Penguin Book Designer Allison Colpoys

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 10th June 2011

Penguin books designed by book designer Allison Colpoys

Amazing Face by Zoe Foster, published by Penguin, designed by Allison Colpoys – out June 27th! (*random trivia – author Zoe Foster is Hamish Blake’s girlfriend)

Shack by Simon Griffiths, published by Penguin, designed by Allison Colpoys – SO BEAUTIFUL isn’t it?!  Just a few weeks ago this stunning book won Allison ‘Best Designed General Illustrated Book’ at the annual Australian Publishers Association (APA) Book Design Awards 2011.  Very well deserved!

Being a book designer is an odd thing.  It seems to be a somewhat quiet, modest… even ‘hidden’ profession.  You rarely note the name of a book designer when admiring even the most beautiful book – and yet, a cover design can make or break a book’s success!  Lets face it, a striking cover is the main reason most of us pick up a book when leisurely browsing Readings or Metropolis or Ariel or Kinokuniya… BUT how many of us could name our favourite book designer?  Well you can NOW!   It’s Allison Colpoys at Penguin!

In keeping with the ‘quiet achiever’ stereotype, Allison isn’t one to shout her achievements from the rooftops.  After only three years at Penguin, Allison already has an incredible list of awards under her belt… and yet she’s so modest I actually had to coax the list from her!   In 2009 she won ‘Young Designer of the Year’ for a body of work, and ‘Best Designed Children’s Cover’ for Something in the World Called Love by Sue Saliba at the Australian Publishers Association (APA) Book Design Awards.  In 2010 she won ‘Best Designed Reference and Scholarly Book’ for Grand Obsessions by Alasdair McGregor, and just a few weeks ago she was lucky to win ‘Best Designed General Illustrated Book’ for Shack by Simon Griffiths – a truly exquisite book which I’m sure many of you will have admired in bookshops (I have!).  Every page is just so perfectly embellished in keeping with the ‘rustic’ subject matter of the tome… truly stunning.  I can’t imagine I would have picked up a book about garden sheds otherwise!

When looking at her full body of work, it’s clear Allison loves experimenting with illustration, hand drawn type and layering of different textures and irregular patterns – yet each publication entrusted to her has been given it’s own unique treatment – none looks the same at the last.   BOLD colour and splodgy eyecatching shapes for Zoe Foster’s Amazing Face.  Subtlety, restraint and meticulous attention to detail for Brenda Walker’s memoir, Reading by Moonlight and Alasdair McGregor’s Grand Obsessions.  Any writer would be so lucky to have Allison allocated to their manuscript!

Massive thanks to Allison for her time and for sharing her beautiful body of work with us!  Huge thanks also to Arwen Summers at Penguin, who works with Allison and sang her praises so loudly I was compelled to learn more!  Thanks so much for the tip-off Arwen!  She’s not so secret anymore :)

Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?

Hello. I did a Multimedia Design degree at Monash and I absolutely loved the course – 3 years of experimenting with different mediums using all the university’s facilities – what could be better?  I particularly loved Animation and two of my elective subjects: Typography and Illustration.  After a few years freelancing in the multimedia field and a move to London, I began to miss the tactility of print. I got my lucky break when Simon & Schuster in the UK took a punt on me (I didn’t have much print experience at the time) and hired me as a cover designer. I was there for 8 months until my visa ran out.

When I moved back to Australia, I worked at Morrison Media, a magazine publisher in Queensland for a short period, which was brilliant experience as I hadn’t done much text layout for print before. That was a great advantage for when I moved back to Melbourne and had the fortune of getting my current job as a senior designer at Penguin.

A couple of covers designed by Allison before she joined the team at PenguinHarvest Magazine, and a stunning deco-inspired cover for The Beguilings, a poetry book written by Allison’s friend Jessica Raschke.

You’ve won many awards for your beautiful work – including ‘Young Designer of the Year’ at the Australian Publishers Association Book Design Awards in 2009, after only a 18 months at Penguin. Congratulations!  Can you give us a little more info about these awards?  How are they judged, and have these awards marked a significant turning point for your career, your confidence, or both?

Book designers are very lucky in Australia because we have the generous support of the Australian Publishers Association, who organise the annual Book Design Awards. The APA select a varied group of industry professionals to judge the awards each year. ‘Young Designer of the Year’ is awarded to a designer under the age of 35 based on their body of work.  In my case, that included two young adult novels and three fiction titles. I hadn’t thought about it till now, but I think winning this award must have helped my confidence a great deal.

Something in the World Called Love by Sue Saliba – winner of ‘Best Designed Children’s Cover’ at the Australian Publishers Association (APA) Book Design Awards 2009 in Allison’s first year at Penguin.

Grand Obsessions by Alasdair McGregor – winner of ‘Best Designed Reference and Scholarly Book’ in 2010.

I am sure many book lovers would be interested to know a little more about the ‘process’ of designing a book at Penguin! Can you give us an insight into how this happens? Who briefs you, how open or tight is the brief, how long do you get to come up with initial ideas and then create the finished work?

We design both the covers and internals of the books here, and usually there’s a separate brief for each. Some can be very open and others more prescriptive. Our briefs are written by the editors and publishers. They include an outline/synopsis of what the book is about, the manuscript, some key words, what kind of market it’s aimed at, and they’ll also have some suggested cover treatment ideas. These ideas are by no means definitive, more just a guide so we can gauge what the publisher and editor are picturing, or even something to push off against.

Deadlines really vary from project to project as they themselves are so varied, and we usually have many books on the go at the same time. Also, there can sometimes be some super urgent books that get dropped in at the last minute. But if I was to hazard a guess just for covers, on a normal schedule, I would say we have a few weeks to come up with first-round concepts.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

It could be anything from laying out the pages of an illustrated book to working up cover concepts (which a publisher or editor will then look at and provide feedback on), to creating a sample setting for a book (how the pages will look, from chapter headings to page numbers, fonts etc), working on final cover art, a bit of illustration, sketching out ideas in my note book, hassling the production department about finishes (like having a glossy, matte or uncoated cover, or foil on the author’s name), and the occasional photoshoot.

Wild Food by Juleigh Robins, published by Penguin, designed by Allison Colpoys.

What do you love most about your job?

There’s so much to love…

Creating the package to represent the end product of someone’s time, love and passion (I so admire anyone who can write, so I love this aspect of my job).

When what can sometimes be months and months of work turns into a shiny new book that lands in my in-tray.

My colleagues from the design, production, editorial and publishing departments and former Penguin art director Deb Brash.

The manuscripts.

Designing spines.

Illustration. (This is something I’m really passionate about and also something I’d like to improve on! So I love that my job occasionally gives me the opportunity to experiment and include illustration in my projects.)

Working with other creatives, such as photographers, stylists and illustrators.

Alaska by Sue Saliba, published by Penguin, designed by Allison Colpoys – out June 27th! (how beautiful that Allison added the beautiful little illustrated note with publication date especially for us!)

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

So many people inspire me, I don’t know where to start! I’ve always had a natural leaning towards quite serious artists and painters, but I think working in publishing has broadened the range of my artistic appreciation – both in the visual arts and in literature. For example, I love the dark moodiness of Morgan Allender’s work, but I now equally love the crazy and exciting world that Marc Boutavant creates in his children’s illustrations.

But I’ve gotta say, my best friend (and talented designer/art director at MOR cosmetics) Kasia Gadecki is the most inspiring person I’ve ever met.

Where do you look for inspiration when first tackling a new brief? – ie books, magazines, blogs… art, travel, nature?

The first places I look for inspiration are editorial briefs and the manuscripts themselves, but after that there’s no set place – all of the things you suggest in your question and more! Friends, family, music, fashion, markets and secondhand book stores.

What are you most proud of professionally?

I think I’m most proud of both editions of Brenda Walker’s memoir, Reading by Moonlight. I really love Brenda’s writing and admire her greatly so that could be influencing my decision here…

Brenda Walker’s memoir, Reading by Moonlight.  Published by Penguin, designed by Allison Colpoys.

What would be your dream creative project?

Designing a literary series and illustrating a children’s picture book (I’m not actually sure I’m even capable of the latter, but I’d love to give it a go one day).

What are you looking forward to?

A big book that I worked on for months and months to come back from the printers.  I’m looking forward to it, but I also feel very nervous and, to be honest, a bit ill.  I always feel anxious when I send things off to the printer – I don’t think this will ever change.

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey, published by Penguin, designed by Allison Colpoys.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite bookshop in Melbourne to browse beautiful books?

The Paperback Bookshop.

Where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Rumi, Lygon Street Brunswick East. Amazing!

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Bleary eyed, dragging myself around Preston or Vic market to do the weekly grocery shop, cursing myself for sleeping in and not getting there just that bit earlier to avoid the crowds.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

The Melbourne Penguin offices are located in Camberwell and I’ve been here for over 3 years now, and only discovered Collective Espresso about 10 months ago. Hands down the best coffee in Camberwell! And to think, all those wasted years…

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 10th June 2011


  • Ez 5 years ago

    Oh my word! These books are all incredibly gorgeous and beautifully designed. What a talent Allison is. Thank you so much for sharing this lovely post about her and her work.

  • Alison 5 years ago

    What a lovely subject for an interview… thanks Lucy and Allison. Makes me want to head to a bookshop, presto!

  • Ali 5 years ago

    how cool! a friend of a friend (met her at a party) is also a book designer, I think she works at penguin too. before I met her I’d never really thought about who does all that work, I think I just assumed the author chose an artist to do the cover and that was it!

  • handmaderomance 5 years ago

    what a heavenly post!

  • Zoe 5 years ago

    LOVE her work. Thanks for posting on one of my favourite subjects EVER. And, two of my (other) favourite book designers are Jenny Grigg (UQP) and David Pearson (Penguin UK). Check them out too!

  • Jess 5 years ago

    So excited to see today’s post… I really love her work, very very talented. I have a couple of these books which leapt of the shelf due to the design!

  • Katie Frederick 5 years ago

    A coffee recommendation in Camberwell hooray! I love love love your work!

  • Dyani 5 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing – gorgeous work, very inspiring!

  • Clare 5 years ago

    Coralie Bickford is another book designer with a high profile, as is the author of Door 16 blog (though I don’t actually know her name!)

    This was really interesting. I briefly considered trying to get into the publishing trade. I think I would like to be reincarnated as a book designer. It looks fascinating and so satisfying, but I’m not quite cut out for it this lifetime :)

  • clairsy 5 years ago

    I work with Allison – and not only is she super duper talented she’s also the loveliest sweetest girl you’ll meet (so we hate her). (just kidding Al xx)

  • Laura 5 years ago

    What a terrific post about an amazingly talented designer. I also work with Al and can safely say she is also one of the nicest people in the world, and such an inspiration!

  • Marley 5 years ago

    As another one of Allisons admirers and colleagues I can concur with Clairsy and Laura. Not only is she a great designer she’s also a fabulous person. Good work Al! x

  • clea 5 years ago

    beautiful work, really. My dream job actually.. always wanted to design books! ( I also get quite sick every time I send something to the printer!-))

  • msd 5 years ago

    Thanks so much for this interview. Allison has done some really beautiful work. I know the content of a book should be the most important thing but I’m one of those annoying people who can’t buy a book if I don’t like the design of it. I always test read the font, get touchy-feely with the paper and analyse the cover. I’ve also been known to buy a book just because I love the cover. Also, I’m not sure what it is – maybe printing technology has improved? – but book design in general seems to be of a much higher quality across the board than it was a decade or so ago.

  • Zoe Foster 5 years ago

    I am the luckiest squid in the world to have the innovative, gorgeous and fiercely talented Allison Colpoys design my books. She is extraordinary. Just look at those fonts! Those colours! Those marvellous, tantalising covers! Those inside covers! I want to swim in them.

    From the author perspective, it’s a relief to see that your cover and layout is “good”. But when it is “utterly delicious” (see, Face, Amazing) you feel like you’ve won Powerball. (An assumption; I’m yet to actually win it.) You can do the best you can with your words, but the cover is undoubtably the make-or-break for your book, and whenever I see what Al has designed I feel VERY blessed and a little bit smug, because somehow my book just landed The Best Cover Ever. You’re the best, Al!

  • imogen 5 years ago

    Best!! Alllison is a star.

  • kaye baillie 5 years ago

    Had a glorious time scrolling down through Allison’s work. Just beautiful. Oh, to be able to create like that.

  • Barbara 5 years ago

    Gorgeous fonts and really innovative designs. No big surprise on the ‘Young designer of the Year award’! A very special post, thanks Lucy

  • Allison Langton 5 years ago

    Wow! what an absolute talent. Such beautiful work. And by the looks of these comments an absolutely lovely person too.

  • Bridie 5 years ago

    Such beautiful work Allison and my best meal lately was at Rumi too – sensational!

  • Leah M 5 years ago

    So exciting to see Allison’s beautiful work here. She makes it look effortless but imagine the hours must go into every fine detail and decision… Inspiring.

  • OverTheRockFence 5 years ago

    Count me in to the pool of Allison’s colleagues (technically ex-colleague for me, but the memories are fresh) who think she is awesome with a capital ‘SHIT YEAH’. She can do so much so effortlessly, but somehow seems to still worry about every little detail. But maybe that’s what makes her such a great designer. Damn her to hell.

  • Kasia 5 years ago

    My extremely talented & most wonderful friend.
    I’m really happy (& grateful to Lucy) that everyone has the opportunity to see some of the amazing work you do.
    I’m as proud as punch. Actually no, prouder! x

  • littlemiso 5 years ago

    Absolutely amazing work Allison, you are so talented.
    Thanks for shedding some light into the design aspect of the publishing industry – what a great interview.

  • Marcela Restrepo 5 years ago

    Fantastic covers! Love Allison’s work and love Penguin.

  • Angus 5 years ago

    Allison is just amazing at what she does, we love her to pieces and are extremely proud to call her a friend. She’ll smash anything she puts her mind to, a rare talent, humble and brilliant; her brilliance shines brighter and louder than most. Congratumalations Doll! X

  • Lorraine 5 years ago

    This is exactly the reason why I still buy paper books. I love my Kindle, but I can’t show off the beautiful covers on it!

  • Simone 5 years ago

    Thanks for another fantastic post Lucy! Beautiful work from Allison and I just Ioved the interview – lucky authors indeed! :-)

  • Anna 5 years ago

    Allison’s work is truly delightful, and those new book designs are divine! So lovely to see her books as a collective and hear Allison interviewed. Thank you Miss Lucy and Miss Allison. xa

  • Yi-Ling 5 years ago

    Thanks for the lovely interview. I’m studying graphic design and book designer is my dream job!

  • design elements 5 years ago

    heavently post!

  • Bcylady 5 years ago

    Wah! Lucy, i love every pictures and every part of this post. hahahhahha Thank u so much. The book cover designed make reader reading become interesting.

  • Briana 5 years ago

    wow. these books are so beautiful, I want to drop everything and read them all. and then line them up in color order on my living room shelves!

  • little bird big chip 5 years ago

    woah! best job ever? maybe i should retrain?….

  • rachel kara 5 years ago

    Soo freaking good. I love each and every design, I may or may not want to upskill and become a book designer! Plus Penguin – what a dreamy company to work for.

    P.S. Nicest comment on my blog EVER. YOU are ultimate.


  • taner 5 years ago

    through a lifetime of these books have been wonderful, very beautiful

  • Jenny 5 years ago

    I have gazed at my own copy of Wild Food and wondered at its design (and designer, and the process). A wonderful post/interview that I will return to again.

  • debbie 5 years ago

    so inspiring!

  • Rosie Ren 5 years ago

    Whimsical, beautiful and charming. I am so inspired!

  • sara 5 years ago

    beautiful design. beautiful lady. x

  • Beautiful Beautiful work! What a talented lady!

  • Shan 5 years ago

    Wow, I just stumbled across this interview. Well done Allison! I am eternally grateful for your amazing talent, as I get to pimp the Penguin website out with your epic cover art. It just simply wouldn’t look as rad without your work.

    Looking forward to putting some of your work on the Puffin site too in the future :P

  • angela zahs 5 years ago

    Gorgeous!! What an amazing talent. Spectacular designer, with a phenomenal personality. Thank you Allison, for sharing this with us. X

  • claire 5 years ago

    What a talented woman. Her work is amazing! Thanks for sharing x

  • teddi 5 years ago

    i never really did think about book designers before, but it’s true it influences whether I’ll crack the cover or even want to pick it up. Great work shown here!

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