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10 Questions for Vi-An Nguyen

An Art Director at Penguin

10 Questions for Vi-An Nguyen

An Art Director at Penguin

This is 10 Questions, an interview series between INABC and our talented friends from the Book Cover Designers’ Directory. Today, meet Vi-An Nguyen, an Art Director for Penguin Random House in New York City. You can visit her 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 you wanted to become a book cover designer?

Vi-An Nguyen: I came from the magazine industry, which I loved in a lot of ways. But the instability of media pushed me to be curious about other paths, and I’ve always admired how smart and thoughtful book covers could be ever since I first saw Freakonomics as a teen. I never thought I’d be able to do this for a living but believe your dreams, folks. 

3. Do you show your designs to any non-coworkers before submitting them?

Vi-An Nguyen: I show 99% of my work to my excellent husband, Kevin Sullivan, before I submit. He’s a (wonderful) writer and can give me an editor/author’s perspective. It also helps to just make sure that another human with eyes agrees that what I made looks like what it’s supposed to. Do I ignore his feedback at times? Absolutely yes but in an equal number of instances he’ll have an idea that ends up being part of the final cover. And that’s marriage.

4. How do you use Instagram? 

Vi-An Nguyen: Instagram is still the best place to discover artists and illustrators to commission for specialized projects. On my own grid, I share my favorite covers and also the silliest thoughts I have drawn into the silliest comics. 

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

Vi-An Nguyen: A celebrity I was on a photo shoot with struck a pose—and farted. I froze, afraid to say or do anything. A poised professional would’ve kept her cool but that’s not me I fear. 

5. 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 approval? 

Vi-An Nguyen: I can count on one hand the times I’ve had a cover approved from the first round with no revisions, each one a cherished core memory. Publishing teams often do a lot of working through a book’s positioning during the cover process.

A rejected cover doesn’t mean it’s a bad cover; just that it doesn’t match a publisher’s often still-evolving vision for the audience, and this is of course biased by one’s personal taste. And there are many people whose venn diagrams of preference must overlap in order to get to approval. So to multiple rounds we almost always go, and I wish every reader knew how much of a miracle each finished book cover truly is. 

7. Some of us don’t think we have a certain design style. Some of us think we do. If you think you have a style, how would you describe yours?  

Vi-An Nguyen: It’s possible I’m just trying to manifest this, but I think I’m at my best working on a funny cover. Evoking an emotion is often one goal of a book cover; for me, making someone laugh with a design is the absolute peak of this. I’ll never forget the first audible group laugh I got in the room of a cover meeting. 

8. Spread good design. Who is one (non-book-cover) graphic designer or artist that we should check out?

Vi-An Nguyen: In the morass of AI “art” we’re in I’m most drawn to the wackiest and simplest images. The stuff that is just too weird and too strangely human to have been spit out by a robot. David Shrigley is my favorite creator of these. 

9. What is one book cover from your archive that you feel is especially great, but never received much press or notoriety for some reason. We’ve all got one or two of those in the archive!

Vi-An Nguyen: Rom coms never get any love on “best covers” lists but many of my favorites are in this genre, especially my Lizzy Dent covers. 

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? 

Vi-An Nguyen: “Wow, I can’t even draw a stick figure!” The biggest misconception I hear is that cover design = drawing. I do happen to illustrate, but it’s of course a very separate skill.  

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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