Q & A with Grace West

Grace West is one of two designers shortlisted in the Emerging Designer of the Year category for the Australian Book Design Awards 2018. Before the winner is announced on Friday 25 May at The Craft & Co in Melbourne, we wanted to get to know more about Grace and her work.

How did you end up in book design? Was it an early ambition?

After finishing my university degree, I wasn’t quite sure what career path in the broader graphic design industry I wanted to follow, but I knew I wanted to be a part of something that appreciated creativity and individuality. I also wanted to be a part of something with personality. During my degree, I remember redesigning the cover of the Roald Dahl classic, Matilda. The process of recreating such an iconic story was pure magic. Looking back, this was the start of my love affair with book design. I didn’t particularly chase down a career in book design. To be honest, I didn’t even know book designers existed when I started my degree! I definitely fell into it, and truthfully, I haven’t looked back.

Which was the first book cover you designed?

The first book cover where I had total creative freedom was The Burger Book. I designed this while working in-house when fresh out of university. Featuring a pattern of simple black burger illustrations and red foil finishing title treatment, the brown paper surface was inspired by the bag your takeaway burger comes in. It’s nice to see that since then the publishing company has kept the brown paper surface in a few of their titles as a series staple and overall brand.

What project has been your favourite so far?

All of the projects I have worked on over the years have each brought something to my life. But the standouts are when there has been a good team environment. A book doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes a small army to make a book, and I appreciate and love the process. I like that it’s never the same. Every book is different. Looking back, the most rewarding jobs have been based around the people I got to work with. Over the past couple of years, four titles that stand out are Humans in Melbourne, Understory, Terra Nullius and Colour Your Australia.

Humans in Melbourne was a self-publishing project with a local first-time author. It was so unique and fulfilling to work through the process together, it was basically just me and the author Chris… as we used to say ‘just making a book!’. It was fun to strip it back and explore exactly what we wanted the book to be.

Understory and Terra Nullius are two titles recently published by Hachette in Sydney. I appreciate the creative freedom and trust Robert Watkins and his team instilled in me with these covers and I am so humbled that my illustrations and designs stand to represent these two unique and important titles.  As a young designer, having support like this is so amazing and I am grateful beyond belief.

Colour Your Australia happened just at the end of my in-house stint working at Penguin. I am a big fan of all things Australiana and I love drawing so to marry these two together into a colouring book was a dream come true. I am so thankful to Cate Blake and the whole team at Penguin who gave me this platform to showcase my drawings in such a fun way.

Which specific designs have inspired or influenced you?

It is both intimidating and extremely inspiring having so much talent in our local publishing industry. A couple of designers I look up to include Josh Durham, Allison Colpoys and Evi Oetomo. Whenever I see work by these three designers I am always in awe of their ability to push the boundaries, but still, somehow, stay true to their style and the overall intent.

Internationally I am a fan of Christopher Silas Neal, Oliver Jeffers, Kimberly Glyder, and Coralie Bickford-Smith. Generally, I think I am drawn to anything original or handmade. Anything with a bit of personality, quirk and bold colour usually peaks my interest.

Beyond book design, where do you find inspiration?

I enjoy visiting art galleries and seeing the array of different styles, eras and periods, subject matter and diverse mediums showcased. Beyond this, I regularly visit my local cinema to watch films and documentaries. I have recently started listening to podcasts during the working day.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Japanophile, and love anything Japan-related. I’ve visited multiple times, and still don’t think I’ll ever fall out of love with Japan’s unique charm. Travel is a big inspiration to me, I think it’s good to look beyond the everyday and see something new.

I am originally from a regional town, so I absolutely adore escaping the city to be in the fresh open space to reset and see things clearly. Nature brings so much inspiration to me in all its beauty. Australia is such a wonderful place; we really are so lucky to live here.

What are the challenges facing a young designer today? What advice do you have for those still studying?

Experience! You need to get as much experience as you can beyond your studies. I know, everyone says it! But it’s true. Don’t lose heart, put yourself out there as much as possible, meet people, experiment and collaborate with friends, go to industry events and most importantly create things that make you happy. Even if it doesn’t come naturally, try and find the confidence to be yourself.

Do you think book design will change much over the next 10-20-30 years? Will you still be designing books?

I don’t think book design will change much over the next 10 years … but in 20-30 years, it is probably evident that it won’t look exactly like it does today. Books won’t ever die completely. Books will last forever and I’m positive that they will be passed down for generations to come, as they have formerly.

With the power of technology, I am optimistic that the designs we will be creating in the future will be more powerful and dynamic as the years pass by. I am confident that design can help facilitate ideas. I hope I will be designing books for many years to come, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Next week we’ll share an interview with Hazel Lam, who is also shortlisted for this year’s Emerging Designer of the Year Award.