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PANZ Book Design Awards finalist: Rowan Sommerset

Rowan Sommerset is an author, designer, illustrator and publisher. Her and husband Mark are pursuing their dream life on Waiheke Island with son Linden and studio Dreamboat, where they create children’s book with humorous tales and sophisticated design. We spoke to Rowan about her foray into the world of books and Dreamboat’s nominated book The Boy and the Cherry Tree.

What three words describe your style?

Emotive, quirky, restrained

And your typography style?

Generally hand written, (but that’s evolving) and in harmony with the image – but that’s not three words.

Were you clear from the outset what direction you wanted to take the typography for this book?

Yes, as all my previous books have had entirely hand drawn lettering. I was keen to experiment a bit with a combination of this and using a typeface for a change. I hoped to find a balance between the two that would give the type a handcrafted feel that is in harmony with the image but also be efficient for producing translated co-editions. I’m also very drawn to the Japanese aesthetic and wanted to evoke a blend of this style with a traditional western picture book.

How important do you think typography is to book design?

Cars…. wheels? Until maybe they invent flying cars.

What was your first paid commission as a book designer?

I’ve never had a paid commission, so far it has been all our own projects (Dreamboat).

Do you specialise in book design?

I would say I specialise in picture book making, with design being an integral part of that.

What book inspires you with its design?

Many – but if I have to pick just one, the work of Katsumi Komagata. In particular his book, Little Tree.

How did you start?

An old friend of mine used to joke that inside every graphic designer is a product designer, in my case it turned out to be sort of true. After several years working as a freelance graphic designer the urge to create my own product (specifically picture books) and making my living out of bringing that product to the world was at full volume. So ten years ago I dedicated myself entirely to finding a way to do that, which has involved Mark and I building our own publishing business both here and internationally.

What’s been your dream project so far?

Naff answer, but truth is all of them. Our books are a part of us pursuing our dream life. They are all special to me.

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

I’m a bit unqualified to answer, as I’m so specialised in making picture books only – which still feels insulated from the digital explosion. Digital remains to me an exciting opportunity that we could also use to tell our stories. At the point that we figure out what the model for it is we’ll give it a go. And when we do I imagine I will treat the digital form and the physical book individually as they both offer very different experiences with their own specific design requirements.

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

Not great with advice, but listen to your heart – and if you can’t hear your heart, take some advice on how to listen to your heart.

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


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