Interview with La Boca Founder, Scot Bendall

Founded in 2002 by Scot Bendall, La Boca is an award winning boutique design studio. From movie posters, to record covers, to iconic advertising campaigns, their client list includes everyone from Nike, MGM, Warner Bros to The Sydney Opera House and beyond. Scot took time out of his ridiculously busy day to answer a few questions for me about book cover designs.


As creatives, the readers of Spine are always interested in process. Since you work as a studio and have a specific aesthetic, can you describe the process your team goes through to arrive at a book cover design?

The process varies slightly according to the book, but generally it’s probably quite similar to how an individual book designer would work, except it’s spread between 2 or 3 people. 

We will often work on ideas together, sharing files and developing each other’s visuals. It could be that two people work on an illustration, and another works on the type for example. Sometimes one person will carry it right through, but it’s not unusual to have several people involved on one cover. 

We used to work primarily within the music industry, and in many ways, I find designing book covers to be a similar process to designing record sleeves. Both are essentially about creating an image for another piece of art that has no visual form. I see us as being a connection between the author/musician and their audience.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to working as a studio as opposed to each person working from a different creative perspective?

I originally started the studio as the sole designer, but I eventually realized that to do the work I wanted, I was going to have to hire people more talented than myself. 

The big advantage of working as a studio is that you have a mix of skills and backgrounds all contributing to an idea. 

We will always look at projects in different ways individually, so you could say we get more of a rounded view of a brief working together. We’re lucky there are no major egos to feed in the studio. We all genuinely just want to make the best work possible. 

There are disadvantages too. We had a junior designer recently with questionable taste in music, which became an unforgettable audible nightmare when the speaker rotation reached her. 

One of the things I like about almost all of the covers is that they suggest movement and that a book is not a static thing. This culminates in the Penguin World Science Fiction series and the reissues La Boca did. For the on-line promotion, the covers are actually animated.  This definitely got the cool, adolescent nod in my house. Where did the impetus for the redesign come from? Is this a harkening of what may come to books? Are we going to see chips in book covers like greeting cards with sound and movement? And how will that impact designing covers? 

We’re very much print-based designers (and I love it that way), but it’s true that when we design images I usually don’t see them as static. I picture them like they are still frames of moments in time. So there would usually be a sense of what would happen before and after the image in my mind. 

But because of this it’s not a huge leap to imagine some of our work animating. We’ve previously designed an animated album cover for the band Bombay Bicycle Club, so we knew it could be an effective way to bring life to static pack shots online. And it somehow felt appropriate to have a hint of technology attached to these covers. We’ve also recently been working with Look Mister in San Diego on an Augmented Reality app to accompany our work. It’s quite a simple app that you have on your phone, and when you point the camera at one of our books it will animate onscreen. It’s more of an experimentation in linking our print work with something digital. I think with advances in AR and technologies like E-paper, it’s inevitable that we will see some interesting book covers in years to come - but whether readers want, or need that is a different story.

In some ways, perhaps the use of color, the Penguin World Science Fiction series reminded me of the covers David Pelham did for them around 1973. Did you go back and look at earlier versions of Penguin SF for inspiration? How do you see your covers fitting in with the history of the series? 
 
The heritage of Penguin SF cover art, in particular, is something that weighed heavily on our minds at the start of this project. Past designers like David Pelham, Alan Aldridge and Franco Grignani are amongst our design heroes, so we definitely felt humbled (and scared) that they would let us loose on a project! We didn’t make a conscious effort to make the covers look overly vintage. We wanted them to be a nod to the past rather than explicitly trying to replicate anything. It was important that the covers still retained a sense of being new rather than a pastiche of past covers. We like to think of them as having one foot in the past, and one foot in the future.

The redesign of a Vintage series seems to offer an opportunity to use modern applications of technology. I'm thinking now of the cover for Brave New World.  The cover is in 3D and comes with a pair of 3D glasses.  Does a vintage cover allow you different freedoms than a novel that's more current, say, the breath-taking cover for Orlando Ortega-Medina's Jerusalem Ablaze?  How is working on a publication that is new different from one that already has a history?

I think perhaps publishers can afford to play with republished titles a little more, and fun additions like 3D glasses can potentially help create a little bit of added interest. We often get invited to work on vintage titles, and from experience, the process is usually simpler than a new publication. But depending on how well-known a vintage title is, it can have it’s own challenges. For example with Brave New World we agreed right at the beginning that we would never beat the original 1930s cover, so we decided to celebrate it instead and add references you would only get if you were aware of the original. 

 
 

Is there anything you'd like our readers to know about La Boca?

We put the ape into apricot.

And we’re all better off for it! 

So I’m calling on all you creatives to take heart, sip on a cup of La Boca courage, and get out there and design the world you want to live in.