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Inside the world of an Usborne book designer

4th September 2013

Non Figg

Take a step behind the scenes and find out what it's like to design children's books for a living with Usborne Designer, Non Figg.

'Over the last 21 years, Usborne Publishing has kept me happily occupied designing books for children of all ages. In that time, technology has changed a graphic designer’s job considerably, predominantly with the advent of computers.
Designing for Usborne encompasses much more than putting pencil to paper or hours at a computer. Books illustrated with photographs often require things to be made and photographed. In these instances I have thoroughly enjoyed getting stuck in with glue, cardboard, paint, papier mâché and all things sparkly. I have even been known to find certain props in skips, but that’s another story. It’s then very rewarding to style these items in front of the camera, ensuring they look ‘just so’ and fit the alloted space. A day at a photoshoot is very different to a day in the office - they can be quite tiring but much fun (and our trusty photographer, Howard, always puts on a cracking lunch!).

I have also found myself testing recipes for cookbooks, illustrating, searching out new illustrators, being photographed for certain books, discussing drunk Vikings with a history expert and once dressing as a clown for a conference. All in a day’s work at Usborne!

Having worked in-house for ten years, thanks to technology and an understanding set of colleagues I now work remotely from Swansea. I work predominantly with Editorial Director Fiona Watt. Currently we are busy with many more ‘That’s not my…’ titles, a range of historical sticker books and the odd spread for various doodle/activity books.

Fiona and I have a good working relationship and I enjoy the back-and-to that goes on with editor and designer. With the sticker book series that we’re working on at the moment, Fiona will supply me with an outline of each double-page spread along with photographic reference and any relevant historical information.

Right: A variety of books that Non has worked on.

I then sketch out a few designs until I have one or two I think will work. These I scan, and input into the digital spread which is created using a programme called Adobe InDesign. I make a PDF of the spread and email it to Fiona and also Managing Designer, Erica Harrison (who beats me hands-down in the ‘working remotely’ stakes, living as she does in New Zealand). Comments are emailed back to me, I make amends and when we reach our final design I email it and any reference to our illustrator, Paul Nicholls.

Paul illustrates digitally using a programme called Adobe Illustrator so is able to send me his artwork electronically. Once the artwork has been approved by the team, I then separate the sticker items from the background illustration and place them on sticker pages. I digitally draw on ‘cutter guides’ to indicate the edge of each sticker. Once it has all been checked, double checked and even triple checked, print-outs of the book are given to Publishing Director Jenny Tyler, to cast her experienced eye over. All resulting amends done, the files get sent to the in-house production department who get it ready to send to be printed.

Above: Non shows us the various stages she goes through when designing a sticker book.These are pages from the Ancient Egyptians Sticker Book.

I do feel lucky working for Usborne. I have always been a huge fan of books and Usborne do them so well. The work is varied and interesting and I have met so many lovely and talented people over the years. It’s no wonder we have celebrated Usborne’s 40th anniversary this year.’

This blog is an excerpt from the original post Working in Wales by Usborne Publishing on their See Inside Usborne Blog.