As a book-loving child raised in Northern Italy, when Elena Giavaldi was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she had a quick answer to that ubiquitous question: She wanted to open her own newsstand.
She loved reading and drawing, and after discovering design she enrolled in Politecnico di Milano to study it. Pursuant to her love of all things paper, after graduating she got hired by the free city publication Edizioni Zero, but found the templated approach of design too constrictive. She then joined a design firm, but hated how so much time could be spent on the minutiae of a single ongoing project.
“That’s horrible for me,” she says. “Other people like it, but I need many different projects in a year. I can’t just focus on only one.”
Having never designed a book cover, Giavaldi randomly sent her résumé off to the large Italian publisher Mondadori, and when they saw that she had worked on a hip city paper, they called her in for an interview. They were on the hunt for someone to refresh the look of their book line, and cover experience be damned, they hired her. At Mondadori, Giavaldi discovered a craft seemingly tailor-made for her interests, obsessions, and process. With a medley of constantly changing projects, she could play with photos, illustration, typography—a freedom she hadn’t found anywhere else in design.
“I thought, This job is amazing. I can basically do whatever I want.”
As she worked, she looked to the U.S. publishing scene filled with design gurus and covers that were “so different and colorful and smart.” So when her boyfriend at the time moved to the States for school, she quit her job and they traveled there together. A typically nightmarish U.S. visa process followed, all in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis. Nevertheless, she obtained an artist visa and set her sights on working with book designer extraordinaire, Rodrigo Corral.
“I sent him an email. I sent him another email. I sent another email and then I kept knocking at his door and, finally, he opened.” In Italy, Giavaldi says, she was intensely focused on making something look beautiful. At Corral’s studio, she discovered how to imbue a cover with deep thought, twists, revelation. “I learned that I had to basically break my head on something before getting to the point where the concept was good enough.”
A gig with fellow Italian designer Matteo Bologna at Mucca followed, and she eventually found her way to Crown, where she works today an art director, reveling in the possibilities of her craft.
Here are five covers, in chronological order, from Giavaldi’s veritable newsstand, showcasing the brilliant results that can be found when a designer is given the opportunity to create in the rhythm that suits her best—in Giavaldi’s case, an ever-evolving staccato.