I have always been fascinated by the work and world of graphic designers, especially in book publishing. Sometimes I just like watching them work on their big screens, playing with visual elements, fonts, colours, illustrations. In books, and especially in readers and course books for language learners verbal and visual content and form create a magical relationship in the final product. Think about the way the text in a reader or in a course book is represented: the page layout, the typography, the colours, the illustrations, and the cover. Every little detail matters, and the way the text is presented is central to the reader’s understanding. The verbal and visual worlds invariably create a surprisingly interesting product. How does this happen? Who are the people behind the scenes who make our books both aesthetically and functionally engaging? We chatted to two of our favourite graphic designers, Barbara Bonci and Gianluca Armeni, and have asked them to share their experiences with us. They have also told us what they think makes a good graphic designer.
HRB (Helbling Readers Blog): How did you get involved in book publishing?
Years ago a colleague asked me to help out on an educational publishing project.
HRB: How long have your worked with children’s books?
About 12 years.
HRB: Which field of graphic design do you prefer?
Actually I haven’t got a favourite field. I enjoy working on a range of things from corporate identity to editorial projects and designing display and exhibition areas to digital materials.
HRB: Which aspects of your job do you like the most?
I love the initial phases when a project kicks off, sharing information with the development team, working with different professional figures and looking at a range of materials and tecnology.
HRB: What qualities should a graphic designer have?
The ability to collect, analyse and organise all the information you need to make your project successful. Plus the ability to throw it all away if needs be. The ability to share and exchange ideas with others in the team and the clients themselves. The ability to stay curious and eager to find new ideas and also be patience.
HRB: What is your ideal project?
To work on a project that encompasses all expressive forms of communication, working closely with everyone else who is part of this world.
HRB: How did you start working in school book publishing?
To be honest it was thanks to Barbara Bonci. One day she contacted me and asked if I could give her some advice on a book that she had to review. Browsing through it she thought that the images were ‘dodgy’. It was 2004, just before Christmas. I spent the Christmas holidays reviewing and adjusting hundreds of images and correcting layouts. And I haven’t stopped since…
HRB: What is your professional background?
I started in 1990 in a large print shop in the area as head of the pre-press department. In 1995 I completed a course in colour theory at AGFA Milan and became fitter for central Italy of pre -press AGFA products, an Adobe Certified Expert. In 2001 I started working on the production of the Italian edition of The New York Review of Books. In the meantime, I specialized as a photolitographer. Then, in 2004, I took the plunge and opened my own company, Pixarte in order to devote myself to publishing.
HRB: How closely do you work with authors and editors?
Daily, and sometimes it gets very intense, especially when you are close to the publication date of a new volume or a new editorial product. Sometimes you have to stay up late. At times I’ve had to work right around the clock, but that was at the very beginning. However, talking together and sharing knowledge is essential in order to create a successful end product.
HRB: What steps do you typically follow when you work on a book?
It starts with the manuscript as we still call it, which is usually a Word file. Most of the time you have already made a sample of the book so you have an idea of the structure and general look and feel. Then unit after unit, I propose layout solutions, interact with the authors and other contributors, there are many of them and each one helps to ensure that the book comes together in a fluid and dynamic way.
HRB: Which aspects of graphic design do you like the most?
I like to think about the project from scratch, which is what I was doing before joining Helbling, but most of the time now, I get a layout that has been created by another designer and I have to follow their directions. But I still have fun creating facsimiles and working to make pages come together visually, always keeping in mind what each individual section or single page of the book is about and needs to convey to the student.
HRB: Have you got any advice for people who would like to work in this field?
Study for sure, I have been on examining boards in art schools and noticed that students often lack the basics. I have studied a lot on my own, but those were different times and there were no computers in homes and even fewer in schools. I spent nights and weekends reading manuals. Then, get as much varied work experience as possible. And last but not least, you’ll need a little luck finding the right “mentor”, someone with the patience to teach you and help you grow. In my case, I had not a little, but a lot of luck in meeting a very special person, Antonella Morico, who taught me a lot and made me passionate about this job. But that’s another story.
HRB: Thank you Barbara and Gianluca for the interviews!
What would you like to know about the work of graphic designers? Leave your questions in the comment section below!
Barbara has her own graphic design and communication company, BNC. You visit her website here. Among her work for Helbling she has designed the layout and websites for the Helbling Young Readers series and 101 Young Adult Novels.
Gianluca Armeni runs his own graphic design company, PIXARTE. You can visit their website here. Gianluca has worked on nearly all the coursebooks Helbling has produced and is currently creating spreads and layouts for Sure and Jetstream.