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Women & Book Design: A New Chapter

By Brett McKenzie on Jun 14, 2019

Nicole Caputo and Anne Twomey aim to bring women book designers together


Book design has long held a special place in the hearts of The One Club community — the breathtaking entries into the ADC Annual Awards Publication Design discipline are a testament to this. There's something about a book's weight in one's palms, the detail in its cover, the texture of its pages that simply cannot be replicated on a Kindle or an iPad. And for some designers, a book is the ultimate canvas for their creative gifts.

Nicole Caputo and Anne Twomey are such designers, and have devoted many years to becoming what was once a rarity in the publishing world: female creative directors. Wanting to promote, support and celebrate more women in the world of book design, the two created She Designs Books, a community that does just that, by way of events and workshops created to bring talented women out of the woodwork and into the publishing spotlight.

Nicole and Anne will be hosting their next She Designs Books speaking engagement, entitled "She Designs (and Sometimes Art Directs) Books," on Wednesday here at The One Club for Creativity. The evening will feature an all-star panel of three of the most extraordinary cover designers in the game today — Jaya Miceli, Adalis Martinez, and Alison Forner — and promises to be an engaging evening for anyone with an interest in books and publication design. Ahead of the event, we chatted with Nicole and Anne about their own careers in book design, and what led them to create their initiative.

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How did the two of you become interested in book design, in making it a career?‚Äč

Anne: As long as I can remember, I was artistic, having learned to oil paint at an early age. I continued painting throughout high school, but also began doing a lot of printmaking and silkscreen, mentored by a nun who worked very much in the style of Sister Corita Kent. That’s when I fell in love with the idea of words as images, and I started creating posters and playbills for the school.

In college I continued studying printmaking and photography, but after studying in Italy, I changed my major to a BFA in painting. I received a CETA grant upon graduation, and was introduced to printing presses and layout. I once stumbled upon an interview with Bob Scudellari, then creative director of Random House, when I was in college. Although I was studying fine art, specifically painting at the time, a career as a book publishing creative director seemed fascinating. It sat with me. Realizing there was a profession called "graphic designer,” I moved to New York City to study graphic design at the School of Visual Arts at night. I initially worked for a type designer, and then in a small design studio with publishing clients. That’s where I first designed book covers.

My portfolio led me to my first book cover designer position at Pocketbooks/Washington Square Press at Simon and Schuster. Since then I’ve held Art Director and Creative Director positions at Warner Books, Macmillan, Hachette and now at Celadon Books at Macmillan again. What has been most fulfilling in these roles is collaborating with the finest creative talent; designers, illustrators and photographers.

It’s a dream come true for me to have a career as a book publishing creative director. Back then, I don’t think there were any female ones. Designers, yes. Art directors, maybe. But book cover creative directors? Not yet. So we women have broken some ground in the past 30 plus years!

"It’s a dream come true for me to have a career as a book publishing creative director... we women have broken some ground in the past 30 plus years!"

Nicole: I was also creative as a child, always sketching, creating and making things. I studied fine arts — drawing, sculpture, photography and painting — and had a deep love of reading, writing stories and books as physical objects. I think it was a combination of a newfound love for building and designing on computers, coupled with my fear of not being great enough as a fine artist that propelled me towards graphic design where I found I could combine mediums. It goes to show that sometimes fear can serve you if you keep seeking and moving towards what you are passionate about.

I studied at SVA with Paul Sahre, James Victore, Genevieve Williams, Frank Young and Richard Poulin. It was there that I was taught how to think like a designer and to go beyond making things beautiful. Paul was an enormous inspiration, as his cover designs were brilliant but also clean with beautiful typography and images. My entire portfolio was made up of hand bound books I had written, illustrated and designed covers for.

My dream was to get into books but I actually started in magazines my first year out of school. Rick Pracher gave me my first break and hired me as a junior designer at then indie publisher Basic Books. I was making half my magazine salary but it was 100% the right move to make. I was working on covers as soon as I started, and was an art director within two years because the love and drive was there and hasn’t died down. I left Basic Books as a VP, Creative Director and currently am the Creative Director at Counterpoint Press and the Art Director of Catapult

 

Who were some of your early inspirations?

Anne: Louise Fili, Paula Scher and Carin Goldberg were all early inspirations, and I’m sorry that I never got to study with them. I did however take Milton Glaser’s class at SVA, and I’m certain I wouldn’t have gone as far as I have in my career without his wisdom and encouragement.

Nicole: As I mentioned, Paul Sahre was a huge inspiration to me and still is. I think because he was one of the first designers who I noticed making things that really lead by concept. He also taught me to value my time and to work on the types of projects that would give me creative freedom, especially if they were being done in my “free time,” like for freelance clients. He taught me to push back and explain and back my concepts, to care about great design and stand up for it. I also absolutely loved Gabriele Wilson’s gorgeous and elegant use of typography. Alexander Calder. Bruno Munari. Irma Boom. Jason Fulford’s photography.

In a world of e-readers and smartphones, can you make the case for physical books — and beautiful book design — in 2019?

Anne: Absolutely! Now, more than ever, a book needs to be gift-like: elegant and tactile, an object of desire. Reading a book is a different experience than reading a screen. Some call it the perfect interactive experience. Think about it; you can move forward and backward easily and control the pace of your intake with the book. I’m not sure if you can do it so easily with screen content. Additionally, a book can be a fashion accessory! (laughs)

Nicole: Many of us were so afraid when e-books started to become popular, maybe in 2009 or so, Things shifted, but for designers and art directors I think they did so for the better. I started to see printing effects used in more creative ways, perhaps to justify the price of the physical book, or to serve as a contrast to a largely digital world. Covers are more important than ever, and are used as a marketing tool to increase sales of books using social media platforms. The quality of design that is being done today is incredible and inspiring. Cover designers are being interviewed more than ever by literature magazines, and I have even seen a surge in cover reveal celebrations and a focus on crediting designers and art directors for their work online. Designers are being celebrated as the artists they are.

Nicole, you were on the Publication Design jury for the ADC 98th Annual Awards. What was that experience like?

Nicole: It was a fantastic experience, one that was more moving than I would have imagined, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity. I served on the jury with some brilliant creatives, and will never forget our discussions. It was also fascinating to move through the different categories of publications in such a limited time period. In a visual sense, it was a great representation of what is happening in book design: a lot of hand-lettering and very bold typography, sometimes utilizing collage or loose gestural line work in illustrations. There was an incredible use of materials creating a more tactile reading experience, and proof of a human hand behind the designs and layouts, which I believe is all driven by the overuse of screens, the state of the world right now and more of a need for a connection to each other.

Let's talk about She Designs Books. What was the catalyst for wanting to start this great initiative?

Anne: We had been discussing women in the industry, and the benefit that gathering together, lunching, talking and so forth could offer, as we were experiencing this support in each other already. We were both working as creative directors at Hachette Books, and Nicole was leaving for Counterpoint/Catapult, so we said "hey, let's do this now or never." We launched January 2018, and we’ve never looked back.

Nicole: You would think that it would be kind of a horrible idea to start She Designs Books right when we were both making such bold career moves, going to companies that felt like startups, but we were quickly able to see how this new idea would provide not only support to other women, but also to ourselves as we navigated our new roles.

"...we were quickly able to see how this new idea would provide not only support to other women, but also to ourselves as we navigated our new roles."

What has the response to She Designs Books been like thus far?

Anne: We put up an Instagram page back when we started, and the response out of the gate was overwhelmingly good. Our Instagram following and engagement rose quickly, and we were invited to speak on podcasts and do interviews about what we have been up to, and also to discuss the women and the work we admired. Our first She Designs Books gathering was attended by over a hundred women.

Nicole: What we had hoped for was a dedicated, positive, inspiring, community that lifted women up and celebrated their work and accomplishments. These events have attracted everyone from seasoned creative directors to women who have traveled in from out of state to find out how they can achieve their dreams of becoming book designers. We have been able to connect freelancers with art directors and photographers with designers. Our gatherings have become more diverse and we are even seeing women from editorial, production and marketing departments coming to events. We also have workshops in book design. Next Tuesday we are pleased to host a visual narrative workshop with Catapult and award-winning author and illustrator Ellen Weinstein.

Anne: We are always in discussions about what else we can offer to further support women in the field.

Your next big meet-up is taking place on Wednesday here at The One Club Gallery. What should attendees look forward to?

Nicole & Anne: It's going to be a wonderful evening, with a trio of phenomenally talented women. Jaya, Alison and Adalis all do consistently fresh and engaging work, and they speak intelligently about their creative process and their love for books. They are all breaking new ground with imagery and printing effects. One could say they take book cover design to the level of art, and we cannot wait to hear them talk about their work!


SHEDESIGNSBOOKS @ INSTAGRAM


She Designs (And Sometimes Art Directs) Books takes place on Wednesday, June 19 at The One Club for Creativity Gallery. Tickets are still available.

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