Rachel Vale, Designing for The Good People

Rachel Vale is an Art Director for Pan Macmillan in London. Her work includes designing the spectacular book cover for Hannah Kent's The Good People. Here she details for Spine her process for developing the jacket.

It was an absolute joy working on The Good People by Hannah Kent. From the very opening pages I was overwhelmed by the rural landscape and how intrinsically it echoed the beauty and fragility of the lives it surrounded – the love, grief and terrible loss. The atmosphere it created for me was almost a physical one that stayed with me long after I finished reading.

It was this quiet, rugged beauty that I wanted to convey in The Good People package. The wonder of the natural world and its stunning detail. A leaf skeleton is something I have been excited by visually for a long time. The journey of its decay and the strength it retains felt like a perfect motif here. 

And so I embarked on some initial visuals. I will usually explore a few different alternative routes/solutions when it comes to presenting first ideas to the rest of the in-house team. But convinced by the idea of the leaf skeleton, I focused solely on that approach and the theme of overall simplicity.

The idea was well received by the rest of the team and the development from initial visuals to final visual was very succinct and fluid. 

With such a simple design nailed down, the real work now began. As much as I liked how the visual worked on screen, for me this was all about the sympathetic use of finishes and detail on the physical book. Using an uncoated paper stock I wanted to print the leaf skeleton using foil to emphasize the bare surroundings. Production-wise this was quite tricky, as I wanted the foil itself to play over and under the typography almost adapting to the nature of the letterforms. I had to open up and knock out from the foiled leaf enough that I would reduce the chance of fill-in, but not so much that it would be noticeably manufactured. I wanted this to feel organic. As a result we were in constant contact with our printer and ran more wet proofs than usual to ensure we could consistently achieve what I wanted, testing out two different paper stocks and also trialling the addition of a subtle background colour to avoid the cover being a brilliant white.

Following the level of detail through, a standard trimmed book block just didn’t sit comfortably here, and deckled edges was the obvious choice. But that’s not a cheap option and not everyone was convinced it was visually the right decision either – worrying it may look a little twee or gimmicky. Having called in a number of samples to view and handle, no one needed convincing, and we were left to decide on the technique solely through my own visual preferences.

With the bigger decisions made, just the smaller questions required answering. Decisions that potentially go unnoticed when you get them right, but can be awkwardly jarring when you get one wrong. So the endpapers are the same stock that we chose for the cover, the board uses a natural wibalin and I wanted a square spine as opposed to a more traditional round one – I liked the idea of the blunt edge fighting the prettiness of some of the other details.

And here is the end result . . .


I hope you fall in love with this as much as I have. A final copy is currently sat on my desk and depending on the time of day, the natural light and how it reflects within the cover makes this feel new almost every time I look at it.

Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.


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