An interview with Pamela Schnitter, member of the Book, Jacket & Journal Committee

The Book, Jacket, and Journal Show is a juried design competition, open only to AAUP member publishers. Every fall the call-for-entries is distributed, and in January, the jurors gather in AAUP’s New York offices to examine hundreds of submissions and select the very best examples of book, journal, and cover designs. The Book, Jacket & Journal Committee comprises seven members who are charged with selecting judges for the AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show, soliciting donations of paper and printing for the call for entries, as well as the catalog and the award certificates. The committee members are also responsible for designing the call for entries, the web theme, the catalog, the signage, and the awards certificate itself. Chris Lapinski, Design Coordinator at PUP, interviewed Pamela Schnitter, a designer and member of the Book, Jacket & Journal Committee.

Pam Schnitter

Judges discussing submissions. From left to right: Kimberly Glyder, Henk van Assen, Daphne Geismar, Benjamin Shaykin

 

What inspired you to join the Committee?

I was determined to keep the show vibrant and current, especially in terms of publishing e-books and thinking of additional award categories, such as marketing and web design. It might be too early to implement a straight e-book design category — that seems to be out of our hands currently — but maybe in the future. As the publishing world evolves, I strongly believe there are other categories we need to think about in order to remain relevant and vibrant.

What was your most challenging responsibility?

The most challenging responsibility was also the most rewarding, and that was selecting the jurors. They had to be from outside the AAUP community, though they didn’t necessarily have to be designers. So I had to do a lot of research. I reviewed portfolios and websites, read letters of recommendation. It was very tricky because of the pressure to get the right people.

Did you have any preferences?

I felt that some of the jurors should be teachers because of their experience in assessing other designers’ work and giving good feedback. I also wanted individuals with a cutting edge and inspirational style. As it turned out, all except one were teachers. We tried to select a broad range of individuals from the East Coast and the West Coast, though we ended up with a significant number of jurors from RISD [Rhode Island School of Design]. Most had a background in trade publishing.

Did you notice that trade designers had a different outlook than university press designers?

No, I think the two worlds have really come together.

What was the most gratifying part of your experience?

Working with others in the AAUP community, and particularly with other designers, both within AAUP and outside. Learning from them, sharing new ideas about design — that was especially rewarding. And then seeing how it all came together — it was fun watching the jurors get along so well.

Were there any interesting lessons you learned?

When designers become judges, I realized how important it is to give them space to form their own opinions. I felt they should be unhindered in making the best and most honest assessment of other people’s work.

Do you recommend that others consider joining the committee?

Absolutely. It’s great to have contact with other designers and to share our experiences. It’s also a commitment: the committee requests that you stay on for a few years to learn the responsibilities of being a member and to make the transition easier. That’s something to take into consideration, but it’s worthwhile.

Snapping photos at dinner after panel discussion. From left to right: Daphne Geismar, Benjamin Shaykin, Kimberly Glyder, Henk van Assen

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Maria Lindenfeldar

#UpWeek

In honor of University Press Week, we’ve been featuring interviews and posts with members of the Princeton University Press community. Today, Maria Lindenfeldar, Creative Director, shares some thoughts on the tension between the personal element of creative work and the practical requirements of a job in design:

Maria LindenfeldarHow long have you worked in design and how did you enter publishing?

I have worked in some form of art and design since college. My explorations have included: painting, architecture, art history, and interior design. I finally honed in on graphic design in my late twenties while working as a writer in the marketing department of a benefits consulting firm—our proposals were great to read but needed help with how they looked! From there, I discovered the subfield of book design and have been in love with it ever since.

How is working in design for a publishing company unique from other industries?

In my experience, publishing attracts smart, engaged, and idealistic people in a proportion greater than other industries.

Your title is creative director. Can you describe what your work encompasses?

A joke among designers is that the higher you rise on the creative ladder, the narrower your toolkit becomes, ultimately requiring just one tool: email. There’s some truth to that. I no longer design books on a regular basis and most of my day is spent keeping multiple balls in the air. On its most basic level, I see my job as that of a facilitator. I am lucky to work with incredibly talented artists who are able to bring physical form to an idea. My role is to make sure that they have the information they need to do that to the best of their abilities. This requires an open forum for discussing ideas and a firm commitment to the value of multiple opinions. Everyone involved in the creative process—editors, authors, designers, sales, marketing, publicity—has something to contribute, and my job is to sustain an environment where that can happen. I am proud of the award-winning results our collective efforts produce.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love looking at the finished catalog each season, admiring the beautiful book jackets, and thinking about how we can be even better next time.

What’s the most difficult aspect?

By far, the most difficult aspect is the inherent tension between the personal element of creative work and the practical requirements of the job. To make beautiful and original things, a designer has to invest herself or himself, drawing from a deep well of visual references and experience. In its best form, the alchemy of the design process is magical and surprising even to the maker. The hard reality (and the most difficult thing to explain to less-experienced designers) is that even great and innovative designs get rejected, sometimes for very good reasons. The design approval process is a real-life extension of the art school critique system; it requires sharing ideas and depersonalizing feedback. On the job, the never-ending challenge is to digest commentary, determine what is useful, and incorporate that into the final product. I think everyone should go to art school—it forces you to develop a thick skin!

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to break into the field?

Be honest with yourself. Don’t go into graphic design because you think it’s a “practical” career with more guarantees than say, life as an artist. It’s not—it’s competitive and difficult. On the flip side, if you are passionate about art and ideas and are willing to work hard, there will be a place for you. To find out more about the field, take a really good typography course at an art school. Many of the designers I admire have broad educations in disciplines as varied as philosophy, music, and film. What they all have in common is that they are good conceptual thinkers who love type.

Any career paths you’d have pursued in an alternate universe?

I was a government major who planned to be a lawyer. Go figure!

Congrats to Our Designers!

The Casual Optimist, a blog about books, book design, book culture, and publishing, has recognized PUP designers Amanda Weiss and Chris Ferrante in Notable Book Covers for 2015.

Maria Lindenfeldar, PUP Art director noted, “It’s thrilling to see PUP designers listed along with some of the best-known names in book design—John Gall, David Pearson and Coralie Bickford-Smith, among others. Congratulations to Amanda, Chris, the design team, and all of the people at the Press who make it possible to produce such great books.”

We couldn’t agree more.

First The First Book
Jesse Zuba
Jacket design by Amanda Weiss
English One Day in the Life of the English Language
Frank L. Cioffi
Cover design by Chris Ferrante