Creative Lives — Talking images, illustrations and ideas with Vintage’s designer Rosie Palmer
Forever collecting inspiration and reference images, designer Rosie Palmer’s ideas for book covers often start life on her phone. Stashing away snaps from exhibitions and bookshops, the Kingston Graphic Design graduate’s digital library sits idle, waiting for the right book to come along. Joining Penguin Random House on a four-week placement, Rosie has worked her way up from a design assistant to a fully fledged designer, getting to grips with GIFs and learning the ropes of publishing along the way. She tells us more about how her role has evolved.
Designer, Vintage Books, Penguin Random House (2012–present)
Intern, Bostock and Pollitt (2012)
Intern, Brand42 (2012)
Intern, Superfantastic (2012)
Intern, So Creative (2011)
BA Graphic Design, Kingston University (2009–2012)
Inside the studio
How would you describe your job?
I design book covers, ranging from historical fiction and short story collections to biographies and classical novels. If needed I will either find and commission illustrators, organise a photo shoot or ask our in-house picture researcher to find suitable images. Although I usually work on my own covers, there are times when we work as a group on different routes for big books, or on designs for a new series.
What does a typical working day look like?
Typical working hours are 9.30am to 5.30pm, however you never really switch off – there are bookshops and galleries everywhere, or new illustrators to discover. My phone is full of pictures and ideas, waiting for the right book. Often there are manuscripts to read and books for your own pleasure. I used to read lots on my commute but now I cycle 20 minutes to work, so I find time before I go to bed. Each week we begin with a Monday morning catch up which highlights your priorities for the week. Alongside this we prepare for Thursday morning cover meetings where our creative art director and deputy art director present the whole team’s visuals from that week to the editorial and sales teams. The team environment is great; we try to celebrate as much as possible with cheese and wine.
How did you land your current job?
A friend had a four-week work placement lined up here but had just accepted a job. He suggested me for the role and I have never left! There wasn’t a job for me but after interning, Suzanne Dean made a role for me as her design assistant. I have now been promoted to designer within the Vintage design studio and have never looked back.
“There wasn’t a job for me, but after a year of interning Suzanne Dean made a role for me as her design assistant.”
Rosie and Stephen Parker
Where does the majority of your work take place?
The majority of my work takes place within the studio, however we are encouraged to go and see as many exhibitions as possible.
How collaborative is your role?
Very, I work closely with the editor of the book to make sure the author, the sales and marketing departments, and everyone else involved in the book are all happy.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable is that I’m still learning from the best in a great environment, and the least enjoyable (but nevertheless challenging) is when multiple deadlines all occur at the same time.
How Saints Die by Carmen Marcus
The Complete Stories by Anita Desai
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I worked on the cover and text design for a book called Two Stories, which is being published by Hogarth to celebrate the imprint’s centenary. The imprint was set up by Virginia Woolf, and Two Stories contains one story by her called “The Mark on the Wall” and another by her husband Leonard Woolf. Our centenary edition featured Virginia’s story alongside a new story by Mark Haddon who also did an illustration of Virginia. I worked really closely with Clara Farmer (the editor of the book) and together we tried to emulate as many similarities to the original as possible – from the text design to Dora Carrington’s original illustrations, and the red thread binding the pages. I was also really fortunate to commission Ed Kluz for the cover. We were also lucky enough to be invited by the Bodleian Library in Oxford to join their Hogarth centenary celebrations and their print-a-thon where we typeset a poem that was printed in the early days of the imprint.
What skills are essential to your job?
Passion, an eye for design, and an ability to collaborate and multitask are all required skills.
Do you run any self-initiated alongside your job?
Visiting galleries and exhibitions to expand and explore as many creative ideas as possible.
What tools do you use most for your work?
I use my Mac and Wacom tablet; InDesign for my cover layouts; Photoshop and Illustrator for designing; Bridge; FontExplorerX for font management, and email and phone for correspondence. I also use the internet and take lots of notes to refer back to. I use the camera and copy stand to take pictures of books for our social media sites and digital retailers.
Two Stories by Virginia Woolf and Mark Haddon
Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne
Why We Make Things & Why It Matters by Peter Korn
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
Something within the creative industry. I was always encouraged to be creative, I had lots of support from my parents and teachers.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I did graphic design at A-level, an art foundation and a graphic design degree. Alongside my general education, these have been a great basis for my current role.
What were your first jobs?
I did an internship at So Creative working on brands and packaging between my second and third year, then after uni I worked at superfantastic which was an amazing, friendly and supportive studio. It helped confirm for me that I was in the right industry. I then worked at brand42 on the early stages of a restaurant rebrand and also Pollitt and Partners where I worked on place-making and brand repositioning. I distinctly remember being sat next to an art worker, and being fascinated at her speed and knowledge. Vintage was my fourth internship after I left uni.
Who in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
Suzanne Dean – without a doubt. She saw something in me, has been my mentor, and helped massively in getting me to where I am today, her advice is invaluable. I have worked very closely alongside her and learned so much.
“I am still learning, and finding out how collaborative and unique my job is.”
Rosie and the team at work
Rosie at work
Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
Not a project as such, but coming into a job from an internship level helped me become a more well-rounded cover designer.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
At the start, I had a basic understanding of social media and animation but I have had to develop in both of those areas. Vintage design have Twitter, Facebook, tumblr and Instagram channels that we manage. I have had to work on GIFs and videos for marketing purposes and for our annual sales conference, Penguin Random House Presents.
“Coming into a job from an internship level helped me become a more well rounded cover designer.”
What’s been your biggest challenge?
It would have to be coming into publishing without previous experience in the industry, and having to learn everything from scratch. From the author lists we publish, the cycle of a book, acquisition and all the way through to seeing it in a book shop. There are so many people and processes involved.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
As I started on a work placement I did not have too many misconceptions to overcome, however I am still learning, and finding out how collaborative and unique my job is.
Inside the studio
Could you do this job forever?
I can’t see myself doing anything else, I am very fortunate to be where I am.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
The next step would be becoming a senior designer.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a book-cover designer?
Make sure you have a passion for books, and know the market. Publishers’ lists of authors will also come in handy.
This article is part of a feature on Vintage Books.