Janet Hansen could have wound up working in a number of fields outside of design. IT, like her father. Finance, like her mother. Gymnastics, which she pursued competitively six days a week in high school—until she discovered fine art.
She went on to study it in college at the School of Visual Arts (SVA), but she realized that when it came to performing off the mat, she wasn’t comfortable being the center of attention. “I wanted to work on bigger ideas and be a part of things that were bigger than me alone,” she says. “And that’s when I decided to give graphic design a shot.”
A few years after she graduated from SVA, Hansen was a party where she randomly met Penguin’s longstanding book design guru, Paul Buckley—and he offered her a conceptual illustration project for a cover on the spot. Though her cover was later killed, Buckley offered Hansen a job as a junior designer. She took it, having never designed a single book cover. But at Penguin Random House she found her calling, and her creativity came into focus.
“At first I was overwhelmed,” she says. “But cover design is such an amazing space—I can dive into so many different ideas.”
When it comes to her output today as Penguin’s senior designer, Hansen says she’s inspired by cultural institutions and galleries, and her covers do tend towards the clean and minimal side. She’s also up front about the vital nature of marketing and the role of the book cover as advertisement, and seeks to create work that doesn’t overpower that purpose, but coexists with it. She pursues a strong sense of object quality in her covers; the challenge to create a book that wouldn’t look out of place on display in one’s home is what keeps her inspired.