Q & A with Elena Giavaldi

Elena Giavaldi is a book cover designer and illustrator based in Brooklyn, New York, currently working as an Art Director at Penguin Random House.  We took a moment to catch up with her and discuss her background, process and projects that bring her joy.

Where does your background in art direction and design begin?

I studied design at Politecnico in Milan and, after I graduated, found a job as designer for a free press event magazine, kind of like a small Time Out. After some time there I decided I wanted to design logotypes and branding and went on to work for a design studio.

I ended up working for the publishing industry totally by chance. I always loved to read, and as many young designers do, I wanted to design album covers, but somehow I sent my resume to an art director at Mondadori Publishing in Milan. Luckily enough, he was looking for some new talent to add to his team, and even if I didn’t have experience in cover design, he took a chance and hired me. That was lucky, because I immediately understood that I loved designing covers. I could work with type, illustration, photography and colors and never be bored.

Can you walk us through your design process?

First of all, I read the book. Obvious enough. Then I start underlining in my mind the scenes or characters that can go on the cover. Once I am done reading I start looking for references. I like digging into vintage images, illustration, contemporary art. I like Pinterest a lot. One image brings me to another one and so on, and I end up discovering great sources of inspiration.

Then I start designing. I decide if I want to use photo or illustration, hand lettering or typefaces and I play around with all the elements.

How do you know when a project is done?

That’s a tough question. I know that when I look at the cover on screen and it just seems done! I guess this happens when the design gives me a sense of completeness. When the colors work well together, the type or lettering is harmonious and the image is right.

What is the most amount of re-designs you've ever had to do?

Oh well, some covers seem they will never get approved, really.  It’s so frustrating... When there are so many people involved in the approval process (publisher, editors, marketing, sales, distribution), sometime I can end up designing what feels like dozens of revisions. Hell. But many others get approved pretty fast, otherwise I would have quit the job years ago!

Do you have a favourite project?

I like how the cover for My Life in Middlemarch came out, the woman on the cover is a friend of mine, and the photo was shot by her husband!

I also like the cover for Empire of Sin, because it's simple enough but enriched with so much gold and shine.