Tips for Writing Design Statements

Tips for Writing Design Statements - Zoe Sadokierski

Image: Zoë Sadokierski

Entries for the Australian Book Design Awards 2018 are now open and each entry must be accompanied by a 100 word rationale. Designer, lecturer and former ABDA president Zoë Sadokierski has some advice on writing about your work.

Most designers would rather swallow their mouse than explain their creative process – hoping the work speaks for itself. But when entering a design competition, remember the judges most likely will not have read the book.

Of course, a good book cover will have visual impact, but it should also communicate something about the particular narrative, tone or subject matter of the book. This is a more subtle aspect of the design and can only become apparent on reading.

Which is why you need to give the judges a quick synopsis of the key ideas, themes or characters of the book, because immediate visual impact isn’t the whole story, and if your idea illuminates the book the judges can really respond to your design.

The Design Concept

What were you trying to communicate through the cover design?

Tell us what the book is about and how your design responds to that in some way. For example, Allison Colpoys writes:
Why We Took The Car is a coming-of-age story about the unlikely friendship between two unpopular high school kids, Mike and Tshick, who end up embarking on a crazy road-trip across Germany. I wanted to convey a sense of adventure, youth, small crappy car-ness and middle of nowhere-ness.”

W.H.Chong’s description of For Once in My Life includes the brief, a synopsis and his design concept:
“The Brief: Debut novel, ‘superior chicklit’, fresh and feel-good. The Narrative: Romance set in London. Tess is a vintage clothes-obsessive, George is a jazz pianist, both partnered to the ‘wrong’ people. Can their mutual friends get their paths to cross? The Design: The two protagonists are symbolically established and entangled by imposing the silhouette of a sexy vintage dress on a pattern of keyboards. Splatters of warm colour suggest the intrusion of chaos and blossoming romance.”

why-we-took-the-car-1.jpg    For Once In my Life1

How does your design respond to the book’s content?

Emily O’Neill writes:
“The strong, graphic design of Kitchen by Mike takes inspiration from the eatery itself. The type and layout act as an extension of the restaurant’s branding and style. The industrial, masculine look of the warehouse space is also incorporated into the book by using photographed elements as the layered background textures. Coloured fore edge printing was used to blacken the edges of the pages to make this book a complete package.”


Material Elements / Production

The initial round of judging is digital, so you need to explain material elements that won’t translate well on screen such as unusual paper stock, foil, spot colours/varnish and other embellishments. Explain why you chose to use these embellishments, such as Laura Thomas’ description for What Came Before: “The ‘soft touch’ matt laminate emphasizes the skin-like feel of the cover and helps to enhance the creepy-factor.”

Matt Stanton explains his how design for the Disruption and Corruption series uses foil to communicate a unique approach to a genre:
“It occurred to me that we don’t often design ‘book as object’ for the commercial teen girl market, even though we know these readers love beautiful things. So instead of taking my lead from the Hunger Games for this dystopian series I took it from the smartphone and designed a cover made entirely of foil (with the exception of black ink for the barcode and blurb.) By laying down a gloss foil first and then a spot Matt UV over parts of I could create three tiers of illustration and create bold, iconic packages for a traditionally black genre.”

Remember to explain your involvement in the production where relevant, such as whether you hand-lettered the typography yourself, art directed the photo shoot, digitally altered a stock photograph or created an original illustration.

what-came-before-1.jpg    corruption-and-disruption-5.jpg corruption-and-disruption-3.jpg

Particular Challenges or Constraints

Many briefs include budget, schedule and other limitations – let the judges know if there were particular constraints you had to work with. For example, Gayna Murphy writes about her cover for Caro Was Here:
“Due to budget constraints we use stock images a lot, so when I chanced upon this image of a match and finger I knew it was perfect for this book. The title lettering I distorted in illustrator to give it a letterpressed feel to tie in with the image.”

Sandy Cull explains challenges designing Springtime:
“I presented Torkils dark, haunting silhouettes in the first round as an entity on their own. The publisher edited my selection from 8 to 4 and met the budget. The editor and I worked painstakingly on the typesetting to perfect the fall of the tip-ins and to avoid widows, orphans and rivers on such narrow pages.”

Daniel New addresses a different kind of challenge, designing for a series:
“The challenge was to bring a fresh and unique look to Movida’s fourth book, while celebrating the aesthetic of Southern Spain. Hand-drawn lettering combined with illustration inspired by hand-painted signs and character-filled typography from Andalusia were my inspirations.”

caro-was-here-1.jpg    Henrietta_Ashton-Springtime_cover movida-1.jpg 


In Conclusion

Writing a strong but simple design statement can help the judges understand the aspects of your design that are not obvious but which make it special.

If your book is shortlisted for the Australian Book Design Awards the rationales submitted will be published on the ABDA website (so don’t write anything you’re not willing to share!) as a resource for designers to draw inspiration from each others’ creative process, and better understand the thinking behind exceptional book design in Australia.


Entries for the Australian Book Design Awards close on Friday 22 December.

For further information visit the Awards page or download the Submission Guidelines (PDF).