The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Q & A with Ferran López, Random House Mondadori


I came across the work of graphic designer Ferran López after stumbling on his wonderful book cover blog The Jacket Museum.

Based in Barcelona, and currently working at Random House Mondadori — the Spanish-language joint publishing and distribution venture between Random House and Italian publisher Mondadori — Ferran’s eye for typography and background in photography is evident in his sharp book cover designs.

Although I want to interview more designers who work outside of Canada, UK and US at The Casual Optimist, the opportunity doesn’t often present itself because of my almost total inability to speak any other languages. But when I noticed that Ferran publishes his blog in both English and Spanish, there was absolutely no excuse not to speak to him!

I’m really happy to be able to include Ferran’s answers in both English and Spanish in this interview, but I have also posted all the questions and answers in just Spanish for those who would prefer to read it that way.

And I do want to say a big thank you to Ferran for both his patience and for providing the translation…

How did you get into book design?

Merely by chance. Although my training is photography and I was a photographer for many years, more and more my jobs were getting closer to the world of graphic design. At the end of the year 2000 I was working as a freelance designer and moonlighting doing digital photography manipulation and retouching. Around this time I met Marta Borrell, the Art Director at Random House in Spain (before the joint-venture with Mondadori). She was looking for a graphic designer to work in-house on trade book cover design. Even though I had never tried book design, I was enthusiastic about the idea because I love books. Marta liked my portfolio and my enthusiasm. She took a chance on me and (I like to think) it turned out all right! We have been working together for a decade now.

Casi por casualidad. Mi formé como fotógrafo, aunque desde hace muchos años mi trabajo, por vocación, fue acercándose cada vez más al diseño gráfico. A finales de 2000 trabajaba como diseñador free-lance y en manipulación digital de fotografía. Fue entonces cuando conocí a Marta Borrell, la directora de arte de Random House en España (por aquel tiempo previo a la joint-venture con Mondadori) que estaba buscando un diseñador para la división de libros Trade. A pesar que nunca había trabajado con libros estaba entusiasmado con la idea, ¡me encantan los libros!. A Marta le gustó mi portfolio y mi entusiasmo.  Apostó por mi y creo que la cosa resultó bien. Llevamos ya una década trabajando juntos.

Briefly, could you tell me about working at Random House Mondadori?

It reminds me of a sequence from Billy Wilder‘s “One, Two, Three”. The pace is frantic and the procedures are complex at times, but, although it sounds like a cliché, it is impossible to think of a team of better professionals. Almost everyone in the workplace is young (even the CEO is younger than me!) and this translates into passion. There are 13 of us In the Art Department and sometimes we seem like family or better yet a clan. We suffer a lot, but always together! Just kidding! But at times, when someone is under a lot of pressure or creatively blocked, there is always someone to lend a hand, or at least have a coffee break with.

Se parece mucho a una secuencia de «Uno, Dos, Tres» de Billy Wilder. El ritmo es frenético, los procesos a menudo complicados pero, aunque suene a cliché, es imposible imaginar un equipo de mejores profesionales. Es una empresa joven (¡Hasta la Consejera Delegada es más joven que yo!) y creo que eso se traduce en entusiasmo.

En el departamento de diseño somos 13 personas, a veces parecemos una familia o incluso un clan. Sufrimos mucho, pero siempre juntos. Es broma; pero a veces cuando alguno de nosotros está bajo mucha presión o bloqueado siempre hay alguien con quien compartir el proceso, consultar o al menos con quien tomar un café.

What is your current role there?

At the moment, I am responsible for the Design of the Trade Commercial and the Paperback divisions. In the Paperback Division my job is basically coordination and support. As a designer, my job is mainly centered in book covers for Commercial Trade, bestsellers, novels and mass-market non-fiction for the “Plaza & Janés” and “Grijalbo” imprints.

Also, since its establishment in 2004, I’m also in charge of the “Caballo de Troya” imprint, an experiment: a small independent publisher within a huge publishing company.

Actualmente soy responsable de Diseño de las divisones Trade Comercial y Bolsillo. En la división de bolsillo mi función principalmente es estratégica y de apoyo. Como diseñador mi trabajo se centra en las cubiertas de los libros de Trade Comercial: best-seller, novelas y no ficción de carácter masivo, en los sellos Plaza & Janés y Grijalbo.

También, desde su fundación en 2004 me encargo de Caballo de Troya, casi un experimento: un pequeño sello independiente que vive dentro de un gran grupo editorial.

Approximately how many covers do you work on a season?

About 100 new books a year.

Unas cien novedades al año.

Could you describe your design process?

I don’t follow the same procedure with every book. Some times, I read the briefing and I start visualizing the cover, the message, the photo or the illustration that seems to fit the book. Other times, I need to read, comment, draw, write, web-surf, look out the window and make several trips to the coffee machine to obtain what I want to transmit visually. At times, nothing seems to work and then I begin creating an idea by a typographical approach to unblock myself.

No sigo el mismo proceso con todos los libros. A veces, tal como leo el briefing, empiezo a visualizar la portada, el mensaje, la fotografía o la ilustración que a mi parecer encaja. Otras veces necesito leer, comentar, dibujar, escribir, navegar, mirar por la ventana y hacer varios viajes a la cafetera para conseguir saber lo que quiero que visualmente transmita. En algunas ocasiones ningún método parece funcionar y entonces para desbloquear empiezo a creando la imagen desde la aplicación tipográfica.

What are your favourite books to work on?

Novels where I can’t help getting infatuated with one of its characters. Also books where I can give the cover a hidden meaning or a wicked twist. And finally, those low stream books with a small print-run where I can use daring images.

Aquellas novelas en los que me enamoro perdidamente de alguno de sus protagonistas (a veces es inevitable), los libros en los que se puede esconder una segunda lectura o un giro perverso en la portada y finalmente aquellos libros minoritarios con un corto tiraje que permiten utilizar imágenes más arriesgadas.

What are the most challenging?

Books with complex plots and/or multiple sub-plots. Those where the parties involved in the process of approval (editors, marketing staff, sales, etc.) have diverse ideas of what should the cover reflect. And off course, those books which the sales expectations are extremely high…The pressure is on!

Los libros con tramas laberínticas o con múltiples mensajes y subtramas. Aquellos en los que las distintas partes implicadas en el proceso de aprobación tienen visiones muy distintas de lo que debe comunicar la portada. Y por supuesto aquellos en los que las expectativas de venta son muy altas: The pressure is on!

When you’re working on translated books, do you look at the US or UK covers, or do you try to avoid them?

We always take the original cover into consideration. When a new book comes up, we review the original cover with its editor and the marketing department to see if it would work in Spain. With some authors, for instance, Stephen King or Terry Pratchett, we don’t even consider changing it — their fans would never forgive us. In any case, whether we use the original covers or not, they always help us as guide to which way we want to go.

German and Italian cover versions are always good reference.

An interesting example is the case of Ken Follet’s “World Without End”. We had both US and UK editions and I designed an adaptation combining the best elements of both. Now, we have the best of them all!

Siempre tenemos en cuenta la portada original. Cuando se presenta el libro valoramos en conjunto con edición y marketing si la portada puede funcionar o no en nuestro mercado. Con algunos autores, como Stephen King o Terry Pratchett ni siquiera nos planteamos el cambio, sus seguidores no nos lo perdonarían. En cualquier caso, utilicemos la portada original o no, siempre nos sirven de guía. Las ediciones alemanas e italianas también son dos buenos referentes.

Como caso curioso, para la edición española de «El mundo sin fin»  de Ken Follet compramos la portada estadounidense y la británica e hice una adaptación combinando lo mejor de ambas. ¡Ahora nuestra portada es la mejor!

Where do you look for inspiration and who are some of your design heroes?

Design books, movie and TV series imagery. Supermarket shelves and flea markets. Second hand book shops and record stores. Obviously on the Web (piece of cake!). Besides book cover design blogs, Ffffound!, But Does it Float, Grain Edit and Some Random Dude are among my favourites.

Spain’s very own Daniel Gil is perhaps responsible that I am working in this field. When it comes to contemporary designers there is a bunch of good ones: Rodrigo Corral, Henry Sene Yee, David Wardle, John Gall, Juan Pablo Cambariere, Peter Mendelsund, Darren Haggar…My list goes on…

En los libros, en el cine y en las series de televisión. En las estanterías del supermercado y en los mercadillos. En las tiendas de discos y libros de segunda mano. En Internet (¡es tan fácil!); además de los blogs de diseño editorial, Ffffound!, But Does it Float, Grain Edit y Some Random Dude son mis sitios favoritos.

El español Daniel Gil es quizás el principal responsable de que ahora mismo yo esté haciendo esto. En cuanto a los contemporáneos hay un buen grupo de excelentes diseñadores: Rodrigo Corral, Henry Sene Yee, David Wardle, John Gall, Juan Pablo Cambariere, Peter Mendelsund, Darren Haggar… Es imposible no dejarse alguno…

What does the future hold for book cover design?

Obviously, things in this field are going to change, but I cannot imagine how. It is completely unforeseeable. In any case, I think covers will always be a great vehicle to sell books, no matter what the medium is. We will just have to wait and see how it will affect our way of working, our tools and our approach.

Las cosas van a cambiar, de eso no me cabe duda, pero me cuesta imaginar como. Es imprevisible.

En cualquier caso creo que las portadas seguirán siendo un argumento excelente para vender libros, sea cual sea el soporte. Si esto es así habrá que ver como afectará a nuestra manera de trabajar, nuestras herramientas y nuestros procesos.

Thanks (gracias!) Ferran!

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  1. Pingback: Q & A with Ferran López, Random House Mondadori (Spanish) | The Casual Optimist

  2. I recently met with Ferran, Marta and another designer at Random House Mondadori. Their work was great, and as Ferran described the studio has a healthy, collaborative ‘team’ vibe. It’s nice to read a bilingual interview and gain some insight into book cover design in Spain. Gracias Ferran

  3. Kudos on your bilingual interview, Dan. As a fellow Spaniard and a long time admirer of your site, it’s been a real pleasure seeing one of our top designers get “the Optimist treatment”. Cheers.

  4. Thanks Hollis! :-)

  5. Thanks Óscar! It was great to interview Ferran — such an obvious talent — and I was really really happy to be able to run it in both English and Spanish – I thought it was cool! :-)

    Can you tell me more about Es Pop Editions and Cultura Impopular please? (Fire me an email – danielwagstaff [at] if it’s easier!)

  6. Hi Ferran,

    Congratulations for dressing the books you work with so elegantly.

    Keep up the good work!!!


  7. Hi Ferrán,
    How nice to read your interview here! congratulations!

  8. Pingback: Spanish Book Covers of 2013 | The Casual Optimist

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