whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books
Andrew Ross is a partner at Osborne Ross, a multi-disciplinary design consultancy based in London. He has worked on a number of stunning book projects, including Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon, Journey of Change and Dogs in Vogue. Andrew also worked closely with whitefox in 2016 to design Håkan Winberg’s book Approximately Right: Aligning your numbers with your business.
Firstly, congratulations on your commission to design the special 50p coin in celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Can you tell us a bit about how this opportunity arose?
We were invited to work with the Royal Mint back in 2019. Since then we have worked on seven issues with them and currently have two that we are working on.
Each of these takes the form of a competition: the brief is given to two or three individuals or companies who then submit their ideas. These are presented to the Royal Mint Advisory Committee who choose designs to be developed. After these amended versions are submitted the final winning design is chosen and presented to The Queen for approval.
We were first briefed for the Platinum Jubilee back in the summer of 2020: these projects can have quite a long gestation period!
Can you tell us about some of the more challenging creative book publishing projects you have worked on?
We had a large photographic book project which involved images coming from over 90 different sources; for cost reasons we were asked to work with bad black and white photocopies which we scanned and incorporated into visuals for approval. Once images were chosen and high res files started to arrive it was a revelation: we had to rethink quite a lot of the spreads as a result of being able to see detail for the first time in the pictures!
On another photographic book, having painstakingly ensured that all images appeared on the page where they were mentioned in the copy, and with a week and a half left before going to print, we were asked to increase the size of all the bodycopy by half a point. This threw the pagination of the entire book out and required a rapid reworking of each spread.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
When we first started out the natural inclination was to study the design work of other companies. Increasingly now we look at anything other than the design world for inspiration.
What is your creative process when it comes to developing a design? How does this differ depending on the medium you’re working with?
The manner in which we approach a project is pretty much the same irrespective of the medium. However, we are always mindful of the final means of delivery: some ideas that work well for physical, tactile items (embossing, die cutting, creative folding of materials) don’t translate well on-line. Similarly there are other things (motion design, variable grids) that give you huge opportunities when producing something digital but wouldn’t be possible for more traditional items.
In terms of timings we tend to allow ourselves to do free thinking for a couple of days: not being self critical and putting everything down on paper as you think of it.
Then we give ourselves a day or two away from the project, working on something else: this helps us to distance ourselves from our ideas and look at them afresh. We’re then fairly ruthless and develop up the best 3–5 ideas that we’ve had. We extend the idea across the items the client may have asked for: e.g. stationery, signage, website – but also anything else which helps to bring the approach to life and show how it can be extended. Making the idea jump though these hoops at this early stage helps to cement in our minds how appropriate a particular approach is for the client and whether the idea has ‘legs’.
From this point on we’ll be tweaking things as we go – adding bits, taking things away – until we have several solutions that we’re happy to present. Going through this process means that when we present to the client we are clear in our minds as to the strengths and weaknesses of each route. Our presentation then consists of conveying our thoughts as simply and honestly as we can.
How do you deal with feedback on your designs from clients?
When we present to clients we like to have good reasons for having done what we have done. Also, we go into a meeting knowing which aspects of the design are important to the overall idea and which aren’t.
For instance, if the client doesn’t like the colour green, and changing the colour doesn’t affect the overall idea, then we are fine with that.
However, if their competitors all use colours other than green, and the client has a chance to stand out in their sector, then we explain our reasoning. If we explain what we have done, viewed through the lens of how it will help their business, then generally clients are fine with that: this is the kind of thing that the designer is being paid to think through.
When presenting, we like to take the client through our early thoughts and quite often show ideas that we feel may have been less successful and explain why. In other words, we like to take the client on the creative journey we have been through so that, when we come to explaining why we think one idea is more appropriate for them than the other, we have provided some context.
A designer will have been looking at a problem for some weeks and will have had time to rationalise their thinking. Presenting finished concept work can be quite abrupt for a client: we like to show the journey we have been on and why we have arrived at the conclusions that we have.
What would your advice be for authors to get the best out of their designers?
Don’t tell the designer how to design the book, tell them what it is that you are looking to achieve: what you want the person who picks your book up to feel.
A good designer will pick up on what you say and, using the skills they have learned over the years, come up with something that achieves just that. Tell them what is unique about your book and allow them to express this in a distinctive way. Don’t be afraid of something looking different; looking the same as your competitors makes no commercial sense.