Back in April we huddled into Oxford’s Turl Street Kitchen to hear Stewart Larking speak about all things book design. Design in publishing often proves to be a heated topic of conversation as we debate the suitability of book covers and whether we should judge a book by its cover at all!
Stewart Larking is now Head of Design at Osprey, but began his career at HarperCollins. Starting out, he was involved with contacting illustrators, arranging photography for covers and everything in between. Part of Stewart’s job involved finding models, shopping for clothes and arranging photo shoots and one of his main highlight’s was working with Ian Banks for his book covers. Stewart then worked on a series called ‘Saddle Club’. The books were supposedly set in Hawaii but the covers were, in reality, shot on a rainy winter’s day in the English countryside..!
Stewart’s move to Transworld lead him to work with Jilly Cooper and Andy McNab: popular authors who required engaging covers that would sell and help commercialise lists. He later worked on children’s titles including Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ series.
When designing book covers Stewart always asks the question ‘is it fit for purpose?’ Does it do what you need it to do, is it for the right audience and sending the message you need to send. Most importantly: is it going to make somebody in the book shop pick yours up among all the others?
He then talked us through the changing landscape of design in the industry. Eventually photo shoots became too expensive, £1000s of pounds in today’s money, and so they faded out. Then saw the introduction of stock libraries where a cover design could cost as little as £150.
For Stewart, book design is exciting and fun but challenging at times. He is now involved with the entire design of the publications he works on and considers himself a jack of all trades. Knowing how to work on illustrations, photography, XML and much more is desirable in today’s modern publishing industry and those interested in a career in design should be prepared to get stuck in to all aspects that the job can bring.
Thank you to Stewart for talking us through the wonderful world of design in publishing.