eye over the pages at the press check!

For the accompanying collateral, I worked with the committee to come up with some packaging and extra items that are hopefully both fun and useful for book designers. There are some recurring themes in the collateral, like a slightly skewed CMYK and the idea of overprinting and screens.

What are the challenges facing a young designer today? What advice do you have for those still studying?
I think the biggest challenge would be to find a workplace and people to learn from – it’s becoming less common to have internships or graduate level positions and creative teams seem to be more fluid with less permanent positions. My only piece of advice would be to be proactive if you have a passion for books: create your own projects and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, advice or work. Social media means you have a direct line of communication to the people that you might admire or who might offer you a job!

Do you think book design will change much over the next 10-20-30 years? Will you still be designing books?
I’m sure book design will keep changing, but it’ll always be around. I think we’re already seeing the pendulum swing the other way after there’s a sense of fatigue from too much media and content – people need to take time for themselves and to recharge, and books are a great source for that. It’s also been lovely to see a sense of community rally around publishing and booksellers throughout 2020. I’m enjoying learning and extending myself a bit more with each new project, so I hope I’ll be doing this for a while longer yet.

The 2021 winner of the Emerging Designer award will be announced at the 69th ABDA Awards on 24 June 2021.