Q&A with James Alexander

By   Tim Inman 2 min read

James Alexander, a graphic designer, spoke to us about his most challenging brief, the best and worst thing about being a freelance designer, and if he thinks the huge shift to online retail channels has changed how design is valued.

1. How did you start designing books for publishers?
For a few years after leaving the London College of Printing I’d worked for multi-disciplinary design companies where design for publishing was just another string to the bow. So when I set up Jade in 2000 it felt natural to do the same. My first books were for Merrell Publishers under the watchful eye of art-director Nicola Bailey. Books I designed for them included Toilets of the World, which I understand is still their best seller.
2. What to date has been your most challenging brief?
It has to be working with Simon Garfield on his book Just My Type for Profile Books. He was a delight to work with but any time he wrote about a font he wanted it to be set in that font. So with advice from Stephen Coles at FontShop in San Francisco we set 200 fonts from Albertus to Zeppelin II into continuous text. And then provided the information for foreign editions. As well as designer I’m credited as font wrangler!
3. Do you think the huge shift to online retail channels has changed how design is valued?
Many online buying decisions are made on first impressions so in that respect good design has become more valued. On the other hand those impressions are frequently made by viewing thumbnails only and marketing departments (with good reason) insist on a design that can be quickly understood at a small size. This can result in some less-than-subtle design. Much the same problem confronted album designers when CDs became the medium of choice, but after a while designers rose to the challenge and they will do so again.
4. Tell us the best thing about being a freelance designer, and also the worst.
The best thing is getting the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects ranging from the Russian space programme (Cosmonauts for the Science Museum) to poetry (Love Haiku for the British Museum). The worst? Sometimes not being involved early enough to be able to influence a project during development.
5. What advice would you give anyone who wanted to start working on designing books for publishers and writers?
Remember that it’s a collaborative effort. Get ready to work in a team with authors, proofreaders, picture researchers, photographers, illustrators, editors, production controller, art directors, printers etc.
About James Alexander
James Alexander is a graphic designer whose company, Jade Design, works across a range of media, from books to exhibition graphics. 
Read more interviews with creatives, editors, authors and more on the whitefox Blog and check out some more of whitefox’s collaborations at Our Work.