Best Job Ever: Aya Akazawa, Senior Designer at Chronicle Books

We recognize a fellow bibliophile when we see one, and Aya Akazawa’s adoration of books was apparent from the start. As a Senior Designer at Chronicle Books, Aya spends her days designing and art directing gorgeous titles such as the Anna Sui monograph. We recently caught up with Aya to discuss her favorite childhood books, what drives her creative side, and how young artists can land a career pursuing their passions.

How did you get this awesome job?
I’m originally from Tokyo, and lived there until I was 24. I was a Chinese literature major in college, which didn’t really click with me as far as trying to find a job. (My father was a business person, and didn’t think going to art school was going to help me pay my bills.) But then I saw a website, and saw that there was this job called “graphic designer,” and thought, “This should be my job!”

I moved to the United States to finish my degree at California College of the Arts. The creative director of Chronicle was teaching typography classes at CCA, so through him I landed a summer internship at Chronicle, which led to me receiving Chronicle’s first-ever design fellowship, and then I found my dream job!

What do you do as a senior designer at Chronicle Books?
Each book has one team, which consists of an editor, designer, and production staff. Sometimes we hire outside photography or illustration talent, so I do art direction through each stage of the project. Once the book is in the design stage, I will either design the book, or offer art direction to that freelance designer. I handle ten to twelve titles per season.

What is your creative process?
The very beginning is a research period. I try to understand who will be buying this book, and do a little homework to understand what kind of aesthetic is appealing to that particular group of people. Then, I start sketching ideas, and go through fonts. I like choosing fonts! I just go through, one by one, until I see something that hits me. After all of that, I start designing on the computer.

What are your favorite fonts?
Current favorites? Let’s see…there’s this font called Fling, which I used for this cookbook called Sticky, Gooey, Chewy, Messy. It has this really cute curvy face to it that I was really obsessed with for awhile! There’s also Gotham, which is just a clean, simple font that seems to always save me. When I need something clean and simple, I just go to that font and it always works on everything! We recently received a set of Eames fonts, which is very exciting! I am looking forward to finding the right project to use them on.

Aya at the Chronicle office in downtown San Francisco.

How do you balance your vision for a book with the author or the editorial team’s needs?
I try to get inspiration from the manuscript. We try to show our really early designs to the author and then get their sign-off before we actually design the full book. During the early preliminary design stages, we discuss. I ask beforehand what kinds of things they are looking for from me. I find most of the time that if I read the introduction of the book, or parts of the manuscript, there’s a tone of writing which is appropriate to use for the tone of the design, too.

Designing the Anna Sui book was interesting because Anna knows what works, so we thought, “Okay, how can we make that happen? What kind of material can we source for her? How can we actually use her vision?”

I am sure that was a little intimidating, too!
It was! We really love her and what she does. It was challenging, but we couldn’t have been more excited about dealing with the challenge!

Excerpts of books Aya has designed at Chronicle Books. For more glimpses of Aya’s work, check out her online portfolio and blog, Le Petit Graphiste.

What are some of your favorite Chronicle Books projects you’ve designed?
Besides Anna Sui? Silhouette Art was one of the latest projects that I really had fun with! It’s one of those projects that we call ‘home grown,’ which means that project didn’t come from someone to Chronicle, but rather one of the editors noticed the trend of silhouette art and came up with the book’s concept. The whole thing looks like a book, but it’s essentially a kit. I was able to design the patterns, so it was kind of like doing illustration and graphic design both – it was really fun and really creative!

As a child, were there any books you treasured that influence your designs today?
Interestingly enough, I now realize the books that I loved were from Scandinavian countries. There’s one series called The Moomins, which is about these funny, mythical creatures. I started illustrating scenes from that book because I loved it.

Do you follow any design or fashion blogs?
I read Design*Sponge, Apartment Therapy, and Oh Joy. Another letterpress blog, called Oh So Beautiful Paper, is a favorite. I also love The Sartorialist. Oh, and Sea of Shoes! She’s amazing, I can’t believe how young she is!

Do you have any advice or insight for girls who are hoping to find their dream job?
Don’t give up, and don’t compromise! I didn’t think I would find a job in the United States; I thought I would go home after school. Be a stickler about what you want to do, and a door [will] open up in front of you. In the beginning, to do 120% all the time doesn’t seem to hurt! Doing more than anyone else is probably one way to make your goal happen.

Do you love books as much as Aya does? Check out our bookstore, stocked with Chronicle titles and essential reads alike!

Also, be sure to stay tuned for December’s edition of Best Job Ever. In the meantime, tell us what you think the best job ever is – and we might just find someone who does it!

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  1. Avatar
    Roxanne the Dainty Libarian 11/23/2010 at 6:00 pm #

    Oooh this job is wonderful! How do I sign up? 😉 Great interview!

  2. Avatar
    Justine 11/23/2010 at 9:33 pm #

    I love posts like these. And I love how her cardigan & boots match the colour scheme of her dress!

  3. Avatar
    Emily Craig 11/24/2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Not only does Aya have an awesome job, she is a great inspiration to the fellows in Chronicle’s Fellowship program. As a fellow, I was inspired not only by her dedication to excellence in design, but also by her work ethic. Of course, Aya does it all with grace, ease, and endless style!

  4. Avatar
    Annie (ModCloth) 11/24/2010 at 3:36 pm #

    I concur! Interviewing Aya was such a pleasure. She was unbelievably sweet, professional, and needless to say, very inspirational!

  5. Avatar
    Shannon Losorelli 11/24/2010 at 5:26 pm #

    It’s so true! Aya is a great inspiration to the design fellows. She’s a wonderful example of what happens when you are pleasantly tenacious. She’s given me an endless amount of practical time-saving and life-saving design advice as well as sparked my imagination in new ways. You guys should have an “Ask Aya” advice column!

  6. Avatar
    Ann 11/27/2010 at 8:08 pm #

    She really does have the best job ever, and gave lots of great advice for working towards similar goals. Great interview!

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