Meet the Designers!


Earlier this year, the 50 Books | 50 Covers list announced that our very own Penguin Random House colleagues were behind eight titles on the list. The highly competitive list celebrates compelling and striking design. We asked the designers what inspires them, the process behind creating such powerful work, and how they arrived at this junction in their career.

See their responses below! 


Lizzie Allen’s Favorite Covers & More 

Professionally and personally, how did you get into book design?  

I have always loved books! After studying graphic design in college, I was hired at Ten Speed Press. I’ve been there ever since, learning the specialized skills that go into cover design, interior design, and art direction from the many talented designers on my team. 

What’s the first step in coming up with a book design that feels authentic and compelling? 

It’s a very important first step in the process at Ten Speed for a book’s editor and designer to meet with the author and hear directly from them what their vision is for the design—what sorts of fonts, colors, and photography or illustration styles they are drawn to. From there, I put my graphic design knowledge to use and synthesize what I’ve heard into designs that are unique to each project. It’s a very collaborative process between authors, editors, and me. I do a lot of research to find just the right typeface and color palette for each book, and try to keep on top of design trends to make sure that the books I design will pop off the shelves in bookstores. 

Favorite book you’ve designed and why? 

HOT SPRINGS by Greta Rybus (forthcoming, Spring 2024). I had a wonderful collaboration with photojournalist Greta Rybus, who traveled around the world to photograph and write about hot springs and the people who enjoy them. We worked together to create photo pairings and layouts that do justice to her stunning photographs. The cover is quite unexpected, which I love. It’s a shot of tiles at the bottom of a pool in Japan which are distorted by the water to create an almost psychedelic effect. 

Tell us 5 books that inspire you!  

AFROSURF by Mami Wata 

DISHOOM by Shamil Thakrar 

McMaster Carr Catalogs

LIVING AND EATING by John Pawson and Annie Bell 



Mia Johnson’s Favorite Covers

Professionally and personally, how did you get into book cover design? 

I have always loved books, of course! And being an artist from an early age, art books in particular were a huge source of inspiration and learning for me. When I graduated from undergrad in San Francisco with a degree in art and design, I was lucky enough to get hired into the Chronicle Books Design Fellowship, where I learned the foundations of illustrated book design. Being thrust right into the heart of the 4-color book world was absolutely thrilling, and I was hooked. My career designing covers and interiors of art and design books began there and has grown and flourished since!

How do you apply your personal design style to each new project and how does it evolve project to project? 

Something I love about the work I do is constantly reinventing and reimagining what a book design can be, based on the unique project at hand. Every book is completely different, and every author has a unique personality and point of view that I strive to translate in the book’s visual form. With each book, I try to represent the content and voice in the most fitting visual way that I can, in the way that looks most beautiful to me. I don’t ever really think about my own “style” as I work, but I’m told my work and style are recognizable, so I know I must have one! I think the best way to create appealing designs is to make designs that appeal to you—so walking that line and marrying my own aesthetic up with the author’s is the sweet spot. 

Favorite cover you’ve designed and why? 

Oh this is so hard! I have so many favorites. I’ve always loved my cover for the book PATTERNS OF INDIA, and it remains to this day the only cover design I’ve had unanimously approved on the very first round! Recently, my cover design for EATING FROM OUR ROOTS was a highlight, I just went big and bold with it, and had so much fun with the design. I’m so happy the team was on board. Christine Han’s photos for the book were so vibrant and beautiful, which is the only way a design so colorful and active could work without overpowering the photography. HOW TO LIVE WITH OBJECTS and VINO were also covers where I went outside the box of what might be expected of an interior design book, or a book about wine, with the intent of transforming them into beautiful objects themselves. I am so proud of the result, and am amazed and honored to see them recognized by AIGA this year. 

Tell us 5 book covers that inspire you! 

Another tough one, there is so much beauty out there in book design right now. A few current favorites:  

ON FLOWERS, designed by Giulia Garbin 

HOW WILD THINGS ARE, designed by Daniel New 

MISTER JIU’S IN CHINATOWN, designed by Lizzie Allen 

WINTERING, designed by Lauren Peters Collaer 

The A24 Screenplay Collection, designed by Actual Source 


Kaitlin Kall’s Covers

Professionally and personally, how did you get into book cover design? 

As a lifelong reader, I have always appreciated fun covers at the library. I would notice that the back flaps listed the cover designers’ names, and I began noting who created my favorite covers. When I got to college, I discovered graphic design, and after a bit of a winding path, decided to major in it. After graduating, I applied to several positions at Penguin and was lucky enough to be hired as the Putnam junior designer almost 10 years ago. 

How do combine modern and vintage elements to produce timeless design? 

I begin by looking at posters/ephemera from the relevant time period and studying the visual language; I also collect a lot of images and typography. After I’ve done my research and have a good idea of the time period’s visual cues, I start putting elements together! Having lots of references also helps me see patterns and pull little moments that nod but don’t scream nostalgia; this way the cover still feels contemporary. 

Favorite cover you’ve designed and why? 

It’s impossible to choose! But since I must… I’d choose the THIRST by Marina Yuszczuk. This genre-blurring debut about desire, female agency, and power was just so fun to work on.

Show us 5 book covers that inspire you! 

Kaitlin’s 5 Favorite Covers


Vi-An’s Covers

Professionally and personally, how did you get into book cover design? 

Let’s just say I took the scenic route. I always loved to draw and make things, but it didn’t occur to me to make a career out of art. I wanted to do anything other than what I was pushed toward (doctor, engineer), so I went with what my teachers told me I was good at: writing. To my parents’ dismay, I majored in journalism and my first several jobs were at magazines. While there, I finally noticed that writing and editing made me miserable (I’d rather just read!) and I was incredibly jealous of the creative folks in the art department. So I took some graphic design classes, taught myself some basics, and begged some art directors to give me a chance. Luckily, some did (shoutout to Anthony Ramondo!) 

Name three things most people don’t know about book cover design. 

First, I think most people, even within book publishing, would be surprised to see how many cover designs are produced for each book before one is anointed the winner. It can take dozens and dozens of covers to get to one that’s approved by all the different folks involved. Second, there’s a belief out there that authors don’t get a say in their covers. Well, for me at least, the author’s opinion is the one I value the most! And third, you can put your own cat on a book cover. Had I known this at the outset, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to get into this field. 

Favorite cover you’ve designed and why? 

Sophie’s choice! I’ll always have a soft spot for my first-ever cover, HOW NOT TO DIE ALONE by Richard Roper. I’ll never forget the meeting where it was shown to the publishing team: the room laughed when it came up on screen! In a good way, I think! Once the book was published, people on social media were throwing flowers at their own faces to recreate the illustration. What a joy to have my work resonate with people and inspire them to be silly and playful. 

Tell us 5 book covers that inspire you! 

FREAKONOMICS was the first book cover that made me think about book covers. The orange inside the apple is so clever and is still riffed on to this day. FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK is such a fresh take on the modern romance cover—kudos to the art team behind it and everyone who was open-minded enough to approve it. STRANGERS I KNOW made me stop in my tracks—it’s such an arresting image and a brave choice to do a black-and-white photograph when everything else right now is a colorful illustration. XL by Scott Brown makes me want to make my own designs smarter and cleaner—that negative space! LIFE ITSELF by Roger Ebert shows us how type alone can say everything. So hard to only say five but I really love all of those. 

Lauren Peters-Collaer, THRUST and STRANGERS I KNOW 

Lauren Peters-Collaer

Professionally and personally, how did you get into book cover design? 

I got into book cover design in a somewhat circuitous way. I studied mathematics in undergrad and worked in a very different capacity before eventually going back to school for design. One of my teachers there was an art director at a publishing house and she was my initial entrée into this world. I was hooked immediately! 

How do you honor your personal style when designing varying book covers for different titles / authors? 

Of course there will be certain tools that come most naturally to any given designer, but I find that with book cover design, it’s best not to lean too heavily on one style. Instead, I like to let the manuscript lead the way. Working on the incredible titles that Riverhead publishes is an immense privilege. It’s impossible not to be fully enveloped and invested in each book’s unique world, and that evokes a reverence and desire to respond to each individually. 

Favorite cover you’ve designed and why? 

It’s difficult for me to separate the design from the book in my mind so it feels impossible to pick a favorite! 

Where do you find inspiration, in the arts or otherwise? 

I find inspiration all over—through more traditional means like art books, museums, and other design, but also through music, architecture, and just walking around the city. Ultimately though, the manuscripts themselves are the real source of inspiration. 


Posted: September 29, 2023