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Woot! This is my third Behind the Design post! Can you believe it? Not only does this please me to no end because it allows me to pick apart designers’ brains, but I’m so glad to finally get to share the thoughts on how Awaken’s cover came to be. Please give a warm welcome to Carol Chu, the designer behind this gorgeous cover:


TCG: There’s definitely something beautiful and melancholy about containing the beauty of a flower in something as simple as a jar. How does this concept relate to Awaken’s story, visually? Did you get a chance to read the novel before starting the design?

CC: I got to read the editor’s synopsis and as I began to search for an image to use on the cover, I was able to get a hold of the manuscript and quickly devoured it. I am a big fan of this particular editor’s acquisitions and the stories she edits. The author is amazingly talented and this was a great story.

TCG: What were your initial ideas for the cover? Do you have some early illustrations/mockups that you can share?

CC: Well, to be honest, intially we pushed for a cover which showed both a girl and a boy (both teens)… This cover direction was shown as an alternative solution. It’s more conceptual and mysterious.


TCG: What is your normal design process after you get a working draft? What were the parts that kept getting tweaked for Awaken?

CC: This cover direction was a completely different direction than the original I showed. The image changed, the type changed…

I created a blown-out bitmap type of pattern around the edge of the cover image, to allude to the digital virtual reality that is questioned in the story. Just a hint!

TCG: What were the easiest parts of the design/process of this cover? The hardest?

CC: Hmm, good question! The easiest part was probably designing the title type treatment after I found a strong image. The hardest part was probably finding that image and then presenting the cover at the cover concept meeting where the editor, publisher, marketing and sales team all weigh in on approving it for the cover.

TCG: What other YA covers have you designed? What’s been your favorite cover that you’ve designed so far?

CC: Here are some covers I did which I particularly liked:



MY BIG NOSE (AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS) won a book cover design award last year, and I loved working on that cover. The author is amazing and so is the editor.


TCG: It’s an awesome cover, and congrats on the award!

Who (artists/illustrators/cover designers/photographers) inspires you?

CC: I used to work at Pushpin for Seymour Chwast and I learned and absorbed as much as I could while I was there. The design department here at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt inspires me daily— we’re all in it together! icon_smile-2173066 Anyone involved in publishing is inspiring, b/c ultimately we’re in the line of work where the goal is to get people to read. You can’t really argue with that! Paula Scher, Henry Sene Yee, Kelly Blair, Peter Mendelsund, John Gall— they are all amazing art directors and designers and I find myself lingering over their work at my local bookstores time and time again.


TCG: Do cover trends play into your ideas for designs? Also, where do you find the balance in prioritizing the message at the heart of a novel and including marketing at the same time? Or, do you feel cover art’s main focus always revolves around the art?

CC: I would love love love to be able to say that the cover’s art main focus always revolves around the art. I really would. This is simply just not the case, especially in an industry which is being challenged not only by the economy but also by other media; the printed book is now just one of many means to enjoy a story. Also, in terms of prioritizing the message at the heart of novel, often times there are different messages for different readers in any given book. Marketing provides context and a sense of the shelf scene out there— and then it’s decided whether we make the book look like the others or we do something different. Either method theoretically sells books!


TCG: Can you please give a brief history of your career as a designer?

CC: I received my master’s in design from the Pratt Institute. I was a designer at Time Inc, working at magazines such as Teen People and InStyle. I later was a designer at Random House Children’s books and now I am associate art director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Thank you so much for the interview, Carol! You can also see more of her portfolio here.

Bryan Williams