Q & A with Hazel Lam

Hazel Lam 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 Hazel and her work.

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

I remember being made aware of book design at uni when Zoë Sadokierski guest-lectured and spoke about working as a book designer at Allen & Unwin. I was in awe of her work and thought it was so incredible that you could have a job with such a variety of creative work. I graduated uni with ambitions to be in animation and I soon realised the time I got to spend being creative was tiny. I worked with Jay Ryves at Future Classic who did a lot of work with Lantern and I got the chance to have a taste of books, helping her typeset cookbooks. I tried looking for a book design role in Sydney but I never got my foot in the door. I ended up moving to London for a couple of years, travelling and working over there. When I came back, I saw a position open up at HarperCollins where I still work now.

Which was the first book cover you designed?

The very first cover I designed was a YA novel, Sarah Ayoub’s Hate is Such A Strong Word. I had comfortably spent the first week in the job finishing off full covers and I remember feeling slightly terrified when I first got the brief but it ended up being really fun. I felt exhilarated when it got approved, and it made me realise how much room there was for creativity in book design. It also kicked off my love for designing YA covers.

What project has been your favourite so far?

There have been so many! I think getting to work with people I admire and books that I love have been a real joy. Recently, I loved working on The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland as I got to commission one of my favourite illustrators, Edith Rewa, for the cover. I had a vision of the cover in my head and it turned out exactly how I imagined. I remember squealing with excitement through every step, from concept approval at the cover meeting, to receiving Edith’s illustrations, and finally when the book arrived from the printers. There was just so much love poured into that book from everyone who worked on it.

Which specific designs have inspired or influenced you?

All through uni I was in love with the all the work produced by Penguin Books UK, particularly David Pearson’s Great Ideas series and Coralie Bickford Smith’s Clothbound Classics. Also everything Peter Mendulsund and Jon Gray touch. Later, when I started working at HarperCollins, Lisa White’s work was always used as a reference. I remember going to my first design awards and seeing Lisa’s cover for Kate Morton win for commercial fiction. It gave me an understanding of how commercial covers can still be insanely beautiful.

Beyond book design, where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere! I love going to films and being transported to different worlds. Walks out in nature and having the time to clear my thoughts. Also travelling – I have a slight obsession with patterns and bright colours, so Mexico was a mind explosion for me. That country brought infinite inspiration. Of course the internet, always!

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

I think as a young designer you can easily become disheartened when you first start working. I think it’s important to remember why you love being a designer and keep working towards your goal. You may not land your dream job when you first start out but everything you work on and everything you do will teach you something and will help you when you do land that job. Also, reach out to people you want to work with and are inspired by, everyone is super friendly and are usually happy to have a chat and help you along the way.

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

I think the core of book design will stay the same, creating a visual identity for a story. But perhaps the format in which we work and the things we have to design for will change which will in turn influence how we design. It’s exciting with new technology developing, what the possibilities are for the future. Perhaps a book cover could turn into an immersive experience with AR or VR, who knows? I love book design too much to stop doing it, but hopefully there will be lots more fun and other creative magic-making along the way.

Last week we heard from the other designer shortlisted for this year’s Emerging Designer of the Year Award, Grace West.