Elaine Ramos grew up without any knowledge of design—and perhaps even more surprisingly, she grew up in a house largely devoid of books. Moreover, Ramos’ homeland of Brazil didn’t offer public higher education in the commercial arts while she was in school, and, not knowing that graphic design even existed, she wound up studying architecture at the Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo da Universidade de São Paulo.
She hated the timelines inherent in the world of architecture; it took years to design a building, and still more to see it constructed, if it ever even made it to that stage. “I became much more interested in restraining my design to smaller objects, so that I could hold them, so that I could control every detail—or have the illusion of control,” she says.
In 1997, she worked on her first book cover in partnership with her school’s imprint. After she graduated, she got a job on the architecture book line at Cosac Naify, the Brazilian publisher known for its lavishly designed art and academic titles. It was here, Ramos says, that her lifelong “love affair” with books began. Her architecture training wasn’t a total waste, though. “It made me think more structurally,” she says. “My focus is not only at the surface, but at the materials, the functioning, the industrial processes.”
Only after ensuring that she has laid the foundation of a solid interior concept on which to bring a book’s best ideas to life—via design, paper selection, careful consideration of the overall tactile experience—will she move on to the cover, which she regards as a total synthesis of everything within. Ramos considers her decade-plus career at Cosac Naify as a rich, experimental lab in her development, and when the house closed in 2015, she carried the lessons she absorbed over to the new publishing venture she co-founded, Ubu.
What follows is a selection of work spanning Ramos’ career, showcasing her desire to approach each manuscript on its own terms, allowing content to wholly dictate visual concept.