Psychedelic, oversaturated, and sci-fi, Le Boca’s bright and intricate imagery has captured international imaginations since 2002, when the small yet industrious studio first set up shop in London’s Notting Hill area. And while its retained neighborhood cred, lending its flair for both illustrative and geometric designs for local bands, La Boca’s work can often be spotted on the covers of best-selling books or on hypnotic movie posters.

But that knack for illustration comes second to design. Creative director Scot Bendall says emphatically that the people who work at Le Boca are “graphic designers who illustrate, not the other way around… We make work that usually needs to connect with people in some way, so we always need to think of the audience and what they will see, or what emotions will be triggered in them. In that sense our images are ‘designed’ to do certain things, whereas pure illustration to me is much more personal, and often creates art beyond its commercial applications.”

The studio tackles editorial projects holistically, considering how the image sits on the page, what the accompanying typography will do, and what the publication is like more widely. “It’s quite uncomfortable for me to think about an image separately from the other elements surrounding it,” says Bendall, citing Milton Glaser as the archetypal graphic designer who illustrates. The studio has won its fair share of accolades and awards, most notably for its memorable Black Swan poster.

So how does the average La Boca design come together? We asked Bendall to take us through the concept and execution behind a recent commission for science fiction covers for Penguin Worlds, plus two well known projects that demonstrate how illustration becomes an integral part of his graphic design process.

Penguin Worlds book covers
“We only had the guideline that the books should work as a family, but not look like they were a set. The selection of books is quite diverse so it would be misleading to create an overall template that could potentially be too dominant, but by creating the illustrations in a similar style it would naturally allow them to form a family without restricting how each one could look separately. We wanted to nod to Penguin sci-fi covers of the past, but we were very conscious that we didn’t want them to become a pastiche of a time gone by.

“An approach we like is to think of the designs as having one foot in the past and one foot in the future. They’re familiar, but new at the same time.”

“Each cover is designed to create intrigue, but without giving away anything specific about the story. It’s really about setting the tone rather than being too explicit. I like the idea that you understand a cover more after reading the book. We also had a desire to see these come to life, so we created animated versions of each one to create intrigue when used online.”

Album art for Bombay Bicycle Club, So Long, See You Tomorrow
“The band had this idea that the album didn’t need to work in a straight linear order from beginning to end, but could start and end at any point. The title is So Long, See You Tomorrow, which suggested an infinite loop of days starting and ending, and starting again.

“Often a cover is not so much about an interpretation of the sounds, but more a conduit of what the musician is trying to express… When an artist can explain the ideas behind their music, it gives us a sense of what emotions are at play and what we need to achieve visually to connect with the listener.”

“During conversations with the band the work of Eadweard Muybridge cropped up, and the idea of simple sequences of movement as seen on traditional circular Phenakistoscopes [an early animation device that used the persistence of vision principle to create an illusion of motion]. This eventually informed the final cover, which features a boy and girl walking through an endless cycle of day and night in opposite directions. For the vinyl boxset we also made a real working Phenakistoscope which could show the animation in practice. For me it was a good example of how a cover idea can be formed just out of conversations with the band, and it feels more collaborative as the musicians are involved in the process, which ultimately means the imagery will reflect them more than if we worked alone.

 Movie poster for Black Swan
“For me typography is an integral part of every project we work on—in many cases it will be the first thing I think about, definitely not the last. Considering a typeface is essential to conveying the correct mood or feeling.

“Typefaces should speak beyond the words they form.”

“This was the case for the posters we created for the movie Black Swan. The concept was to create posters that hinted at classical ballet imagery from the Art Deco period of the 1920s and ’30s, so we tried to be sensitive with the choices we made so it could place the designs in a particular timeframe and create a specific mood. If you remove the type from the posters they instantly convey something different, half of the meaning is lost, which is probably a good indication of how essential typography is to the design.”