Q & A with Tess McCabe

Tess McCabe

As the designer and director of Creative Minds Publishing, Tess McCabe publishes books and resources for creative professionals and their businesses. Like the creative’s guide to copyright, ‘Owning It’ by Sharon Givoni, or the illuminating interviews in ‘Conversations With Creative Women’. She’s also one half of the podcast The New Normal, discussing kids, partnerships and creative work.

Did you mean to end up as a book designer? What was your trajectory?

Yes and no. As a youngster I was obsessed with magazines and wanted to get into that world via a graphic design degree, but I chose to stay in Brisbane post-graduation and ended up working in tertiary/trade publishing. Not as trendy, but definitely a great training ground! After a bit of travel overseas and a few years of freelancing across different mediums (branding/print/web), the world of magazines was shifting (read: no money/no jobs!) and I decided to make independent publishing – where I set all the rules and had design freedom – my passionate practice! Increasingly, self-publishers are coming to me for design assistance, which is great.

Does art — gallery, museum art — inspire you? Or film, tv etc? If so, what do you like?

I’ve realised lately my design work is quite inspired by architecture and interior design. I like carefully curated, structured, geometric shapes with pops of colour and smart little accents, and you can definitely see this in my work. And space, I pay a lot of attention to space! It’s intriguing to me that such three-dimensional things inspire my two-dimensional work, but there you have it. I love typography too, for its limits and limitlessness.

What do you listen to when you work?

Podcasts, if I’m working on something visual. I sway toward shows with interviews and stories about tech/business/creativity. If I’m writing/editing or reading, which a lot of my publishing work involves these days, then I can’t listen to anything.


What question do you least enjoy from people when they discover you design books?

When people find out I publish books there is often the lingering question about whether or not I will publish their book. And then I have to explain that while I have a ‘publishing company’, realistically I publish one book every two years – half of those are my own books, and the other half are collaborations with people I’ve known personally for quite a while. Which is not to say that I won’t ever publish YOUR book, but you might be waiting a while (also – no five-figure advances around here!). I try to add that I will happily design their book for them, as I regularly consult with people on their self-publishing adventures.

What is your favourite tool on the computer? (Not just a program but within a program or OS)

Gmail’s ‘star’ function and ‘archive’ button – combined they’re my project management system and inbox zero assistants! Undo Send and Forgot Attachment have also saved me countless times from certain death.

Best or favourite situation for getting creative.

I have two small noisy children so probably any day when they are at school and I have the house/my office to myself! Either that or reading an interiors magazine.

Which creative person/identity/professional would you most want to impress?

Paula Scher. I’ve always admired her, and recently I watched this documentary where she talked about her design and artistic process and I completely related.

Which book would you like to design the cover for?

I’d love to design a series … definitely non-fiction. Malcolm Gladwell’s books would be a dream job.

Who is one of your favourite book designers and why?

Tough one … There are too many good talented people in the world to pick favourites. Having said that, I consistently love the work of local heroes like Michelle Mackintosh and Allison Colpoys; as well as admiring the work of publishers like Victionary, Do Books, School of Life and Phaidon to name a few!

Your favourite place (store, library, blog etc) to look at books?

In Melbourne I most enjoy Readings St Kilda, or Metropolis. When I’m in Sydney I always try to get to Kinokuniya. Brisbane’s Avid Reader have been a big supporter of my books too!