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#FreelancerFriday #2 - Roberta Hall, Cover Designer

Posted in: Book Design on July 18, 2014 Leave your thoughts 💬

Robert Hall

“Each book has its own specific story, its own specific mission and language that it uses. What’s on the cover is there to draw people in but it’s also there to back up the brand itself.”

Roberta Hall is our first #FreelancerFriday designer interview. Roberta is a pretty jaw-dropping designer. Here she talks through the way she researches in preparation for a project, revealing a serious, studied respect for her art as helping express the message of the book it represents. Her commitment is impressive, and she’ll likely raise your expectations for your designer significantly.

Enjoy.

REEDSY
Have you always freelanced?

ROBERTA HALL
In college, I was very ambitious; I did about four different internships, then started working for several magazines.

REEDSY
Do you prefer working with freelance clients?

ROBERTA HALL
I think so. Freelance is good because you get to work with the people you want to work with, who really have the concept you’d like to help them develop.

REEDSY
Do you have any preferences when you’re choosing clients?

ROBERTA HALL
It’s more about about the project they want to do. My design is more creative than corporate, so I wouldn’t necessarily work with corporate brands, but I would still work with a film company to develop their branding or posters. It depends on the style of the company.

REEDSY
As a freelancer, how do you create art that has that kind of closeness to someone else’s project?

ROBERTA HALL
It’s a really interesting process. You have to do a lot of research to do it well. I like to work directly with the author because I want to get their concept out there of what they think the book expresses. With a movie poster you have a lot of things going on. You have to get photos from the film, you have to really know plot lines, and know secret little things that people won’t necessarily know about until they go see the movie; they won’t notice them until later.

REEDSY
Like where a poster is one thing before people see the movie and another thing for people who’ve already seen it.

ROBERTA HALL
Yeah; it tries to make clear the mystery that you have going into the film, but it doesn’t give away details.

Working with a book means you don’t necessarily have photos, so you have to do even more research. Some people like to go out and take photos of things that reflect the characters in the book, other people look at different photography sites to see if they can find elements that will best convey the story of the book itself. Sometimes authors like to choose some of the photography as well. So, it’s an interesting process in itself. For example, for one of the book covers I’ve worked on, what I was sent was the cover art and I pretty much just worked typography around the cover art to best display the message that they were going for. Other books have an abstract meaning behind them, so in that case you might want to go with an illustrational style.

REEDSY
When you’re trying to get this sense of the book to work with, do you just use the manuscript?

ROBERTA HALL
I usually talk to the author. Even though I would love to read the book, I might not get the same message out of it that the author wants the cover to convey. The whole thing about a book cover is you want it to match not only what the author wants, but also to convey the message that the author’s trying to get out there. I might not necessarily see the book the same way the author does - which is good because if everyone saw the book the same way, there wouldn’t be as much to discuss.

REEDSY
You called your work more creative than corporate - how do you feel about the whole question of whether book covers are art or there to do a commercial job?

ROBERTA HALL
It’s more of a split. Some people view book covers as art and others view it just as ‘commercial art.’ What’s so interesting about that is that the artist will know that it’s art, will be able to explain the reasoning behind it, but then you could ask a regular person and they could say it’s just a book cover, it’s commercial, but either way, it *is* art. The packaging on a lot of the things that we buy is art - but people might not see it that way because they don’t necessarily see the detail that goes into it.

What’s interesting is that designers will sometimes spend hours looking through typefaces for something that conveys a strong message, and can also be elegant at the same time. Even though it’s commercial art, I really believe that a solid book cover is the same thing as a solid poster. It’s more interesting. It make someone wants to pick the book up more. It drives you to look inside and see this world that the art has created for the viewer.

image

REEDSY
What can authors give you to help you work on a cover?

ROBERTA HALL
When someone sends me a pitch I like to do research and ask questions. The more information you can get the better the design will be. So if all you tell me is that you want an elegant book cover, to me 'elegant’ might mean a script font that has some floral design on there - but that might take away from the message of the book; that book might be about the 1920’s, and that floral script might be the complete opposite. It’s really about asking as many questions up front on the design of the book. When you ask these questions, your research will be more narrowed down and you’ll be able to isolate the things that come together.

REEDSY
When you’re researching in preparation for a design, what does that involve?

ROBERTA HALL
If someone asked me to do a poster about the Civil war, where I don’t know a lot of information about it, I’ll go back and I’ll research not only images but also text, the way people wrote back then, and even the way people talked, because that can influence different styles in design. And so I’ll spend hours trying to figure out this new style that will be illustrating what the author wants to go for and, honestly, what I want to go for too. The problem is that book covers are a lot like branding; if the book cover is designed incorrectly, in a way that doesn’t match the book, then the book is branded incorrectly.

REEDSY
How does you understand branding as it relates to book covers?

ROBERTA HALL
Each book has its own specific story, its own specific mission and language that it uses. What’s on the cover is there to draw people in but it’s also there to back up the brand itself. So by 'brand’ I mean anything, even the typeface of the book.

So for example, I wouldn’t design a cover for a book about bullying with a script font; it would change the meaning of the word bullying, change the meaning of the whole book itself based on that script font. If you see a script font you’re going to think that’s kind of girly, or elegant; you’re not going to think of a book that’s about a strong moral message. You need to be consistent with the author’s mission of the book, as well as the book’s plot, because if not you’re going to throw a lot of people off who would have normally picked it up.

REEDSY
When you’ve worked with authors do they often have a very developed idea of a brand? Or can you help them work that out?

ROBERTA HALL
Initially, the way people write is also part of the brand, so I just try to give a visual image to that. I try to help them to define things that they’ve already said. The way we say things can often have visual imagery behind it. As a designer, working with images, it’s easier for us to see it than it is for a writer who spends most of their time working with words.

REEDSY
So once you’ve done progress with your research, what comes next?

ROBERTA HALL
After I’ve done research I put together mood boards, which could be anything from different fonts and different colours along with the different styles of fonts and the different photos that work together to emphasise the book’s message. Then you decide if it’s going to have a photo or an illustration. You work on that before you bring in the typography. The typography, even though it should be thought of continuously throughout, won’t be brought in until after the image has been developed. So the whole process goes through the different stages of design.

A really good book cover, if you look at the image - if it has one, because sometimes the cover is made up just of words - if you look at the image and it emphasises the meaning without having any typography, you’re a step closer to having a finished book cover.

REEDSY
And so this brings you to this one, final version of a cover?

ROBERTA HALL
Often it’s more like drafts. What’s always interesting about design is that when designers are working they make mistakes, but it can end up actually working for them. Like, they’ll use the picture in a way they didn’t mean to, but it works better than their original plan. It’s like playing with the images, even when you had your original concept, it might not necessarily come out the way you want to. You keep working with it and you also keep working with different drafts and different ideas as well.

Usually you want to come up with around four or five different ideas just for one book cover. One of your drafts or designs might show one aspect of the book, and another design completely different aspect. You’re trying to mould those together. You come up with multiple different ways of visually saying the same thing. They probably have similar colours and imagery, but one might split up the image to make it seem stronger, while the other could be softer. They could both have the same typography and the same feel, but be put together completely differently.

After you have the initial image of how you want the book cover to look, you also have to back it up with the typography. For example if your design has a lot of movement in it you might choose one with colours you’ve already used. It’s better to use fewer colours than it is to overstimulate someone when they’re looking at the book cover. So if I’ve used red in the imagery, I’ll try to use red in the typography; if it’s a flowy book cover where there’s a lot of movement, I’m going to want my typography to have a lot of movement as well, to back up the message that’s already been stated with the image itself. The typography and the visual image have to interact a lot together. The way one image works with the typography is different to how another image works with the typography as well, so you’re going through all these different typefaces to find one that really works with the message and the brand of the book.

REEDSY
Are there projects you won’t take on? Any genres, maybe?

ROBERTA HALL
I like to know a lot about the book. The bottom line is if I don’t find the book interesting, I’m not going to design it in an interesting way. If I’m interested and passionate about the book itself, I’ll do everything possible to have that brand be shown through visually.

But I don’t have any preferences about genre. I believe that each book has its own story, and each book brings something new to the story. If I said no to all romance books, I could be turning down a lot of interesting projects. If I say no to a whole bunch of science-fiction books I’d be shoving a lot of projects away when I might actually be interested and the designs would be really good. So as far as different genres of books, I like to keep an open mind. I’d rather not limit myself.

What you have to do as a designer, when you’re working with any project, is look at new images and new inspirations. Often I’m on Pinterest and I’ll see new ways to use different mages and different designs and things that’ll push me. If a designer is kept to themselves for a long time, they’ll start repeating the same steps without realising it. They’ll keep designing similar styles when they should be pushing harder, be researching more, be looking at different designs and and architecture and the outside environment, looking around the world to get more inspiration to really push it a little bit further. Each time it’s a challenge, and you want it to be a challenge. If it’s easy you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. You could have made that book cover, that you thought was easy, better. You can make everything better.

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