Emily Mahon on designing Sociable

Emily Mahon became an Art Director at Doubleday in 2006. Emily’s work has been honored with awards from AIGA, The Type Director's Club, The Art Director’s Club and The New York Book Show. She has been published in 50 Books/50 Covers, TDC Annuals, Communication Arts, Graphis and Print, among others. Here she details her process for creating Sociable by Rebecca Harrington.

Sociable is a hilarious novel of one young woman’s search for happiness and an inside look at life in the wild world of digital media. As I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but picture current open office space plans with hundreds of people on computers and limited personal space. Everyone inhabits their own little universe while on headphones, listening to podcasts and music. Yet within these workspaces there is a physical closeness that creates a communal world.

I had a few ideas that all needed to be illustrated, so I went searching for the perfect fit. While browsing some portfolio sites I found Federico Gastaldi’s illustrations, and immediately gravitated toward his work. I love his clean lines, his ability to create simple yet descriptive figures, and his use of color.

Most often, when I hire an illustrator, I come to the table with some idea of possible directions for the work, and I typically provide some visuals and sketches. But I give the illustrator a lot of creative freedom. With the Sociable cover, I had a pretty clear idea of the concepts I thought would work and the overall feel I wanted to achieve. I had a few ideas sketched out, which I presented in a meeting while showing Federico’s work.


The concept everyone loved was a view from above of many people at desks, with wires, headphones, computers, and various other visible distractions. The idea was to show the monotony in the modern office job, and also to make it about the ever-changing state of technology. But I wanted every figure to be slightly different. The tricky part was setting up a grid-like system that made it still feel like a novel and not non-fiction. I also wanted Federico to try the woman figure alone, using the same aerial view, with wires running from her desk in every possible direction to show her sense of isolation yet connectedness.


Everyone was on board with the illustrator and concepts, and so I hired Federico with this art direction. I gave him the space to bring his own interpretation and palette to the project. He came back with some near-perfect solutions and we only had to make minor adjustments to the art. As beautiful as the many figures were in full color, it seemed we needed to adjust them to make sure we were focusing on the one young woman. So, we tried using the same color clothing for most of the figures, leaving the woman in a brighter palette which popped from the rest. As for the type, I was interested in using a script that felt like wires that I could bleed off both sides of the cover, but sales and editorial wanted to go with a simpler option.


We settled on the layout with many figures, as opposed to just the single woman, and ended up going with the bright orange background. For the final jacket, I chose a bright pantone for the background color to really make the color vibrate, and I had this printed using a special technique similar to a spot gloss, which gave the figures a slightly embossed as well as a glossy effect.


Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.