Craving for a flawless cover

 For the first time I saw Lucie's designes on her Instagram. I fell in love with her covers and wanted to know more about her work. How did she even get to her profession? How long does it take to design one cover? Does she need to read a book before designing its cover? This interview was made via long email conversation (as we both live in different cities and currently even in different countries). Despite the distance, it was one of the nicest conversations. Lucie was always ready to answer all of my questions and even send me photographs taken by her specially for this interview. The result? Have a look...

Lucie Zajíčková
Lucie Zajíčková

How did you get to the design of book covers?

Partially thanks to my studies at the University of Tomas Bata in Zlín (town in the Czech Republic, edit. note). I attended a course of digital design where I was learning how to design a website or a mobile app. And as books have been always love of my life, time to time I managed to smuggle them in to my projects. Hence, one semester I was designing an e-book for children. Or I decided to design a book for iPad as a topic of my dissertation.

Then two days before my degree examinations I got an invitation for a job interview in the publishing house Host in Brno. I put everything to my bag and got on the train to Brno. I still do not know if I was more nervous about the job interview or the examination. But both of them worked out.

You have been working in one of our best publishing houses. The Czech Republic is a rather small country. Is there, therefore, a lot of competition in the field of graphic design?

The graphic design is a large domain and book design is only one of its many parts. You cannot find that many designers focusing only on the design of book covers.

Importantly, working as a graphic designer in a publishing house does not necessarily mean merely graphically editing books. It also includes work on printed and online advertisement, posters, invitations or photo shooting. Plus, I decided to be in charge of our Instagram account as well.

Working as a graphic designer in a publishing house does not necessarily mean merely graphically editing books.

I was always told: do not judge a book because of its cover. Yet, it is the cover that sometimes convinces me to by the book or, on the contrary, not to. Does that happen to you as well?

Same for me! (laugh) But in my case it is because of my profession. Whenever I am in a bookshop, I automatically start judging the typography, the colouring and the composition of basically every book.

However, we cannot forget that everyone has completely different preferences when it comes to buying books. For example, readers of fantasy literature prefer rather literal motives such as dragons, fires or swords. But that is, on the contrary, definitely not my cup of tea.

For you, as a designer, when does the whole process of designing a book cover begin?

"The Green Horse Rustlers", cover designed by Lucie
"The Green Horse Rustlers", cover designed by Lucie

At home, in my head, before I go to bed...I write down all of my ideas but it takes a while before I acknowledge that some of these ideas is good enough to switch on my laptop where I would actually design it. To be fair, the majority of my work is filled with emptiness where basically nothing happens. And yet, this part of work is the most difficult for me.

Do you need to read a book before you start designing its cover?

Sometimes I actually ask for its manuscript, especially if it is written by a Czech writer. As for the international books, quite often the translation of the book is not ready by the time I start working on the cover. In that case I only get an annotation and a review of the book. Or the translator can provide me a more detailed description, if I ask him to do so.

The majority of my work is filled with emptiness where basically nothing happens.

When designing a cover for translated international books such as An Ember in the Ashes, do you check the covers of the book in different countries?

I actually do that with the publisher in chief and our art director. Sometimes we decide to use some of these designs, which obviously noticeably saves my time.

But in the case of An Ember in the Ashes, we were considering if we should use the original cover of the American book, or rather make our own design. In the end we had enough courage to come up with a brand new one. Luckily, no one asked me to design any swords. (laugh)

"The Rainstick", cover designed by Lucie
"The Rainstick", cover designed by Lucie

Looking at your work on the book The Rainstick by Jiří Hájíček, it is obvious that your work does not end with just the design of a cover of a book.

Absolutely. Most of the books have strictly given structure and all parts must work together as a whole. Therefore, it is necessary to sort out not only the cover but the inside of the book as well. Sometimes the motif of the cover can exceed to its first page or even further.

How long do you work on one book?

So far I have been designing covers for completely different books which consequently have needed various amount of time. If it is a translation of an international novel, I usually spend no more than a couple of hours designing its cover. The exact opposite is the technical and scientific literature, which has a lot of elaborated illustrations and charts. Or the work on books for children can be especially time-consuming as the illustrators add their work during the process. Then I spend months working on one book. This is also influenced by the fact that I often work on more than one book at once.

The cover of the book The Green Horse Rustlers is noticeably different in texture. It has some kind of multiple layers. Or some books have a shiny cover while other are matt. Why?

The overall concept of a book includes not only a graphical part but the use of material as well.

Being a designer allows me to choose the final visual and material version of a book. That includes deciding between different types of papers, lamination, embossing, specific shades, bookmark ribbons, etc. Frankly, there are so many possibilities.

So for example in the case of The Green Horse Rustlers I decided for a motive referring to a specific part of the story itself.

I spend months working on one book.

Why some of the books have an extra paper cover on their hard cover?

This depends on the designer of each book as well as on the type of the publication. For example, the children's books have usually a hard cover as the paper cover has a tendency to get destroyed. But the bestsellers or criminal fiction have quite often both. The paper cover is designed to at least partially protect the actual book.

During your work, do you collaborate with other designers or even writers?

If I work on a Czech book, I almost always consult the final version with its author as his feedback is really important to me. In the case of books for children, I work on individual books with different illustrators. And sometimes I simply come up with something extra or special. For example, I get in touch with a calligrapher. This was the case with The Guest Cat, a Japanese novel, when I emailed a calligrapher living in Tokyo, asking him if he could create a specific calligraphy for the cover of the book. He kindly excepted my offer and I must say that the collaboration with this artist has been one of the best experiences.

"The Guest Cat"
"The Guest Cat"

Looking at the range of your work, it seems like it is not that simple to categorize your technique and style.

It depends on a book and my mood. Sometimes I search for interesting images, sometimes I take a photo for a cover. Or I paint something, just a random motif. That is how the red smudge was created for the cover of The Rainstick.

Sometimes I simply come up with something extra or special. For example, I get in touch with a calligrapher.

Has your style changed since your very first design of a book cover?

Absolutely. Today I probably would not publish some of the covers I designed years ago. But I can see and say this thanks to my experience I have gained through work in the publishing world in all these years. In addition, I am starting to be a perfectionist, craving for a flawless cover. (laugh)

What is your favourite design?

The Guest Cat and The Green Horse Rustlers. Not mainly because of the final outcome of these books. It is rather thanks to the process of bringing them to life. Somehow, it was a very personal designing work for me.

Can you switch off from work?

I go for a walk with my camera or do jogging. I also spend a lot of time on Instagram! And of course, I read! Now I am reading the newest book, The Great Reality Escape, published by Host. If you speak Czech, you should try it. It has an amazing cover. (laugh)

You can find more information about Lucie Zajíčková's work on her Instagram and website.  

(All of the photos used in this interview were provided by Lucie herself. Thank you for that!)