Designing a new series look for the classic Adrian Mole books

Michael Joseph designer, Gill Heeley, talks about the process for designing a new look for the hugely popular Adrian Mole titles




To celebrate Adrian Mole turning 50 this year, all seven adult editions of the Adrian Mole diaries have been reissued with a new series look. One of the main aims in reissuing the books was to make the series feel a little more ‘grown-up’ and literary without losing that much-loved Adrian Mole quirkiness  and warmth. We wanted the books to attract new readers whilst still appealing to those long-standing Adrian Mole fans.

One of the ways we did this was to give a little nod to some previous Adrian Mole covers, the most iconic being the first edition of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ published in 1982. We drew on the original cover art by referencing the  noddy toothbrush but gave things a fresh and contemporary twist by commissioning illustrator Alice Tait to give her own take on it. 

The original 1982 cover

The new cover which references the Noddy toothbrush of the iconic 1982 cover

Alice is a big Adrian Mole fan so was already well-versed on the books, and the editor of the series provided an outline of  what each different illustration needed to capture. So from here Alice worked up a variety of sketches for the rest of the rest of the titles.

When working with Alice on the brief the  main thing we wanted to ensure was that each of the illustrations worked as a stand-alone, but also sat well alongside the other titles in the series. So it was important to think about how the colours would work together, and making sure each one had the  same quirky charm and feel to it, to pull all the covers together.

Once we were underway with the illustrations, I explored a number of grids and styles for the series design, beginning with a more quirky handwritten style. In the end we settled on a more classic and pared back approach for the type, keeping a clear hierarchy and a strong main highlight colour for each  different title.  The combination of the more classic type approach with the playful illustration struck the right balance we were looking to achieve for the series - a more sophisticated feel whilst retaining the Adrian Mole charm and humour.


6 things to think about when designing a book cover

Our cover designers Rosie Palmer and Lauren Walker share 6 essential things to think about when designing a book cover.


1. Think about the target market and who you want to pick up the book as the cover needs to appeal to them.

2. What do you want to tell the buyer about the book. What kind of genre is it? What do the other books in that genre look like that it will compete with? 

3. You need to have read/have an understanding of what the book is about, so you can instantly visually communicate the story, characters, message, settings and ideas.

Ian McEwan’s Nutshell is narrated by a foetus who is also Hamlet, “bounded in the nutshell” and the cover couldn’t have been designed by somebody who hadn’t read it.

4. Make sure the title and author name are readable. 

Quentin Blake and Beatrix Potter are two of the biggest names in children’s publishing so the names of both author and illustrator needed to really stand out on The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots.

5. Identify what the key symbols and motifs are that run throughout the book.

6. Try to create something that captures someone’s attention and makes a strong first impression, whether that’s through the tiny details, typography, choice of colour or imagery.

Designing The Twelve Days of Christmas

Puffin Art Director Liz Catchpole shares how she used iconic William Morris patterns to illustrate the beautiful V&A: The Twelve Days of Christmas book


You're a designer for Penguin Random House Children's and you illustrated the cover and insides of V&A The Twelve Days of Christmas. Talk us through the project.

The project came to me as an idea to illustrate the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ using William Morris’s designs. It was part of an ongoing collaboration between Puffin and the V&A who hold the archive of Morris’ artwork. I was, of course, delighted to get the opportunity to work with such wonderful, iconic material but it soon became clear I’d need to introduce newly created illustrations over the Morris patterns to depict the subjects mentioned in the song, in order to make the book work.

The deadline was incredibly tight – there was about a month to complete the illustrations – and I had a very specific style in mind and so I began to create the artwork myself and was really happy with the results, so in the end I illustrated the whole thing.

How was it working with the William Morris designs?

The William Morris designs are incredibly inspiring in their style and beauty, and directly informed the look of the entire book – including the additional artwork.

His designs themselves are quite diverse stylistically though and so one of the major challenges on this project was to create a sense of visual continuity for the inside spreads. To do this I made a limited palette of colours selected from a range of Morris’ fabrics and wallpaper designs. I then colourised his patterns into a single tone from that palette, and these were used as the beautiful backdrop for the new illustrations. 

Where possible I used patterns that related in some way to the text, for example the ‘Two Turtle Doves’ spread design depicted birds, and when there were no directly relevant images available I tried to choose patterns that conveyed a ‘feel’ for the words. For example there were no Morris patterns which included swans and so I chose a ‘flowing’ design which might suggest water, and then illustrated swans over the top.


What overall style and effect were you going for and what was your inspiration?

In the spirit of the William Morris quote: 'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.'  I wanted the whole book to have a beautiful, crafted feel so we bound the cover with cloth and blocked the new illustrations in gold foil.

For the insides each spread was designed in response to the main Morris background pattern. Some of the new illustrations deliberately repeat, as a fabric or wallpaper pattern would, some replace Morris’s pictorial elements and sit on top of the pattern and some are interwoven with it. Where possible the forms of my illustrations were as close as possible to William Morris’s in that, if he had incorporated a bird into his design, the bird I drew would be directly inspired by that.


Illustration of Calling Bird

Illustration of French Hen

The overall effect I was going for was a warm, contemporary classic gift book, which celebrated William Morris’s incredible work.


What have you enjoyed the most working on this project?

I absolutely love designing so most projects I have are a joy but this was particularly special.

There were times when I wasn’t sure if it would all come together from a creative point of view and certainly I was worried about the short schedule but it’s incredibly satisfying to see the finished book looking so lovely and being so well received. 

I also really enjoyed the creative challenge. It wasn’t easy to bring so many of William Morris’s designs together and tell a story they were not originally created for.

It was great to see the spreads develop from rough sketches to final artwork as the Morris patterns and my new illustrations worked together and complemented each other.


What is your favourite spread from the book? 

I really like the ‘Eight maids a – milking’ spread. I’m a bit of a fan of an oak leaf and although the pattern is beautiful, it’s not related to milk maids in an obvious way; however, I chose it because it felt in some way pastoral and the illustrated milk churns and ‘maid’ seem to fit into it in a natural way. I especially like the area around her head which makes her look a little like she has antlers and flowers in her hair.

What other projects are you working on at the moment that you're particularly excited about?

I’m currently working on some Classic Children’s fiction titles, such as The Secret Garden  which are being given lovely new jackets in the style I developed for The 12 Days of Christmas. They are slightly simpler visually, still with a bold Morris background and the same colour palette, but this time with one main character on the cover. I’m really enjoying the exercise of trying to convey an atmosphere, a sense of the feel of the story with the artwork. 

This time I’m omitting parts of the foreground illustrations so that the Morris patterns show through and therefore become part of the main artwork. 

It’s actually very challenging and so it’s pushing me creatively and that’s the fun and exciting part.

V&A: The Twelve Days of Christmas

'On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . .'

The V&A's Twelve Days of Christmas is a stunning book filled with hand-picked patterns from the V&A's collections. Featuring art work by William Morris and Charles Voysey, this is the perfect Christmas gift for any fan of art and design.




Meet Richard, Art Director



This article originally appeared on the WriteNow website

What does your job as Art Director entail?

As Art Director for our Transworld publishing division I have a team of designers who I manage and work with to ensure all book covers are delivered not only to a high standard but on schedule.

How do you come up with cover design ideas and then decide which ones will end up on the bookshelf?

The ideas for the covers come from reading the books and attempting to distil the message of the book into one appealing image. We produce a range of visuals using commissioned or stock photography or illustration. Our ideas and concepts are shown in a weekly ‘book cover meeting’ at which the editor, publisher, sales, marketing and publicity teams discuss what we think is the best approach. We then send it to the author for their thoughts, feedback and ultimate approval.

What’s on your to do list?

On any given day I have a list of amazing book covers to design. If these books are quite new, I will be reading the manuscript to get a feel for the story or ideas. If I’ve already read them, I will be working on concepts. As part of my job I get to commission illustrators and photographers to produce imagery…so I may also be talking to them about the commission or feeding back my comments about their work.


What’s the best bit about the role?

The best bit is the variety. At Transworld we have a huge range of authors so I may be working on an autobiography, doing a photo shoot with Peter Andre, working with a photographer for the next Jilly Cooper novel, discussing The Straight Jacket cover design with author Matthew Todd, redesigning and commissioning an illustrator for a Terry Pratchett backlist book, finalising the next John Boyne cover or reading the next SJ Watson thriller!

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is being creative within strict deadlines. The contrast between the creativity and aesthetics of a book cover and the requirements of a commercial publishing schedule can be stark.

What’s your favourite thing about working at Penguin Random House?

I get to read manuscripts a year before publication, which is pretty amazing. But also to work within a company where creativity and innovation are at its heart is a dream come true.

Give three words that best describe your average day in the office?

Challenging, creative, satisfying.

What are you reading?

I always have a manuscript for a book I am designing on the go, but I try to juggle with reading a book that is not connected to work too. At the moment I am reading the manuscript for John Boyne’s new book, The Heart’s Invisible Furies which is an amazing story of one man’s life lived through the prism of Ireland’s religious and social history. The non-work book I am currently reading is The Corrections by Jonathan Frantzen.

Get inspired by our designers' favourite book covers of 2016 so far...


Welcome to the new Student Design Award website! After a stellar year in 2016, we couldn't wait to launch the 2017 Awards with three fantastic new title briefs and we're really looking forward to seeing your entries.

In the meantime, we'll be using this space to share tips, inspiration and advice from former winners and Penguin Random House designers. Kicking this off, some of our art departments have told us all about their favourite cover designs of 2016 so far. You can read all about it on the website here.