British designer Suzanne Dean felt jarringly out of place. After studying at Kingston University, she found herself working on packaging and photo shoots for a design company, essentially “moving berries around backgrounds for ice cream,” as she recalls. One day, while working on a yogurt package for a food conglomerate, she decided to use a Gustav Klimt–style illustration to depict the bacteria. It led to an epiphany—and a career change.
“It worked really well, but they came back and said ‘It’s far too exciting.’ At that point, I was just like, I have got to get out of here.”
Having never designed a book cover, she landed a gig at Penguin UK, where she excelled, eventually rising to creative director at Vintage Penguin Random House. Today, she oversees the core team there while continuing to design her own jackets.
The secret to her seemingly instant success as a cover designer? After landing a couple covers for high profile titles (including Donna Tartt’s hit The Secret History and Barry Unsworth’s Booker Prize-winning Sacred Hunger), she enjoyed the rare experience of seeing her early work out in the world en masse. Still, she says she didn’t know anything about book design when she started, so she didn’t know what the limitations were—or weren’t. She unwittingly pursued experimental production methods that were new to the publisher, and produced a series of brilliant and innovative covers early on.
And then there’s her long-standing belief that input leads to output. She finds visual inspiration everywhere in the world and continually documents it on her iPhone.
“I feel like I’m a magpie, going around sort of collecting things the whole time,” she says.
It may take days or even years for it to reemerge and manifest as a book cover, but as these five designs prove, input can indeed engender output, in the most delightful of ways.