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UHoP 2019: Q&A with Claire Lansley, book designer

UHoP 2019: Q&A with Claire Lansley, book designer

By Gabrielle Johnson |

Clair Lansley has been a freelance book designer for over twenty-five years, working for numerous big publishing houses, either in-house or from her studio in rural Oxfordshire. Along the way she has gained experience in all genres of adult and children’s books, such as teen fiction, non-fiction, novelty and illustrated picture books. She designed and project-managed the team behind all the books and marketing material that accompanied the Balamory series on the BBC. She also won an award in type design when working in New Zealand.

Clair just loves books and her favourite thing is taking a book from its initial concept through to the final printed version – being involved in every step along the way. When not working, she loves traveling to new places, and going on long walks in the country with her Greek harehound, called Jackson.

Tell us about yourself and your work.

My husband and I have an office at the bottom of the garden in Oxfordshire, so it’s only a thirty-second commute to work. I got my diploma in graphic design (quite a while ago now!) and although it took a while to get into the publishing industry (I was a waitress for about three years first!) I eventually got my foot in the door and have never looked back since.

I have been a freelancer for most of my working life as my very first job in the industry was as a freelance designer in central London, and I just never seemed to get a permanent job after that. I just moved around various publishers wherever and whenever I was needed. I have mostly worked in children’s books and specialise in designing interior pages for fiction titles for teens, or managing large projects – working alongside talented illustrators and editors to take a book on its journey from initial text to final layouts ready for print. My husband also does the same job and we work alongside each other on the same projects when needed.

Recently I have been designing a lot more adult titles including gift books, fiction and autobiographies. Basically, if it’s a book I will be happy to design it. It’s such an exciting journey and I have always felt very privileged to do such a rewarding job. When I was a child I spent a lot of time in the local library and always wanted to work there when I grew up. So… even though I didn’t get that job, I have ended up doing my dream job because I get to work with books every single day.

What does an average day at Lansley Limited look like?

The best thing about my job is that no day is ever the same, apart from the start of the day when the dog needs a good walk followed by breakfast!

On one day I can be either reading a children’s fiction story so I can get an idea of what illustrations I will be commissioning OR laying out the pages of an activity book OR taking in editorial corrections. There aren’t many jobs that I don’t enjoy.

How has design changed over the course of your career – have you seen any notable changes since the rise in technology and self-publishing?

When I started out in my career there was no such thing as a Mac! We did paste-up the original way on a drawing board with cow gum and a scalpel.

Then the Apple Mac came along and I basically taught myself how to use it. I still remember copying text files onto a floppy disk which had only 1.2MB of memory! That was the maximum size of file we could have, which nowadays seems ludicrous. And then came Zip drives, which I think were 50 or 75 MB. I can still remember my excitement to this day at the thought of all that extra storage space. We thought that was amazing! Now I deal with individual files that are 700 MB in size.

The Mac has meant that design can be more versatile and artists can supply their work in a digital format and send via email. Before, we used to get flat artwork in the post which we then had to send out and get scanned at high resolution. The new technology also means that jobs can be done faster and things are expected in a much quicker time-frame than they used to be (not always a plus…).

Self-publishing also means a faster turn-around and more scope for people to do it themselves, as print runs can be a lot smaller.

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Tell us about your creative process. How do you get a project from brief to final design?

First of all I would receive the text and the brief from an editor, which I would read in detail before I even start work on it. For fiction titles, for example:

I would lay out the sample text pages first to get an idea of what size and style the font will be in relation to the age range. Then I would work out roughly how many spare pages I have left to reach the required extent of the book. This will determine how much room I have for illustrations. Having read the story, I would then insert ‘holes’ throughout the text and brief the illustrator as to what I envisage that image being for that particular space. It’s a privileged job as I am pretty much making the text come to life within my imagination. When my layouts have been approved by the editor, I then supply a PDF of the layouts with a brief to the chosen illustrator. They would then supply roughs to me which I drop into place in the ‘holes’. Once these have been approved, the illustrator will then supply final CMYK or greyscale images as hi resolution jpgs/tiffs, which I would use to replace the roughs.

After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between myself and the editor during these two stages – taking in text corrections, etc. – the final layouts would then be sent to the production team to be printed. The whole process can take a few months from beginning to end, depending on the amount of illustrations involved and the complexity of the text. But it’s all worth it when you are holding a printed copy in your hands.

You work on a variety of projects – posters, adverts, web banners – is there a type of project you enjoy working on the most?

To be honest, I am not entirely sure what my favourite job would be as they are all so different. But I would probably say inside page design for fiction titles, as I get to create the story from scratch and decide what the pictures are going to be. I also love designing activity books as they are so design heavy and I really get to use my creative skills. I also like marketing design as jobs are normally a lot shorter, which makes a nice change when you are working on longer books.

What tips would you give to someone hoping to pursue a career in design?

I would say just go for it as it’s such a rewarding career to have. Get a good basic knowledge in all the Adobe programmes, and a diploma in graphic design. When you start working in the publishing industry try and work in-house at different publishers first, as it will give you such a good inside knowledge of how a book is made from beginning to end. I found that attending publishing and production meetings was a very good place to learn and get involved with other departments. As a designer you work very closely with the editorial and production teams, and the more you understand about what they do, the easier your job is.

Is there one project that you particularly enjoyed working on, or perhaps something you’re looking forward to creating?

I once project-managed and designed the entire series of Balamory books that accompanied the BBC TV series. There were activity books, story books, board books and various novelty books along with all the marketing material that went with it, so it was a very varied job. This went on for approximately four years and I absolutely loved managing the schedules, working alongside the photographers and illustrators and bringing the whole series to life. It was incredibly rewarding.

I now look forward to any job I take on, as I know I will learn something new from it. Design is never boring.

What are you reading at the moment?

At the moment I am re-reading My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. A book I read a long time ago, but thought I would read again after the recent TV series of The Durrells.

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