Tips for Writing Your Design Rationale

Entries for the Australian Book Design Awards 2020 are now open and each entry must be accompanied by a 100 word rationale. But what makes an interesting and effective design rationale for awards entry? How important is the rationale? And how can you let the judges know the blood, sweat and tears that went into that beautiful book?! The ABDA Committee has put together some tips and tricks that my help you come up with design rationale gold.

Describe the process

The rationale should explain the designer’s concept and process. A rationale is not a publisher’s blurb about the book, but a statement written by the designer describing your design journey; how you responded to the publisher’s brief, any budget constraints, any unique challenges you faced in the design process. Basically, anything the judges should know about the book to help them understand the concept behind your design.

Support your work

Did you know the first round of ABDA Book Design Awards judging is all done digitally? That means your beautiful books need something to help support their on-screen previews. Which is where your design rationale comes in.

Sell yourself!

The rationale is a chance to let the judges know just how much your design shaped the book and the true extent of your creative input. Did you have a say in the books format? Did you undertake any research on other books in the same genre? As one committee member suggests, consider writing about your creative direction and unique process: “What was the brief? Did the cover involve mood boards, or any extras like art directing photography, illustrating, styling? Any hand type or making a typeface especially for the job?” It may also be relevant to mention finishes if your book is particularly pretty.

Choices, choices, choices

It is imperative that the ABDA Book Design Awards Judges understand your process and the journey that led you to your beautiful book design. Explain why you made your choices and how you made those choices. Let the judges know your concept and the deep thinking behind your design. Don’t explain what we can see, explain what we can’t see! As one committee member says “I like to hear whether the content/context of the book directed any of the design decisions. Did you choose a certain paper stock because the book was about using less waste? Did you use a particular binding to refer to the canon of similar books in history? Do the typefaces used reference the period the book is set in? How did the topic help form the illustration style?”

Stop, collaborate and credit

What collaborations were involved in the final design? Did you collaborate with an Illustrator, a Photographer? What was the extent of the collaboration? What were the conversations you had to get to the final outcome? Don’t forget to credit! If you commissioned an illustration or photograph for your book design remember to credit them on the entry form. You may also want to get their input into the design rationale?

Brave new work

For the very first time in 2020, the Australian Book Design Awards will award two prizes dedicated solely to work by student designers from around the country. We want to hear from the future of book design in Australia too! Rationales for the Best Designed Student Book and Best Designed Student Cover might include informing the judges about the design brief given within the coursework, any creative parameters and the process including feedback and/or collaboration with teaching staff in producing the book design.

These new awards are a chance for us to celebrate and encourage the next generation of Australian book designers studying an undergraduate design course at University, TAFE or a design college in Australia, and submitted on behalf of the student by teaching staff. (For more information on these categories, see the Submission Guidelines or email info@abda.com.au)

Tell us your story

The road to book design award glory can be paved with killed concepts, budget constraints, and squeezed schedules. Explain the brick walls you came up against that got you to this point. Tell the book’s visual interface story, tell your story. This is why it is so important that the Designer is the one who writes the rationale. Only they can talk about the design decisions they made.


If your book is shortlisted for the Australian Book Design Awards the rationales submitted may 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 other’s creative process, and better understand the thinking behind exceptional book design in Australia.

Entries for the Australian Book Design Awards close on Friday 20 December 2019. For further information visit the Awards page or download the Submission Guidelines (PDF).