Q&A with Louisa Maggio

Louisa Maggio is one of two designers shortlisted in the Emerging Designer of the Year category for the Australian Book Design Awards 2019Before the winner is announced on Friday 31st May at The State Library of NSW in Sydney, we wanted to get to know more about Louisa and her work.

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

I was at Uni completing a double major and also working as a freelance book designer on the side (pretty much every chance I had). It was when I really fell in love with book design. Once I graduated I realised although my ambition was to be a photojournalist, I craved the creative freedom and excitement that book design afforded me. I decided to take a year off and work as a freelance designer full time. It was by far the best thing that I have ever done, although I’m not going to lie I did make a lot of sacrifices (and was up until crazy hours, working on 20 + covers per week). It was all-consuming and at the same time incredibly overwhelming, and within that year I designed over 500 book covers for international publishers. By chance I spotted the ad for a role at Penguin Random House for an in-house designer. I remember hearing back about an interview a day later and being overwhelmed with excitement, and I joined the team at Penguin Random House in early 2016.

Which was the first book cover you designed?

My very first design was for a YA paranormal fantasy novel, Through the Veil and it was the first time that I really fell in love with designing for the YA genre. The design process was pretty fast paced and the final design was one from the first round. I remember feeling so excited and elated that my design was selected.

What project has been your favourite so far?

There are too many to pick one! A standout for me was designing the cover for Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut. The chosen cover was from my first round of concepts, and I remember thinking I would be happy if that cover was selected for the bookproof. Much to my surprise it was selected for the bookproof, and was printed on silver reflectakote (which gave it the most beautiful monochromatic shine). Having worked freelance for so long, I am accustomed to multiple revisions and the evolution that certain designs take on, and I ended up designing over 270 cover concepts for The Shepherd’s Hut. It was such an incredible process and really forced me to step back and take a new approach to each round. Right up until the day the jacket was due to print, it was a mad rush and I was still making revisions and colour corrections to the jacket and case designs. At the time it was overwhelming, but it is something I will forever be incredibly proud of.

Another cover that I loved working on is The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper. I felt it was my responsibility to design a cover that delicately represented the subject, especially after I met with Chloe and she explained how important it was to her that the cover be respectful in conveying its message. I felt a really strong connection to that design.

Heart of the Grass Tree and A Lifetime of Impossible Days are two designs that will always hold a special place in my heart, and I was lucky enough to hand illustrated these two designs. It was truly such a creatively fulfilling experience to work on both.


Which specific designs have inspired or influenced you?

I absolutely adore Joan Wong’s series designs for Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan! I love the simplistic, modern and fresh approach she applied to the illustrations and the designs are simply brilliant. Peter Mendelsund’s The Flame Alphabet is such a beautiful design, and is truly inspiring. I love how simplistic elements have the power to create depth. I also adore Jenna Stempel-Lobell’s I Am Enough, it’s simply stunning.

Beyond book design, where do you find inspiration?

I am really inspired by film. I’ve always been infatuated with semiotics and the power film has to instill and evoke emotion through visual cues. While it does differ from design in that you are consuming moving pictures, if you break a film down scene-by-scene you can appreciate the beauty in the mise en scène and the notion that every visual element has a purpose. I find myself constantly striving to create designs that imbue the same level of visual meaning. I am also incredibly inspired by photography and fine art in general.

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

The challenges facing a young designer are quite daunting and like any job it can be a little soul-crushing when you become attached to your work. I would say believe in yourself, especially when you love something, and if you work hard enough and have that strong belief in what makes you happy, that’s all the confidence you need.

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

I definitely believe that design is ever-changing and will evolve over the next 10 to 30 years. I also definitely  think there will be exciting changes (like animated digital book covers).

I absolutely love being a book designer, I feel grateful to be able to do something every day that doesn’t feel like work. And I can’t really imagine myself doing anything else, so I definitely think I will still be doing this.

Earlier this week we heard from the other designer shortlisted for this year’s Emerging Designer of the Year Award, Jessica Horrocks.