Kimberly Glyder: On work, balance, and working with good people

Kimberly Glyder: On work, balance, and working with good people


Kimberly Glyder: On work, balance, and working with good people


March 10th, 2010

I don’t remember the first time I became aware of Kimberly Glyder’s work—probably while reading some piece in a design annual or something. Regardless, I was an instant fan. She seemed to have such a good grasp of her material, and above all, a design sense that penetrated deep into the mood of the content.

I also recall feeling particularly attracted to her appropriate use of decorative elements in her design, as well as her uncanny use of type and color—it all seemed so well informed and stylistically fluid.

You could chalk it up to good research or a great brief, but it was deeper than that for me. To me, it felt like Kimberly became one with the time period in which the novel she was designing for took place. That shined through in her design decisions as something that you felt viscerally —a mood or a sense of what you were about to read.

And isn’t that what this book design thing is all about? Our goal as designers is to give readers that special entrance into a world different than their own—if even for a split second.

During the last couple of years, I’ve connected with Kimberly via Twitter and her blog, Shelved Books. Whenever she posts a new project, people take note—those within the design community as well as outsiders offer accolades and express their hearty approval of her consistently good work.

Kimberly continues to impress me with her work, but what amazes me on an entirely different note is that she has a baby daughter. This intrigued me because it was clear that since having a child, her work didn’t suffer an iota. How was she doing it?! What was her secret to capitalizing on the few precious, semi-awake hours of a mother’s day to continue creating brilliant book covers?

It puzzled me, to say the least. I’ve certainly heard of designers throwing their “official” design careers out the window once they have kids. Something was not adding up. I had to ask.

Tell me more about your educational background. I suppose you could start from when you were a young kid. Did art figure into your childhood? Where did you later go to school for design?

My mom is an artist and my dad has always been an avid reader, so from an early age I loved both art and books. I had no idea it would turn into what I’m doing now, though I always studied art and figured that would be the direction I’d go in.

In high school, I went to an intense art magnet program for a few years. I also made zines combining art and text, and I played in bands so saw a lot of handmade flyers, posters and record sleeves for music. Those experiences made an impression on me.

Eventually I went on to the Rhode Island School of Design, first as a painting major, then illustration and finally graphic design. My favorite class was poster design, taught by Nancy Skolos. That area of design, which is like a close sibling to book-cover design, was where I felt most comfortable. It didn’t hurt that Nancy encouraged me, which was a confidence booster.

Is there an official “first” book cover that you designed?
I can’t remember the first cover that I designed at Da Capo Books, but Picture was an early one.

What was your first job out of college? How did you get your start in this whirlwind of an industry?
I started freelancing right out of college with print-design firms and then moved into exhibit design. The pace of exhibit design is quite different than what I do now because you only work on a couple of projects at a time.  

My first job was to design a gallery at the National Museum of Australia, which required fast learning. I still love exhibit design and the collaborative process it affords working with exhibit designers and content developers.

My goal, though, was to work in book design, so when a job came up at Da Capo, I was lucky enough to be hired. Although I had little print experience, Alex Camlin took a chance on me. Later, a move away from Boston forced me into freelance, and it stuck.

Who were some of your mentors/design heroes?
It’s true that you become a better designer when you’re surrounded by talented people. Alex was a great influence. His type and color sensibility is spot on.

As for people who I admire—for a few years while I lived in Boston, I would meet my then-boyfriend (now husband) at a bookstore close to our apartment every day after work. That’s a lot of time perusing books, but in my case, book covers. I would say more than half of the books that I picked up had the name John Gall on the back. Another sizable portion had Henry Sene Yee’s name on the back.

Everyone seems to have great pieces in their portfolios these days. That said, I consistently admire the work of Peter Mendelsund, Alison Forner, Evan Gaffney, Ben Gibson, Jonathan Gray, Kelly Blair, Emily Mahon and Deb Wood (for her book work).
You consistently produce beautiful work. Do you work from home? If so, how do you balance your family’s needs while maintaining your vibrant design practice? I know for myself, it’s a big challenge. I wake up about 7 a.m. and don’t actually get working until around 11 a.m. Even then, I’m haunted by the fact that my newborn will wake up from a nap any minute or my 3-year-old will barge in asking for yet another snack. Working from home has its merits but also its drawbacks. How do you do it?
I have a home studio, which is a place that affords me quiet and focus. It’s packed with things I love: design books, sentimental objects and art.

Being a working parent is a new phase in my freelance career, as I worked for six years on my own before having my daughter. Frankly, I’m still adjusting to the change. A lot of people told me not to let art directors know that I have a child. That all went out the window with Facebook, where half the people I work with can figure it out (sorry for all the kid pics, everyone).

For the first year after I had my daughter, I had no childcare at all, which isn’t something I would normally announce except that as of 2010 I have some help. It’s a lot of late nights, a lot of multitasking. In general, given the schedule of a freelancer working with 25-plus different clients at any given time, I’ll be brutally honest and say I don’t think it’s feasible for the long term at a full-time pace. Doable, but just barely. That’s my perspective as the full-time childcare provider, as my husband (a book editor with a company in New York) has a time-consuming, full-time position as well.

Work comes in at a good pace and also for a range of genres. Maintaining a schedule is an art form, I think. Remembering the ins and outs of each publisher/art director’s process can be a challenge.

It might be because I’m less experienced at this book-design thing than others, but for the most part, my mind is always thinking about a project and how to solve it, and my eyes are always looking—trying to find inspiration. How does your mind work? Do you find that you’re always thinking about your work, or do you simply sit down when you’re ready to begin and let the magic unfold?
Because of my schedule, I tend to have books in the pipeline for a while before I’m able to actually get to them. It’s good in some ways because concepts have a chance to brew. I always sketch first, and that works as an outline for where I need to go. Typically, I also figure out if there are any hand-drawn elements involved, and I get to work on those ideas earlier. The projects that progress the best for me are the ones in which I read a brief or talk to an art director and ideas crop up right away. Reading the manuscript is key, though.

As for my design process, one thing I love is type. Although some designers use a handful of faces (and quite successfully at that), I enjoy working with a range of type. A typeface is a starting point rather than an endpoint for a lot of my work. After reading a manuscript and sketching, many times I look at type before doing any image research. I find inspiration in typefaces and like to think of type as image.

Ideas used to come to me while I’m sitting in my studio, but I’m much more mobile these days. Wherever my laptop is, I’m there, working and thinking. I have to admit, my husband is a great sounding board and he usually eyes my comps first. He is an editor, after all, and we all know who really approves the covers…

Some designers are very obvious in their expression of type as image—Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister and David Carson, to name a few. Looking at your work, I see a wide range of typefaces. You clearly are comfortable with complimentary type combos. What are some examples of your work that embody this?

A few recent designs come to mind: Dear Money, Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto, and the McCorkle series.

Who are some of your favorite publishers and art directors to work with?
I can tell you this: Having an art director who is engaged in the project is not only helpful, it makes for a much smoother design process. Michaela Sullivan and Martha Kennedy at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are wonderful to work with, as are Anne Winslow at Algonquin Books, Henry Yee at Picador, and Allison Saltzman at Ecco. Also, Martha Sewall at Johns Hopkins University Press and I have worked well together on large-book projects, which is something I love to do but don’t have much time for.

The publishing company Counterpoint (helmed by Jack Shoemaker) is one of the oldest publishing relationships I have as a freelancer. (That relationship goes all the way back to when they had their former name, Shoemaker & Hoard, and they were based in Washington, D.C. and I would walk to their office from my apartment.)

My favorite projects are those in which I feel like someone is on my side when they go in to show covers. You can tell when you work with an art director if that’s going to be the case.

On my end, I realize the difficult position an art director is in—between the designer and their in-house colleagues. It’s a tough job, dealing with all those personalities and viewpoints. Despite the revisions and occasional setbacks, working for talented designers pushes me every day to do better work.

How do you stay inspired? What are your hobbies that are somewhat removed from your work that help you balance your life?
I find balance by getting out of the house/studio as often as possible. I moved to the Philadelphia area three years ago without knowing much about the city, so exploring new areas has been a great way to stay inspired.

My blog, Shelved Books, is definitely work-related, but it motivates me nonetheless. A lot of design goes unpublished—some good, some not so good. But it’s the process that counts, and it’s interesting to reflect on how ideas come about.

Where do you see your career culminating? Would you be happy ending up as an art director? Or do you see yourself doing design work for many years to come—with your own two hands?
I’d love to work on more large-book projects—cover and interiors. I enjoy creating the pacing of a book’s text and images. Packaging design and restaurant branding seem appealing to me as well.

I’d always imagined working as an art director someday, but I’m not sure how that fits into my current situation.

You have worked on a multitude of books. Do you have a genre that you especially enjoy designing for? What are some of your top titles in terms of the final design being in conjunction with the book being real swell, too?
I wouldn’t say I have a favorite genre. If I work on the same subject too many times in a row, it can get difficult. Variety is the best.

A few of our clients include…

Client logos