Joan Wong has designed covers for a variety of publishers over her career including Alfred A. Knopf, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New Directions, Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins. She currently creates for Vintage and Anchor Books of Penguin Random House. Here Wong joins with us to discuss how she got her start in the industry, her process for designing, and her favorite cover that she developed.
How did you start working for the publishing industry?
It all started when I took Gabriele Wilson’s book cover design class at Parsons. It was the first time I realized that there are people whose sole job was to read books all day and design for them. I immediately fell in love with the medium. I loved how it combined my interests for design and narratives. I loved how it contributed to literacy and the spreading of knowledge. I loved that every new book gives you a fresh opportunity to be creative. After taking Gabriele’s class, I became the intern for her studio. She then recommended me to Rodrigo Corral who I interned for during my last semester of college. I learned a lot about the publishing industry from both of them and by the time I graduated, a designer positioned opened up at Vintage of Penguin Random House. I have worked at Vintage, under art director, Megan Wilson, for almost five years now. I am so grateful for Gabriele, Rodrigo, Megan and all of my colleagues who have been so nurturing towards me.
What’s the amount of time you usually spend on a book cover?
It really depends on the story. There are some books that instantly inspire ideas in me while others require more brainstorming. Sometimes, it takes one day. Other times, it takes weeks.
Can you talk a little bit about your creative design process?
I start by reading the book. As I read, I scan for visual cues and tone. From there, I start pencil sketching ideas in little 1.5” by 2” thumbnails. Then, I start executing my ideas. More often than not, the final product deviates from my initial sketch due to a series of happy accidents.
How did you create the cover for The Illustrious House of Ramires?
The Illustrious House of Ramires is a novel about Gonçalo Ramires, the heir to a noble family of Portugal, and his quest to pen his family history. It is described as Don Quixote meets Walter Mitty. I decided that the most important themes from the book is the quirky character of Gonçalo and the idea of writing. I found some period appropriate paintings of men who resemble the description of Gonçalo and played around with them in different compositions while using the title and author as design elements. I sent a couple of different cover options (shown below) to New Directions and the art director, Erik Rieselbach, ended up choosing the cover with the repeated Gonçalo heads.
Do you have a favorite cover of your own?
My favorite cover is a design that didn’t make it to print. It was one of the rejected covers for Amatka by Karin Tidbeck. Amatka is a novel about a post-apocalyptic wintry colony where everything is made of mushrooms that can disintegrate if you do not label them properly. I gathered a bunch of vintage mushroom/fungi prints and liquefied them in Photoshop. I thought the final result was a trippy, creepy, beautiful and intriguing cover that was unique to the genre. Unfortunately, we ended up with a different design but this version of Amatka still holds a special place in my heart.
Designer and book lover with a passion for food. Working for the portuguese publishing industry (books, newspapers and magazines) for the last 20 years.