Penguin book cover designer Janet Hansen on her favourite books

15 March 2017

Janet Hansen is a designer at Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House and her work has appeared in The New York Time’s Best Book Covers of 2016 list. In the past she’s also been recognised by AIGA, Design Observer and The Type Directors Club. When we had a chat with Janet earlier in January, where the designer explained how she fell into cover design. “What’s great about book cover design is that you get to dive into so many different subjects and ideas creatively,” she explains. “I love that my jobs to give a face to ideas that are bigger than me.”

With years of experience and an eye for detail, we were keen to find out which books, and of course covers, have inspired Janet over the years. It’s a rich cacophony of literature, including a must-read for all designers from Peter Medelsund, a look at the works of Bridget Riley and a tome about the role of design in everyday life from Bruno Munari.

Bruno Munari: Design as Art

This exploration of design made my 18-year-old self, a fine art student, think of this industry completely differently; suddenly design was something tangible. Published in 1966, Bruno Munari explains: “The designer is the artist of today, not because they are a genius but because they work in such a way as to re-establish contact between art and public.”

Peter Mendelsund: Cover

This book should belong on every designer’s shelf. 

I remember walking through the Strand (back when I didn’t think about book cover design), picking up one of Peter’s book jackets and immediately wanting to read the book and proudly display it in my apartment. There is something both classical and innovative about his approach that resonates with both the reader and designer in me. With the barest moves he is capable of brilliance; something I admire most about his work. He is one of the greatest designers and his office is four feet away from me! Now if you’ll excuse me while I go hide under my desk…

Leanne Shapton: Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry

Like everything Leanne makes, this book feels like a personal treasure. Designed as an auction catalogue, it tells the story of a breakup through the couple’s belongings. Not only are the photographs executed in such a beautiful and raw way, the items being auctioned off are incredibly romantic and intimate. Leanne walks the line of designer, storyteller, and artist with such grace; something I admire incredibly.

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Theaters

This book is one of my favourites, not only because I respect and admire Sugimoto’s work, but because I respect and admire the collaboration that occurred between him and the graphic designer, Takaaki Matsumoto. I was lucky enough to work with Takaaki, who gave me this book as a gift.

It’s a special edition. Sugimoto’s photographs were scanned and separated using quadtone separation and then set up with 96 quadtone plates. All of the plate sections were beautifully printed using dry trap offset printing on Mohawk Superfine Smooth Eggshell paper. The cover was silk-screened with Day-Glo ink. The book was Smythsewn bound and is enclosed in a specially designed metal slipcase. 

Takaaki is able to design in a way that excuses himself completely from the viewers conscious. You’re just submersed in the fine quality of the book as an object.

David Sylvester and Maurice De Sausmarez: Bridget Riley: Works 1960–1966

Bridget Riley is one of the first prominent artists to showcase Op art. The sensation of movement and the viewer participation is what makes me fall in love, and she is a master.

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About the Author

Rebecca Fulleylove

Rebecca became staff writer at It’s Nice That in March 2016 before leaving the company at the end of 2017. Before joining the company full time she worked with us on a freelance basis many times, as well as stints at Macmillan Publishers, D&AD, Dazed and frieze.

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