An occasion to judge a book by its cover

Linda Daniele

The Book Design Awards have been organised and run by the Australian Publishers’ Association without a break for 61 years. As designer Deborah Brash, one of the judges this year, says, “This is a remarkable feat considering that book design, although now a desirable profession, was for a long time under the radar and considered the poor man’s choice of advertising.”

Today, books are judged in 15 categories including Best Designed Children’s Picture Book, Children’s Fiction and Non-Fiction, Young Adult, Education, Specialist and General Illustrated, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Non-Fiction and Cookbook.

Overall awards are also given for Young Designer of the Year, Best Cover of the Year, and the most coveted, Best Book of the Year. This year there is also a new entrant with the Joyce Thorpe Nicholson Design Hall of Fame, an honour last received by Deborah Brash in 2005 for her contribution to the standards of book design in Australia.

The judges are a mix of respected experts in the industry including booksellers, publishers, sales and marketing personnel, and editors and designers.

Two of the designers on the general judging panel this year include Hannah Robinson, 2012 Young Designer of the Year, and Daniel New, 2012 designer of Best Cover of the Year.

This year’s panel was comprised of nine judges, with another five specialist judges. “This mix ensures that the most deserving of entries are shortlisted or win,” says Deborah Brash, although she acknowledges there are “usually a few contentious decisions”.

Zoe Sadokierski, who teaches in the School of Design at UTS and has been a judge previously, agrees. “Fiction and illustrated books are usually the most contentious categories because those are the books that people feel most passionately about in terms of the content.”

Most of the established publishing houses enter the titles they consider to be worthwhile in the relevant category, but individual designers may also enter their work. All titles entered must have been published in the preceding year and be designed by an Australian designer.

The annual Book Design Awards, culminating in the presentation ceremony and awards party at the Powerhouse Museum last night, have become a prestigious occasion to celebrate Australian book design excellence.

So to enter is a chance to mingle with fellow designers, showcase your work in front of leading publishing houses, network, pitch yourself against the competition and see what you are up against, and if you do take home a gong, be acknowledged by your peers,” Deborah Brash says.

It is also the only yearly event that highlights the importance of book design as opposed to any other publishing award, of which there are many in publishing, but which usually celebrate the author or publishing house.

Who doesn’t want to be acknowledged by their peers? To be included as a shortlisted or winning book immediately raises the profile of the designer, the publishing house, and the author,” Ms Brash says.

In terms of the standard of entries this year, she says they reflect the “overall flat and insecure” publishing environment. “It was a year of generally cautious and predictable design solutions, so the titles that were inspiring design-wise jumped out.”

As for any trends seen this year, Ms Brash says previous years have showcased over-the-top production embellishments that were noticeably absent this year, probably due to budget restraints. “However, clever design doesn’t rely on production bells and whistles,” she says.

The judging process allows each judge the chance to go through the hundreds of entries at their own pace prior to the main judging day. Judges are asked to make a shortlist of their choice in each category and these results are revealed on the main judging day. Designs that don’t receive any votes are eliminated.

Finally, all the judges come together for a “very full day of conversations” to decide the winners in each category, Dr Sadokierski says.

So how difficult was it to judge the overall winner in each category? For Deborah Brash, this year was “reasonably smooth as overall the judges were simpatico with their choices, and in many cases the winners were obvious.”

She says she found the most difficult categories to judge this year were those that allow for more creativity such as Best Designed Children’s Picture Book, Literary Fiction and Cookbook.

And favourite categories? “For beauty, diversity, occasional extravagance and high level of design chops, the Specialist or General Illustrated categories are my favourites,”she says. “To witness the intensity of argument and persuasion between the judges when deciding the Best Book of the Year is also up there,” she adds.

I don’t really have a favourite category although it’s always a pleasure to see the illustrated books, to see what’s possible when a publisher puts a larger print and production budget to a book,” Zoe Sadokierski says.

Choosing an overall winner is extremely difficult because books from different categories need to be judged against each other. How can you judge a novel against a cookbook? Often, the highly illustrated books win – there was a run of high-end cook books winning for a few years in a row – because in those books the designer has much more creative freedom, there is more scope for play.

There’s less scope for showmanship designing the internal pages of a novel but a subtle, elegant type treatment that compliments a strong cover design makes a novel just as award-worthy as a highly illustrated cookbook or exhibition catalogue,” she says.

The Best Designed Secondary Education Book: Lanz + Martin for Poetry Remastered: A Practical Guide for Senior Students

The Best Designed Secondary Education Book: Lanz + Martin for
Poetry Remastered: A Practical Guide for Senior Students

The Best Designed Young Adult Book: Kirby Armstrong for The Diviners

The Best Designed Young Adult Book: Kirby Armstrong for The Diviners

Book Design Award Winners 2013

The Best Designed Children’s Fiction Book

The Children of the King (Viking: Division of Penguin Group)

Designer: Marina Messiha

The Best Designed Children’s Non-fiction Book,

Sophie Scott Goes South (Penguin Group)

Designer: Tony Palmer

The Best Designed Children’s Series

Australian Children’s Classics (Penguin Group)

Designer: Allison Colpoys

The Best Designed Children’s Picture Book

The Gobbledegook is Eating a Book (Viking: Division of Penguin Group)

Designers: Kirby Armstrong and Tom Jellett

The Best Designed Young Adult Book

The Diviners (Allen and Unwin)

Designer: Kirby Armstrong

The Best Designed Primary Education Book

Jolly Roger and the Clever Green Parrot (Cengage Learning)

Designers: James Lowe and Karen Mayo

The Best Designed Secondary Education Book

Poetry Remastered: A Practical Guide for Senior Students (Cambridge University Press)

Designer: Lanz + Martin

The Best Designed Tertiary and Further Education Book

Electrical Principles (Cengage Learning)

Danielle Maccarone

The Best Designed Fiction Book

The Secret Keeper (Allen and Unwin)

Designer: Lisa White

The Best Designed Literary Fiction Book

The Voyage (Text Publishing)

Designer: WH Chong

The Best Designed Non-fiction Book

The Office (Miegunyah Press)

Designer: Hamish Freeman

The Best Designed Reference & Scholarly Book

Dressing Sydney: the Jewish Fashion Story (Mark Gowing Design)

Designer: Mark Gowing

The Best Designed Cookbook

Mr Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables (Murdoch Books)

Designer: Studio Racket

The Best Designed General Illustrated Book

Things I Love (Lantern a division of Penguin Group)

Designer: Evi Oetomo

The Best Designed Specialist Illustrated Book

The Essential Leunig: Cartoons from a Winding path (Penguin Group)

Designer: Adam Laszczuk

The Best Designed Children’s Cover of the Year

The Dreadful Fluff (Penguin Group Australia)

Designers: Elissa Webb and Aaron Blabey

The Best Designed Cover of the Year

The Voyage (Text Publishing)

Designer: WH Chong

The Best Designed Book of the Year

Things I Love (Lantern a division of Penguin Group)

Designer: Evi Oetomo