Important book design questions for Anna Brown


Anna Brown, highest winner of the NZ Book Design Awards, 2022.

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Anna Brown, highest winner of the NZ Book Design Awards, 2022.

Anna Brown is the top winner of this year’s Book Design Awards, her cover of Conversātiō – In the company of bees was named the most beautiful of the year, winning both Best Book and Best Illustrated Book. The jury described it as a “lovely blend of science, art and book design in one volume dedicated to the honey bee”.

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Tell us how you got into book cover design.

I’ve been designing books since I left design school in 2001 and it’s been my love from the start. When I left design school the people I admired were Sarah Maxey and Catherine Griffiths, two great New Zealand book designers. I was thrilled when one of my first jobs was typesetting Rosemary McLeod’s Thrift to Fantasy book with Sarah.

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Book design is a very small group of people in Aotearoa. It requires an inquisitive and intelligent mind because you need to understand the content and intent of the author or artist and translate it into something visual that is also engaging for a reader.

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I’m excited to see some young and culturally diverse designers rising in this space, such as Te Kani Price (who was named Hachette Aotearoa New Zealand Emerging Designer 2022 at the awards) and Aakifa Chida, a recent AUT graduate.

ConversÄ tiÅ - In the company of bees designed by Anna Brown won at the NZ Book Design Awards.

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ConversÄ tiÅ – In the company of bees designed by Anna Brown won at the NZ Book Design Awards.

What makes the perfect book cover?

A perfect cover embodies everything that is in the book. It has to be an eye catcher.

There’s a famous saying, don’t judge a book by its cover, but for most book buyers, publishers, and booksellers, this is the entry point into the book. What I really like about Conversātiō is that it’s a very tactile cover. You want someone to pick it up, feel it, open it.

The first thing I do when I pick up a book is smell it! The cover is the introduction to the content. You can never separate a book cover from its content – it should be a package and both should be coordinated.

The inside of the book.

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The inside of the book. “We interspersed photos with text to give everyone space for their work,” says Brown.

The jury called Conversātiō – In the company of bees a “chamber of wonders”. What made this book special for you?

A Wunderkammer is a perfect metaphor for this book. The middle piece is Anne’s Apiscope work at the Queensland Art Gallery and it was very conscious to focus on this as it is the culmination of 10 years of her work.

We interspersed photos with text to give everyone space for their work. This is a relationship in which each form elevates the other. The cover was designed to be touched and shows the trajectory of the bees when opened. This book was an 18 month project in conversation with Anne and Zara.

Do you have a favorite book cover?

I don’t have a favourite, but one cover I’ve always loved is a Russian version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. It’s two volumes. One volume is white cover with black typography and the other is black cover with white typography. It’s simple, bold, elegant and powerful.



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