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PANZ Book Design Awards finalist: Kalee Jackson

Independent designer Kalee Jackson has an impressive portfolio of book design, working with New Zealand’s top art galleries and Auckland University Press. We learn about Kalee’s design inspiration, dream project – and spirit animal.

What three words describe your style? 

Considered, idiosyncratic, responsive

What book inspires you with its design?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – my all-time favourite use of die-cuts. I think the Very Hungry Caterpillar could be my spirit animal (yes, I’m eating while typing this).

What’s the best book cover ever?

There are too many to choose from! I really like the style of some of the book covers from the 1930s: the pared back colour, expressive layouts and beautiful typography, but still with a weird hand-drawn edge to them. I’m also quite fond of vintage Penguin covers and children’s book covers from the 1930s–50s, such as Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates (the 1950s Junior Deluxe Editions Books version).

Do you get to read the books before you start designing?

Sometimes it depends on the book and the client. I’m usually able to read the essays of art books, and have images to work with which are often more useful than the text for understanding the content and themes of the book. For other books it varies. Sometimes I only have access to a chapter or two. I like to research; usually the more I understand the content of the book the better the final design works out. 

Do you specialise in book design? How did you start?

Book design is about 50% of my practice. I do a lot of design for art galleries and often the catalogue design for an exhibition is extrapolated out of my exhibition branding work. My first commissioned work was Saskia Leek: Drifters, an art catalogue for Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. As a graduate I spent a couple of years laying out magazines, so it was a fairly organic transition into book design. 

What’s been your dream project so far?

It’s really hard to pick, probably Peter Robinson: Snow Ball Blind Time. It was a great exhibition, had a generous timeframe, and a lovely team involved in producing the book. The artwork was fabricated from polystyrene, so I had the title of the show routed out of the same, a photo of which ended up as the book cover. I don’t nearly get enough opportunity to rout letters out of things.

How have digital books impacted on book designing as a profession?

I find I’m designing more books solely for digital release, or providing digital versions in addition and complimentary to the printed version. As a result, there’s more emphasis on the printed book as a tactile object, though digital books interest me in their potential for having a lesser environmental impact than their printed counterparts, and maybe greater distribution potential. 

What’s your biggest piece of advice for up and coming NZ designers? 

Design lots of books. Preferably about things you like. 

Kalee Jackson is shortlisted for the PANZ Young Designer of the Year Award 2014. The nominated books are (clockwise from top left): A New Zealand Book of Beasts: Animals in Our Culture, History and Everyday Life by Annie Potts, Philip Armstrong and Deidre Brown?, Home in the Howling Wilderness: Settlers and the Environment in Southern New Zealand by Peter Holland, Glen Hayward: I don’t want you to worry about me, I have met some Beautiful People by Aaron Lister, and Self-Portrait by Marti Friedlander.

Winners of the PANZ Book Design Awards 2014 will be announced on July 17. 


Surf, design, travel – these are the things that gets Leigh out of bed every morning (those, and a piping hot cup of milky tea). She holds qualifications in both fashion design and communications, and has written a bunch of fashion, beauty, food, travel and design stories.

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