Q&A with Emerging Designer nominee Mika Tabata

The Penguin Random House Australia Deb Brash Emerging Designer of the Year Award at this years ABDA Awards features two incredibly talented shortlisted entrants. ABDA spoke with the finalists – George Saad and Mika Tabata – on their journey into book design, favourite projects and their go-to fonts! Today, we hear from Mika Tabata.

When did you start working on books? Or what inspired you to want to work in the book industry?

Maybe it’s confirmation bias but I think it was always in the periphery – starting with being a reader who explored the shelves of bookstores and libraries as if I was browsing an art gallery. Later on, I watched a documentary on a book designer and understood it as a profession. It then felt more real when I saw names on the back of a book cover or on an imprint page. Following blogs fired my curiosity even further. Discovering that there is a person or team behind a creation is always so compelling and inspiring, especially when it’s something so imaginative and intimate like stories and ideas. Since then my path included a cross-disciplinary design degree with various internships, then making lists of publishers and emailing them with the hope that I would find an opening in book design. It took a while but I started my professional career in publishing as a marketing designer at Walker Books Australia, then a few years later I transitioned over to their editorial department, which is when I officially started to design books. Working on books has always felt surreal, as I continue to be in awe of the craft first and foremost.

What’s been your favourite project that you’ve worked on so far?

I really enjoyed working on the Meg McKinlay’s novels. They’re beautifully written, earthy and full of warmth. It was intimidating at first as her earlier books had such strong covers, but the brief for the new releases included a poignant Charlie Brown comic strip and a Japanese term for transience – together they provided fertile ground to explore an atmospheric quality in the covers, which I particularly enjoyed. Lining them all up together was such a special moment.

What font do you keep coming back to?

I try to not repeat myself too much but there are some fonts that are so reliable and versatile like any well used tool. Akzidenz-Grotesk and GT Walsheim are so robust and give great polish whilst Bentham has a timeless elegance. There are certainly a few other idiosyncratic fonts in my backlog that I would love to use for the right project. Looking at you Nostra and Digestive.

A design trend that you’re enjoying at the moment?

I read an article recently about the abundance of pink lady covers. It’s hard to pinpoint what it is about them, perhaps the drama and off-kilter nature. Square framing is another trend that repurposes the limitations of a full image, much like a collage, resulting in a very cool graphic effect.

Any designers or designs that have resonated with you recently?

I’m definitely an image hoarder so I am constantly looking at new releases or second bookstores to collect in my vast image bank. Recent book cover highlights include Na Kim’s design for the Copenhagen trilogy, Sunra Thompson’s Heaven by Emerson Whitney and this vintage children’s book I found. They are all so striking and eccentric that I immediately wanted to admire and study them.

Outside of book design I’m intrigued by the uncanny and unexpected poster designs by Vasilis Marmatakis. Another one is modern master Yamana Ayano who established the branding for Shiseido with his delicate lines and sparse compositions. So quite the treasure trove!

Favourite ABDA winning book of previous years?

Too many to count! Allison Colpoys’ Australian Children’s Classic series are charmingly fresh interpretations of nostalgia that elevate the book form into beautiful objects. I certainly would like to collect them all.

We wish Mika the best of luck in the upcoming awards!

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