Q & A: Suzanne Dean on Designing Ian McEwan’s Nutshell
When you are designing a book jacket, do you read the full novel before you begin to draft ideas or do you sketch as you read?
I always read the manuscript. There is so much possibility at that moment. After many years of designing covers, it is still exciting. I make notes, sketch and underline words as I read.
When designing the cover for Nutshell, what was your first drawing?
This brief was very tricky. How do you design a cover where the witness to this tale of murder and deceit is a nine-month-old baby, still in the womb?
The cover approach had formed in my head, very early on. It was fortunate that the title Nutshell had a ‘u’ with which to create the pregnant belly.
The curve of the ‘u’ had to be distorted sufficiently to give a full term pregnancy shape whilst retaining the look of the typeface.
The ‘u’ also had to be big enough on the cover to hold the foetus. A big issue for me was how best to render the idea.
What font, colour, technique and materials should I use?
Did you have a particular quote from the book in mind when designing the final image?
In this case there wasn’t a particular quote that sparked the cover.
When approaching a design, I look to depict the essence of the novel.
I like there to be a reason for my visual interpretation. For instance I chose the background
colour of the design, to be as close as I could find to a flesh tone.
Did you do image-based research once you decided on where you wanted to take the design – if so, what images did you research?
I researched images of the foetus and pregnancy in science and art picture libraries. I already knew of the Leonardo drawing of the foetus in the womb.
The study was by far the best image. It is a sensitive depiction, that isn’t cold or clinical.
Luckily the drawing could be used. All I had to do was cut it out of the background and flip it upside down in the “u” .
How long did it take you to design the cover?
The cover idea was very quick. I spent a couple of weeks rendering the cover in different techniques.
I was also searching for another visual approach, but none worked as well as that first idea.
Luckily, when I started to show the cover to people in house, they all loved it.
Is the process of sharing a cover with an author nerve-wracking?
Yes. I want to do the best I can for both the author and the book. I really want the author to like, even love, their cover.
Unusually I only showed Ian McEwan the one visual. Which he approved. I didn’t make any changes to that layout for the final cover.
How would you sum up the art of book jacket design?
At its best, a cover distills the essence of that book.
An effective design manages to catch the eye, engage the reader and convey the idea in a unique, creative and striking way on a single page.
The designer has to convey a lot in a small space.
The design needs to distinguish itself in the market place and capture the book buyer’s attention – for which you only have a few seconds.
Whose book jackets do you admire most?
Is there a book you would most like to design the cover for?
I am very lucky working at Vintage. I get to work on the kind of books that I would choose to buy and read.
And I also have a new Murakami to design….