As the art critic, poet, painter and novelist John Berger once said – ‘When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls.’ Here at Dead Good we are limitlessly interested in the gifted designers that form the architecture of our favourite books.
When we heard that Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series was getting a new look it seemed like the perfect time to get in touch with the designer – Clare Stacey from Head Design – and ask her about the processes and research that goes into designing crime fiction.
1. What was the brief for Jane Casey’s latest novel, The Stranger You Know?
The editors wanted to retain some aspects of the current Jane Casey look but with a much more distinctive and standout feel. For the image, we were briefed to find an image of a woman that looked like Maeve Kerrigan, the series detective. There was to be a sense of jeopardy in the cover, so perhaps using an image that included a lot of movement such as a girl being chased.
2. As designers, what is the first thing you do as part of your research for creating a cover? And with The Stranger You Know, how did you start formulating ideas?
Generally I head to resources like Google images, or Pinterest and start collecting masses of existing digital images from the web. It may seem a little broad at first, but if something in an image resonates with the brief, it is all valid. Sifting through and making connections is a good start to formulating new ideas. If we receive a photographic brief, I then take it to the image libraries, to see if there’s a photographer whose style is a good fit. We had success with this at its first outing at a cover meeting – everyone involved zoned in on the Mark Owen image.
3. Your initial ideas were then taken to a cover meeting with the publishing team. How did you choose which cover to use?
While this deviated a little from the cover brief in that the young woman doesn’t appear to be in any immediate jeopardy – all the other visuals showed her obviously being chased – it’s clear by her downcast eyes and closed body language that she’s obviously tense and anxious. I think that’s what it makes it quite compelling as a cover image. It was a very happy coincidence that her physical characteristics closely resembled Maeve Kerrigan, the character that Jane Casey had written!
4. And once the direction had been chosen, what kind of tweaks were made to the final design, and why?
With this direction, it was all about the hierarchy of type, and keeping that sense of urgency to stop the soft image veering too far from the crime/thriller genre. We had a few rounds of visuals altering colour and strength of type to settle on the strongest cover. At some stage in the process, the London skyline was dropped in to give the cover a sense of place.
5. The Stranger You Know was designed to be the first of a new branded look for the Maeve Kerrigan series. How did this affect the way you approached the cover and what factors of the brand affect your design choices?
Well the image must stand up under quite a bit of type, so something graphic, compelling, and ideally shot by Mark Owen! For The Last Girl I went straight to him again as his style is so distinctive. Thankfully, he has no end of other images which with the right treatment, and the now established series style type, can be utilised to give the backlist a very strong identity.
6. What is more difficult – creating covers for standalone books, or devising a branded look for a series?
That’s not as straightforward as it may initially sound. It may appear that a series is easier, as some elements need to be kept consistent, and so are already ‘done’ for you when you design each cover. The flipside of that is that designing standalone books is easier, as you don’t often have to deal with the – often self-imposed! – strictures of style, image treatment or type layout.
A big thank you to Clare Stacey from Head Design for answering our questions. More information about Head Design can be found on their website.
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