The Angela Yen Interview

Chances are you’ve probably seen Angela Yen’s artwork before. Especially if you are reading this interview on purpose, based on, let’s say, some habitual need you have, some ethereal connection, that finds you floating in the ethernet swirl, tying you daily, if not hourly, to the Canadian book publishing microverse. You dig?

Angela Yen is a Designer and Art Director from Vancouver, BC and is currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Yen specializes in branding, entertainment marketing and cover art design. For this designer, however, no matter the project, what matters most is storytelling. In a way, Yen’s work in the publishing business is the face of an author’s book. Yen’s work has appeared in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times and more. She is a freelance designer for Nightwood Editions and has designed numerous book covers for various independent publishers.

When did you first start designing books – what was the first book you designed and how did it go?

I think around 2014. First book was a chapbook [published by Frog Hollow Press] called Swan Dive by Michael Prior. He’s a friend and very generously asked me to design something. It was really fun and collaborative. I feel lucky that it was my first book design experience.

Each book is a unique entity- that’s why there is an ISBN # assigned to every one. How do you approach a design for a given book – there are of course, a variety of variables – such as, author input, publisher suggestions, working with author’s artist friends and having a million cooks in the already small kitchen. Could you tell us about some of the practicalities or how you might strategize with many different inputs?

For book covers, I think it comes down to just nailing the vibe and feeling of the book. So reading the material and absorbing any imagery from the words and picking up on the author’s writing style is always my starting point. Of course, my reading of the work is just my interpretation so I also encourage and request editors and authors to send existing covers or artwork that they like and feel capture the tone of their book. This helps me understand what aesthetic the author likes. Giving distinct options is also a big help in ensuring you’re giving a bit of something for each party involved and that you really took their considerations to heart.

You’ve designed books for a few different Canadian publishers that our readers are familiar with. What is it like when you see your work in bookstores or get awarded a prize?

It’s really cool and a great feeling knowing that the author’s work, which they spent so long crafting and writing, is now out there in the world and I was able to be a small part of that.

Have you ever designed a book cover and the publisher and author loved it from first sight?

I think there must always be some form of discussion or back and forth. But on rare occasions yes, I have had a cover approved after the first round. It’s why I like to give a range of options right off the bat.

What is the most number of covers you’ve had to design for a single book?

I don’t think I can give an exact number but there have been times I’ve given a first round of options and they are all flat out rejected. It’s not the best feeling but it also motivates you to put out even stronger work and thankfully it always worked out in the end.

What influences your design aesthetic? Do you follow any blogs, read any magazines, etc.? Do you get upset if a font looks bad in the opening of a movie? Do you ever think – “That should be turquoise not magenta….”

The social media algorithm feeds me all kinds of design inspo so I’ll screenshot something that catches my eye. Great thing about design is that it’s everywhere and so I find inspiration in all places – store signage, opening credits in films (even if it uses an ugly font!), a restaurant menu etc.

Beyond books, what other projects have you used your design powers on?

My background is also in branding and advertising so lots of the usual design agency stuff. Books and film posters will always be the most exciting and creative design work for me, but I’m so appreciative of my formal background in branding/brand strategy because it has definitely helped me think more conceptually and thematically when it comes to cover art design versus
just creating a pretty picture.

For more information on Angela Yen, visit her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Nathaniel G. Moore is a writer, artist and publishing consultant grateful to be living on the unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi'kmaq peoples.