I recently mentioned to a friend that I was going to interview book cover designer Jason Ramirez. “Jason’s the best,” he said. “Any time I’m stuck on type, I try to imagine what Jason would do and work from there.”
And when you look at Jason’s book covers you know what he means. A designer at New York’s St. Martin’s Press his typography is always beautiful. Each elegant letter is given room breath and perfectly compliments the design as a whole.
There is, in fact, an irresistible incisiveness and precision to Jason’s work that lend all his book covers an airy beauty. They feel spacious and uncluttered; direct without ever being blunt. I’m sure it won’t be too long before more designers ask, “what would Jason do?”
Jason and I corresponded by Twitter and email, and you can see more his portfolio on the Behance Network.
How did you get into book design?
I pretty much took a roundabout way into book design. I first went to college in upstate New York with the intention to eventually study medicine. Four years later, after a near-fatal rendezvous with organic chemistry, I graduated with a degree in comparative religious studies. I spent the next few years in San Francisco working for a real estate investment company, first in human resources and then in marketing and branding. It was during my stint in marketing and branding, which introduced me to the design world of San Francisco, that I began to daydream about a move to the city of New York to study design. Eventually I worked up the courage to make the move and was accepted to Parsons School of Design. During my last year at Parsons I had the good fortune of taking a book cover design course instructed by Gabriele Wilson. Pretty much from the onset of the class I was hooked. Shortly after graduating again, I began working with Rodrigo Corral and continued for a bit over a year before landing at St. Martin’s Press.
How long have you been at St Martin’s?
I’ve been with St. Martin’s Press since November 2007.
Approximately how many titles do you work on a season at St Martin’s?
I work on anywhere from ten to fifteen new titles each season, across four different imprints: St. Martin’s Press (trade hardcover), St. Martin’s Griffin (trade paperback), Minotaur (mystery) and Palgrave-Macmillan (which is actually an academic and trade publishing company; a close cousin to St. Martin’s).
Is there a house style?
No. One of the terrific things about working at St. Martin’s is the variety of titles published each season. Working across genres provides an opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to each project.
Do you also work freelance?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few publishers including, Atlas & Co., HarperCollins, Oxford University Press, The Countryman Press, W.W. Norton, and Vintage. I’ve also dabbled in a bit of interior book design with the talented design and publishing duo of Scott & Nix (Charles Nix and George Scott).
Could you describe your design process?
My process may vary depending on the project, but I always begin by reading. I try to read as much as possible of whatever materials are available, be it a manuscript, proposal, or synopsis. Depending on the subject matter, additional research might be needed. Not to mention that a bit of scouting for related imagery and typography can often inform and inspire. I tend to rely heavily on a sketchbook to record notes relating to the content and meaning of a book; ideas about imagery, typefaces and colors; and thumbnail sketches. And from this hopefully a clear, clever and attractive idea will prevail.
What are your favourite books to work on?
I appreciate the opportunity and challenge to work on various genres. Though I often tend to be drawn to non-fiction titles such as academic and business-oriented subjects. The conceptual challenge to visually simplify complex and comprehensive subject matter that might not be immediately accessible to a reader resonates with me.
What are the most challenging?
Any project has the potential to be challenging. Sometimes a project that I expect to be relatively easy to nail will prove to be the most time-consuming, requiring multiple rounds of revision. The challenge in this situation can be sustaining a fresh approach throughout multiple iterations, as well as mitigating your ideas with the opinions of others involved.
Do you have any recent favourites?
Two recent favorites include, Gabriel García Márquez: The Early Years, a biography that charts Márquez’s life leading up to the publication of his classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude; and Glimmerglass, my foray into the burgeoning young adult paranormal genre. I’m also quite fond of two relatively recent freelance projects: Power, a business management book about leadership and management success; and The Triggering Town, a collection of witty and inspirational essays on writing and poetry.
Where do you look for inspiration, and who are some of your design heroes?
I will take cues from popular culture, be it the daily headlines, magazines, music, television, movies, and the internet. On any given day, I might find inspiration in a post in my Twitter feed, from a thought-provoking illustration within the New York Times, by thumbing through a design or art book, or simply from a conversation had with a friend or colleague. And I’m almost always inspired when inside a book store.
I admire the work of Paul Rand, Alvin Lustig, Vaughan Oliver, Stefan Sagmeister, and Michael Bierut, to name a few. But the reality is that there so many visually creative people, both inside and outside of publishing, whose work I admire and find inspirational.
Who else do you think is doing interesting work right now?
There are many smart and talented designers working in publishing today who are consistently creating great jacket design such as Rodrigo Corral, Evan Gaffney, John Gall, Jamie Keenan, Peter Mendelsund, and Gabriele Wilson.
What are you reading currently?
Admittedly, at times I can be a bit lazy. So aside from finishing the lingering manuscript, scrolling through my Twitter feed, or browsing my Netflix queue, it’s not surprising that I’m reading an outdated issue of New York Magazine, inching closer to finishing The Glass Castle which I began last summer, and randomly reading excerpts from the Autobiography of Mark Twain.
What does the future hold for book cover design?
This is the great unknown. I prefer to believe that the physical book will survive alongside the electronic book. That said, as technology evolves, additional possibilities may be created for book cover design in a digital form. In the long-term perhaps the digital book, both the content and the artwork used to package and identify it, will become multi-dimensional and interactive so that a reader might have the ability to navigate through multiple layers of storytelling. Or maybe I’ve seen one too many Harry Potter movies … I guess we’ll have to wait and see.