Alex Robbins on Designing The Nowhere Girls

Alex Robbins is a designer currently based in Bristol, UK. Among the many creations in his portfolio is the cover for Amy Reed's The Nowhere Girls. Here he details for Spine his process for developing the work.

This was a really enjoyable YA project for Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster USA. The Nowhere Girls is a searing, timely story of three misfit girls who come together and change the misogynistic culture of their high school.

The editor's brief focused on portraying the kick-ass tone of the girls in a gritty and edgy way. I was asked to create something that was very in-your-face and that challenged the notions of quiet victimised women. 

For my initial comps l took inspiration from one of the main characters, who is obsessed with Riot Grrrl bands such as Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill. This seemed like a good starting point for research and the music linked in with feel of Amy Reed's writing. I looked at record sleeves, posters and took screenshots from The Punk Singer, an insightful documentary on Kathleen Hanna. The first concept was to make a bright yellow flyer mentioned in the book, taped to a locker or school wall. Another design had a zine aesthetic that brings out the NO in NOWHERE. The idea that the girls are saying no to rape culture.

Whilst reading the manuscript l was drawn to a scene where lipstick graffiti is written on a bathroom mirror. I really enjoy using tactile materials in my work and this was something l wanted to recreate for a cover option. I spent an afternoon going into bar and public toilets, opting for a setting that had cubicles in the reflection. After a quick trial l hand lettered the title and author name using lipstick, photographing from a side angle. 


The fourth comp used a painting by Daniel Evans that l defaced. The concept is that the Nowhere Girls are crossing out the flowers, which are often seen as a traditional symbol of femininity. I was looking for floral paintings that had a black background, hinting at the darker aspects of the book.


I had a confidence crisis when l sent off the initial ideas, should a man in the UK be working on a teen feminist book based in an American high school? It turned out that the comps were received really well and everyone liked the defaced painting cover. I was asked to bring out the NO in the title, similar to the alternate sketch. I selected a floral tone from the background painting and the cover was quickly approved.


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Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.


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