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10 Questions for theBookDesigners

How do Alan (in San Fransisco) and Ian (in Oregon) run such a successful design studio?

10 Questions for theBookDesigners

How do Alan (in San Fransisco) and Ian (in Oregon) run such a successful design studio?

This is 10 Questions, an interview series between INABC and our talented friends from the Book Cover Designers’ Directory. Today, meet theBookDesigners! Alan Dino Hebel and Ian Koviak formed this studio back in 2005, and they’ve been friends for even longer. This two-man studio handles on hundreds of book projects every year, all while the founders live in two different U.S. states. You can visit the studio’s portfolio site here.

1. Visually take us through your professional journey. Create a diagram that summarizes your career to date.

2. When did you realize that you wanted to become a book cover designer?

Alan Dino Hebel: Immediately after college, I followed my brother Jonathan (now deceased) to work at a small publisher in San Francisco. I didn’t specifically want to get into publishing, but it was my first graphic design job, and I haven’t looked back since.

Ian Koviak: My father designed book covers for Marc J. Cohen and Susan Mitchell, so I saw much of that type of work growing up. I can’t say I wanted to be a book designer when I went to college to study graphic design, but I did really admire magazine design, and magazine spreads can often be just as involved conceptually and visually as book covers. Alan and his brother asked me to come to San Francisco in 1999 to work with them at a small publisher. I packed my guitar and drove out (I was in South Carolina at the time) and haven’t looked back since.

3. Where do you work?

Alan Dino Hebel: I work from my home in the Bay Area of San Francisco. I have an adjustable standing/sitting desk, and my window faces a view of Mt. Tamalpais. My youngest kids are usually playing with toys around me and I occasionally work at a café to get some space or take important meetings.

Ian Koviak: When I lived closer to Alan, back in the Bay Area, we had a studio together and often commuted by bike. I’ve now lived in Oregon for about 15 years and work mostly from home in a dedicated office area in our 100-year-old home. When the kids were younger, I occasionally rented office spaces to get some focused work hours.

4. Tell me about an embarrassing moment at work or a big mistake you made. We’ve all been there.

Alan Dino Hebel: Geez. Where do I start? I once was working on a re-print edition of a book and we were simply updating some elements on the cover. We wrapped up the job quickly and sent it off to press. A few weeks later, the books arrived, and the author’s name was missing from the cover. Apparently, when updating the files, I had turned off the author name layer. All that was left was the spot varnish layer. So the only way you could see the author’s name was if you angled the book in the light and the spot varnish gloss “revealed” it. It was awful. The books had to be re-jacketed and reprinted. Ouch.

Ian Koviak: My life as a designer is basically one mistake after another. I look at the work I created years ago, and I’m royally embarrassed. I look at the work I did a few days ago, and I’m terribly ashamed.

5. Describe your usual work schedule. Everyone’s is different.

Alan Dino Hebel: Ian and I are pretty disciplined and have a very strong work ethic. Maybe it was our years at various ashrams growing up. But we generally start our day at around 8:30 AM and check in by phone. We discuss our personal lives, projects that are on our plate, difficult clients, and how to tackle and tag-team certain projects (I tend to do most of all the interior book layout work, and Ian does the covers and a few more design-heavy layouts), finances/accounting and other divisions of labor. I cut my day off usually at 5pm. Sometimes I work a little on weekends.

Ian Koviak: I am generally a 9-5er. I do some minor catch-up work at night and on weekends. But generally, I close up shop every weekday at around 5 and either head to the gym or plugin with the family.

5. Do you ever go through periods where you feel completely creatively tapped out? How do you refill your cup and then get back to work? 

Alan Dino Hebel: Basketball, bike rides, hikes, time with family, watch the game… it’s usually enough to get me motivated and ready for round 2.

Ian Koviak: I rarely feel completely tapped out. I usually have some juice in the tank, and most of the time, I have “some” ideas on hand that I feel are a starting point. I am usually inspired by the process of researching the book, topics, imagery, typography, etc. And once I do that, the ideas seem to flow, and something starts to take shape. I do sketch, but it’s mostly a sketch that I would only understand. I do enjoy going to museums, and I certainly get plenty of ideas at the gym, on forest walks, on bike rides, and playing guitar. Something is always bound to pop into my head when I am in the bath. Most of my deeper thinking happens in a hot bath.

7. We all know that great covers get killed. How often does something you submit get chosen in the very first round, and how often do you have to go through multiple rounds before you get an approval? 

Alan Dino Hebel: Ian does all of our cover work, but I often send the concepts to clients. I’d say we have a pretty high approval rating and rarely get killed projects. That said, there are times when a project spans many, many rounds, and we end up with dozens, if not hundreds, of “iterations.” But for every ounce of that grueling process, we do have our fair share of quick approvals and slam dunks.

Ian Koviak: Our website features a TON of outtakes. As a general rule, I like to explore a lot of ideas. It’s part of my process. So sometimes it’s not that the client is asking for a lot of ideas, but rather I have gone ahead and turned every stone till I feel I have done my due diligence and explored assorted ways to say what I think the cover needs to say. But yes, I agree, we don’t have many kills, so that doesn’t stick out as a sore point, but I do sometimes marvel at the endless iterations that are not really that conceptually different or even improved after the 100th round. We also get many projects where we have a long-winded process, but in the end, the client goes back to an earlier version. I’m not too fond of that.

8. Tell me about someone from your past who played a role in you becoming the designer you are today. What did you learn from them? Or, how did knowing them impact your career trajectory? 

Alan Dino Hebel: Ian and I worked at a publisher called Insight Editions. They also had a few other imprints they represented, and the owner, Raul Goff, really took me under his wing. His keen eye for quality and ability to invest in really dynamic printing treatments and binding styles made for a very enriching learning experience in book production and design. I spent many long nights in those early years either working on books on the computer or doing proto-type mockups with glue and exacto in hand. I went on press checks, reviewed press proofs, and became skilled at working on beautifully produced, limited-edition book packages.

Ian Koviak: It’s safe to say, my father, being a book cover designer in the 80s, was an influence. My mother was a textile designer, and I was always in and out of studios, galleries, museums, and around artists and designers growing up. But yes, my time at Insight Editions with Alan under the mentorship of Raul Goff was a significant influence. I also fondly remember my year-long first job at Clarance Lee Design and Associates in Hawaii. He was a fantastic designer on the level of Paul Rand or any of the greats from that design era, and he had a unique way of talking about and looking at design that will stay with me forever. 

9. How do you use Instagram?

Alan Dino Hebel: I let Ian do most of that social media stuff.

Ian Koviak: I use Instagram to stay connected and supportive of other designers and folks working in our fringe little universe. I also use it playfully and how I feel it was initially intended to be used when it first came out: Share work, share stuff that inspires me, post a few things I am proud of, a little bit of family, a little bit of work—it’s a very personal venue for me where I am always happy to interact with folks who approach us on there, and I’ve met some great designers on there and budding designers who I have long conversations with about book design, where it’s going, things we struggle with and how to stay relevant. 

10. The INABC Exit Question. You’re at a party and you just told a stranger that you’re a book cover designer. What’s the most common response you get from people when they hear this? 

Alan Dino Hebel: People are generally surprised and impressed with the notion that we have such a unique niche in the graphic design industry, with our full focus on book design for over two decades now.

Ian Koviak: I often get asked if I’ve designed a cover for any author they would know, and I’m quick to say James Patterson cause I did like one Alex Cross trade paperback years ago, and then I can move on to another conversation…

For more Q&As from our pool of talented designers, explore the 10 Questions series page.
Special thanks to Amanda Hudson for creating the series’ blog post cover design.
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