Clare Millar interviews Imogen Stubbs, Art Director at Text Publishing.
What did you study?
I took a circuitous route to publishing and a creative career. I didn’t study anything creative in high school, thinking that I wanted to go into health sciences, so I began a Bachelor of Applied Science (Medical Radiations) at RMIT which I never finished.
I talked to a very helpful careers counsellor half way through that course who helped me discover the RMIT Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing. At that stage in my life I was spending my spare time making zines and I hoped I could find a course that would teach me more about magazine layout and production.
The course opened up a whole new world to me, both in learning about the publishing world and meeting wonderful people who have become lifelong friends. I managed to get a job doing typesetting at a small publisher mid-way through the diploma and after working there full-time for a year decided I wanted more graphic design skills, so also did a Diploma of Graphic Design at RMIT.
What is the most useful skill you learned in your diplomas? And what was the most enjoyable part of your studies?
In the writing course learning about the publishing process and how books are made was extremely useful, especially coupled with editing, grammar and InDesign subjects. Just seeing how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. It also helped cement that I didn’t want to be a writer, and that I really enjoyed the technical side of things: typesetting and production.
In the graphic design course, because it was a diploma and more technically focussed I got a thorough knowledge of how to use the Adobe Creative Suite—from design and typesetting, to prepress and production. I gained skills that gave me confidence going into production roles in publishing and being able to talk to printers and know things were set-up correctly.
It also gave me the time and space to be creative and get feedback on design, learn how to use constructive feedback and how to come up with and refine ideas. And it certainly pushed me in terms of deadlines and workload—they pack a lot into the two years—which has helped in handling publishing work. It also helped cement that I really enjoyed publishing and wanted to continue in that field, instead of moving into advertising or something more straight down the line graphic design.
What does a typical day look like for you? What skills make you successful in doing that?
I’ve moved through a few different roles during my time at Text Publishing, starting as a publishing coordinator and marketing designer and moving up to my current role of art director. I oversee the design and production side of things at Text and manage a team of two.
A typical day often involves some managerial and organisational tasks like scheduling, cover or WIP meetings and emails. I’ll be working on the production of that month’s books, finalising the cover and internals to send to print, liaising with the editor and printer. I have a handful of book design projects on the go at any one time, so I could be reading manuscripts for them, doing image research, briefing an illustrator or working up concepts, as well as giving feedback on other designs. And throughout it all there’s a lot of conversations happening with colleagues in all departments around books at different stages of the publishing process.
I think the skills that you need in this kind of role to be successful are split into two sides that converge at many points. On one side you need to be highly organised, a good communicator and able to juggle many projects and ideas at once. And on the other you need to be able to block out everything else to focus on designing and thinking creatively for a book design.
How has your role changed during the pandemic?
My role hasn’t changed greatly during the pandemic, we’ve just had to find new ways to do things in the work from home environment. Like everyone else we’re started using Zoom for meetings and Slack in place of office chat. We hired a new production coordinator just before we started working from home, so it’s been interesting not being able to train them in person and trying to integrate them into a company that’s only online. But we’ve made it through a year and it now seems like second nature.
At Text you were previously book designer and production manager. How have you grown in your Art Director role?
I took on the role of Art Director when the Creative Director took a six month sabbatical. It was a really big challenge and not one I felt I had much experience in, as I was still developing in the book design position. It was a steep learning curve but a satisfying one, and an honour to be given the responsibility of running the book design program at Text. I had to learn to juggle designing covers while also engaging freelancers, writing briefs, providing feedback and being the liaison between the external and internal parties.
How does your role fit into the whole team?
In production and design we’re a team of four: a production coordinator, a senior designer, myself and a creative director. And Text Publishing at the moment is currently 23 people in departments across editorial, rights, finance, export, digital, sales, publicity and marketing.
Your design work has received much recognition at the Australian Book Design Awards in the last few years. How does this feel?
It’s an enormous honour and delight. I remember when I first started in book publishing, marvelling over the awards shortlists each year, and when I started at Text I got to go to the awards night and it all seemed like such a wonderful community of like-minded and highly talented people, all with their own unique styles and voices. I never imagined back then that I’d be listed among them and be lucky enough to have won one. The standard in Australia is extremely high, so it means a lot.
You’ve previously worked at other small publishers. How does your current work differ?
The previous company I worked at was a much smaller team, of around 5 people, and I started as a typesetter and moved up to production manager over time. My role there mainly consisted of internal book design, typesetting, running print schedules and liaising with international printers. My current role is much more design focussed and I also get to be part of the bigger publishing picture, reading for acquisition and attending meetings to discuss ideas for how to bring books out into the world. I get to work closely with all facets of the company and it’s fun to be part of the whole process and not feel constrained to just one area.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
I’m always proud of designing a cover that helps a book find its way in the world, that’s a real privilege and honour.
A selection of Imogen’s work is displayed above. For more, see her website.