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Three cheers for Kristin Smith, Penguin’s creative energy behind Five Flavors of Dumb’s cover design. She was kind enough to let me harass her with endless cover-related questions. For my first official interview with a designer on the blog, Kristin knocked it out of the park.

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

I knew right from the start after reading DUMB, that I wanted to show the cover as a split-world image. I also knew that there had to be a focus on the band/music/grunge feeling, but that Piper needed to be the main focus as the manager (center of the band). So, in my head, I started to play with the ideas of foreground, middle ground and background in order to show the importance of the images.


Having a pretty clear idea from the very beginning, I developed the 1st tight comp (pictured above). The overall type design was being still thought out, but this was my first “photo sketch” to show my ideas.

What was the design process once you got a solid working draft for Dumb? What were the parts that kept getting tweaked? Choice of font? Color scheme? Photos?

While working on this cover I did a lot of brainstorming at first, rather than creating a bunch of photoshopped comps. This isn’t my typical design process, usually I think out my ideas by developing a lot of comps, and playing with different concepts. But, I had a pretty clear concept in mind, and decided to take a chance by building the idea into a tight cover, and only showing the one comp to my Art Director, Editor and Publisher. Once I found the stock photo of “Piper” after days of photo-researching, I immediately had my Aha! Moment. I completely loved everything about the girl, her clothes, and her stance…and knew exactly what to do.


Because Grunge/Rock music was a big part of the story, I wanted to get the Grunge feel and texture worked into the cover…which led to the wall of ripped concert posters. I really wanted to show the gritty music scene, and the type of venues that rock bands play in. I wanted to look at the cover as if you’re on the outside of the club, you read the Title, and then you are led into the concert. Piper is right there dead center, sort of the guardian/protector of the band. I felt the best way to show that she is a manager or “with” the band, was to have her be cool, confident and a little tough. I wanted her to be looking right at the reader while the concert is going on, and everyone in the crowd is paying attention to the band.

I also didn’t want to work out a concept that would call attention to the fact that she is deaf…because there is so much more to Piper’s character than that. I didn’t want people to think that the story was just about a deaf girl. I did however want her to be removed from the band and music in some way to play with the idea of her being deaf, so I like that she almost looks like she doesn’t know what is happening behind her…even though there is a band playing and a large screaming crowd. There is a lot of energy behind her but she’s so still and removed from everyone. The photo of the girl isn’t exactly how I initially imagined Piper, but I think she represents her in a good way. Kind of showing how she is on the inside, and how she grows as a person.


You can see from the photo-sketch comp that the lower half was still very rough and needed to be thought out more. I had A LOT of photos with the rough wall/poster texture. I kept placing them into my file, rotating them, and looking at them from all interesting angles. This took a while, but I finally found the right one that had the right amount of color, and enough grit.


The color scheme of the concert lights was shifted a lot to have the right balance, and enough depth of color. Also after a lot of photo researching, I added the band in on the right of the concert after the 1st comp, and had to play with the right size and position so that it would have the right perspective. Finally, I really like the font for the title, but I tweaked the type a lot playing with different sizes and emphasis on the word DUMB so that it would stand out and make the Title look more like a stamp.

Did you have a photographer/model that provided the photo, or did you work with stock?

The cover was created by using all Stock Photography. The photos came from many sources, and I pieced them all together. Once the cover was complete, I ended up using about 8 photos to achieve the Final cover image. I used most of the photos to create the textures and backgrounds so that there would be depth, and not look too pasted together or flat. The photo of the girl is from Getty Images, and the photographer is Eric Van Den Brulle.

Did you have a say in the final print, the feel of its texture?

Yes, all of the designers in our group have to think about how the book will finally be printed. We get to think of all the special effects: Foil stamping, embossing, debossing, Matte Lamination, Gloss Lamination, Spot Lamination, Paperstock….just to name a few. We see what we can work with within the budget for the book, and then we can decide what would make our cover image and type design look it’s best. Thinking out the Final Printing of a book, is a huge part of book design. Once the image came together, I knew that it had to be printed with a Grit Matte Lamination for added texture, then I chose to have the title debossed with Spot Lamination on it…I wanted it to look like it was stamped on the book/wall.

What were the easiest parts of the design/process? The hardest?

The easiest part would have to be that everyone decided to go with the 1 comp image that I designed. Normally this can be a grueling process where you design comp after comp, and then getting everyone to agree on a concept, or if it’s the right direction for it’s market and readership. Once I knew the direction and concept was approved, I was free to play with the imagery and get everything to balance out and look right for the Final approval.

The hardest part would be working with mulitiple photos for the Foreground/Middleground/Background perspective and have it all look ok and blended together. I wasn’t setting out to create a realistic world that Piper could live in, I wanted it to be faked and graphic, but I also wanted the 3 parts to work well together. I guess the hardest part of that was convincing the viewer that she should be squatting in that spot, and having her look grounded at the same time. Fading the poster wall, into the floor for her to squat on and have it look just right was pretty tricky.


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

I’ve been working as a Children’s Book Designer since 2000. I graduated from SUNY New Paltz in 2000, and had a summer internship with MTV in New York City. I had been applying to many different types of design positions, but really wanted to design Children’s books. I got very lucky and got a position as a design assistant at Simon & Schuster working on picture books, and started the September after my internship. I worked there for over 4 years, and had the chance to work with so many wonderful and amazing illustrators.

I mainly worked on the picture books, but started to help out one of my Art Directors on some of the novels for young readers. I really became interested in designing Novel covers, and really wanted to start working in that area of Children’s Book Design. I love being able to read a book, and develop a concept or single image that represents the whole story. So, I ended up moving over to Pengiun Books, and got a position as a designer for Young Readers Novels. I’ve been working at Penguin in the Puffin/Young Readers Design Group for over 5 years, and am now a Senior Designer.

Thanks again for the in-depth look at Dumb’s cover, Kristin! Most of all, thanks for designing it in the first place and letting me geek out over it. icon_wink-6745856

Bryan Williams