Jo Walker on Designing Gunpowder and Geometry

Jo Walker is Deputy Art Director for Fourth Estate and William Collins. Here she talks us through her design process for creating Gunpowder and Geometry.

Gunpowder and Geometry is the story of Charles Hutton, a man who in the 18th century spent his early life working down the mines, but rose out of poverty to become a Professor at the Royal Military Academy. 

I was asked to do something eye catching and different for this book - a ‘modern spin, not too old school looking’ and ‘nothing too dusty’ was the brief, so I took that to mean I could have a bit of fun with it.

My initial thought was to focus on the mines and machinery as I thought a beautiful, gold foil, sparse jacket might do the job.


After spending a few days on this approach though, it didn’t feel right to me so I went back to the drawing board. I decided to utilise the gunpowder aspect and create simple shapes. I wanted a bit of a POW! on the jacket, but also didn’t want to veer too far from what the book was so decided to incorporate an engraving of Charles Hutton, but cut up and placed in triangles. I didn’t think for a second I’d get away with that so did a few safer options but everyone in the meeting was open to something different and responded very well to this approach. When I sent it off to print, I included a bright Pantone to give it an extra pop in the shops.

I still feel pretty pleased that I got away with type on an angle, a bright Pantone and a chopped up engraving on a historical biography about a mathematician.


Final cover


Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.


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