We catch up with Alan Deare of Area Design, who’s been nominated in four categories at this year’s PANZ Book Design Awards: for books From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics, Peter McLeavey: The Life and Times of a New Zealand Art Dealer and Josh Emett’s meaty cookbook Cut.
What three words describe your style?
Singular, thoughtful, typographic
What was your first paid commission as a book designer?
From memory, the jacket design for Michael King’s Wrestling with the Angel.
What book inspires you with its design?
Probably one of the first Dutch design books that I bought, Otto Treumann, Graphic Design in The Netherlands, designed by Irma Boom. I poured over it for weeks like a kid with a new comic. It blew my mind in terms of material, print and production techniques, navigation and concept. It really did open up my experience of what a book was capable of as an object and how every facet of it is up for contention. Ironically Treumann, the subject and a great designer himself, deeply dislikes the design of this book.
What’s the best book cover ever?
There is probably a type only masterpiece by Carlo Vivarelli or something super minimal and very English by Jonathan Ellery that I’ve forgotten about, but I’ve got to keep it local and go with my copy of the limited edition of Certain Words Drawn. It has an original John Reynolds work painted directly onto the black arlin cover, foiled title running from the spine to the cover and is blunt cut top and bottom. Designed by the lovely Arch McDonnell. Tu meke.
How much freedom do you usually have with a brief?
The notion of a brief is implicit with constraints. If I accept a job within a commercial context I will already have a sense of the parameters and marketplace that I am submitting to. I still usually feel a degree of freedom within this to do what I do and to offer suggestions that may be challenging, yet I feel are appropriate.
Were you clear from the outset what direction you wanted to take the typography for From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics?
Type is usually the first thing I visualise before layout, colours or anything. In this case I knew I wanted to convey the idea of comics (bold, graphic, playful) without resorting to the typographical clichés of comic land. I also wanted to create a tension between these ideas and the excellent research behind this book and the literary aspirations of Graphic Novels themselves.
What’s more important, restraint or boldness?
I think restraint can be boldness. I see boldness as an attitude, a commitment to a strong concept and following it through – even if that idea means setting a small block of 6 point type on an empty page.
What’s a book that inspires you with its treatment of typography?
In this context, definitely Vas: an Opera in Flatland, by Steve Tomasula with beautiful design by Stephen Farrell. Anything designed by Chris Ware: I love his hand-drawn type and mock classicism. He’s acutely aware of the discourse surrounding the Graphic Novelist’s aspirations to be considered as literature. He is in fact a genius.
Do you get to read the books before you start designing?
Not always, but I have definitely read through a few lumps of A4 manuscripts.
Do you specialise in book design? How did you start?
I specialise in book and publication design. I also do other work in the cultural sector and a bit of identity work. I did an internship at Inhouse Design directly from tech and became their first full-time employee in 2000. I didn’t show them a portfolio or anything, just worked my arse off and made myself as indispensable as possible. It helped that we liked the same music.
What’s been your dream project so far?
Probably the music related books, as it’s another passion of mine, but also the Hillary book with Alexa Johnston, cause Ed is such a massive New Zealander and Alexa is just a straight out honey bunny, super sharp and marvelous cook to boot. Many expert design decisions went out the window as I succumbed to more home baking. Relationships are part of making a great project.
How have digital books impacted on book designing as a profession?
?I haven’t noticed this. I do mostly the types of books that still need to be made, held and experienced.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for up and coming NZ designers?
It’s pretty old school: find someone you admire, work for them however you can, ask questions, learn, get the coffee, work hard and respect the gift that they have given you.
Winners of the PANZ Book Design Awards 2014 will be announced on July 17.