Allison Colpoys: judging a book by its cover

Published:  July 6, 2015
Eloise Mahoney

The Australian Book Design Awards for 2015 were held in late May this year to celebrate what we were all told never to do, judge a book by its cover. Amongst the talent showcased at the awards, the cover girl for the night definitely goes to designer and illustrator, Allison Colpoys. Allison took out three awards, including the coveted Designer’s Choice Cover of the Year for the novel A Fairy Tale and Best Designed Young Adult Book for Why We Took the Car. Allison works as a freelance designer with the Jacky Winter Group and previously Penguin Books Australia.

Studying and working in Multimedia Design for a short time, Allison missed the “tactility and finality” of print. She loves books and reading and has always been interested in illustration and typography, so found her way into the publishing industry. Allison’s book designs carefully consider the entire composition from front to back, including the spine, internal text and typography. Along with her award winning covers her other pieces include Amazing Faces (Zoe Foster), Dark Roots (Cate Kennedy) and Cat & Fiddle (Lesley Jorgensen).

desktop recently got in touch with Allison to find out more about her book cover inspiration, tips for good design and if she’s guilty like many of us, for judging a book by its cover.

Dark Roots

You just won 3 awards at the ABDA, including the Designer’s Choice Cover of the Year! How does it feel?

ABDA do such an incredible job organising this event so it was a real honour. I was particularly floored to receive the designers choice; it felt like I had the support of my peers, which is a pretty amazing feeling.

How did you come to become a book designer?

It was a bit of a round-about way, I suppose. I studied Multimedia Design, which I loved, and I worked in that field for a short time, but I soon realised I missed the tactility and finality of print. I have always been interested in illustration and typography, and I love books and reading (and am in awe of people who can write), so working in publishing seemed very appealing to me. My first job in publishing was a brief stint at Simon and Schuster in the UK, and even though I was on an intensely steep learning curve, and when I think back to the work I was producing then I want to die, I instantly loved working with books, and I knew I wanted to stay in the publishing industry for pretty much ever.

Take us through the creative process of the double award winning book cover, A Fairytale.

A fairy tale

A Fairy Tale is set in northern Europe and is about a father and son who are constantly on the move and living on the margins of society. The father takes a series of odd jobs and home-schools his son, and at night he conjures up a fairy tale about a prince and a king on a secret mission. But something happens on their real life journey and things take a terrible turn. The setting is quite grimy and industrial, but is interwoven with surreal scenes from the young boy’s vivid imagination. It was tricky to try to capture all of these different aspects of the novel in the one image: the father-son relationship and journey, their gloomy surrounds, and the magic of the child’s imagination.

I remember I did quite a few different concepts but a lot of them focused too much on us seeing things through the child’s fantasy-filled lens, and not enough on their real life. My art director, Miriam Rosenbloom, and the book’s editor, Ian See, really pushed me to get more of the urban grit into my concepts. That’s when I thought that perhaps making the title letters big, oppressive industrial buildings that the father and son walk amongst, could work.

You also won, Best Designed Young Adult Book for Why We Took the Car. What message were you aiming to communicate with this cover design?

I guess I was trying to convey the general tone and essence of the story. This is a humorous, dark and touching coming-of-age novel about two young misfits embarking on an impromptu road trip around Germany, and all of the insane things that happen to them along the way.

Why we took the car

What makes a good book cover, in your opinion?

Lots of things can make a good cover, but I suppose good composition rules in the end? And then beyond just the front cover, it’s the whole package: the spine, the back cover, the internal text design, the endpapers. It’s inspiring when you can see a designer has really considered every aspect of the book.

cat and fiddle

amazing faceIf you could design a book cover for any author or genre, who would it be and what would it look like?

Questions like this really stump me, it’s like a can of worms has been blown open and I can’t see the forest for the trees – to completely butcher two sayings. So I’m just going to keep things local and say that my friend Davina Bell is currently writing a YA novel and I am very much looking forward to designing the cover for it! We’ve worked together before and I love working with Davina, it’s such a dream!

Do you have a favourite childhood novel that you could never put down?

I can’t think of any specific childhood novel, but I know that I was quite obsessed with a picture book I had of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. It’s a pretty dark and gut wrenching story (obviously quite different to the Disney version!), so I’m not sure what that says about me as a youngster if I wanted it read to me all of the time? Discuss.

Any advice for budding designers and illustrators on getting into this specific line of work?

I’m not very good on the advice front because I feel like every designer, budding or not, has their own unique approach to things. But if I was to give myself some advice (and feel free to take this on if you like), I’d say: make more time to be amongst art. Make more time to draw for fun. Try not to cut corners.

Lastly, and we’re being a bit cheeky, at a bookshop or library, do you judge books by their covers?



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