HOW TO MAKE IT (HTMI) – Art Director (Top 5 Tips – ANNA BILLSON, Penguin Books)


The secret for those who want an internship with an Art Director, whether you’re in education or in the jobs market. For more industries go to

Anna Billson is Art Director at Puffin Books.

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Dillon Khan

Anna was born and brought up in London and attended Hornsey Girls School before going on to complete an Art and Design foundation course followed by a BA in Graphic Design at Middlesex Polytechnic. At Middlesex she spent a lot of time printmaking and producing books.

After graduating she spent a year and a half in Sydney, Australia, before returning to London to work for ITN for a few years, where she was a runner and general graphics assistant. She started her publishing career as a designer for ABC, working with many different illustrators including Sara Fanelli and Helen Craig. After three and a half years she left to freelance for Orchard Books, which was followed by a short stint at HarperCollins. In 1998 she got the opportunity to go back to Orchard, where as Deputy Art Director she was involved in the creation of the original Clarice Bean and Charlie and Lola titles, working closely with Lauren Child. Other illustrators that she worked with at this time include Russell Ayto, Alex Ayliffe, Jane Ray and Guy Parker-Rees.

She joined Puffin in 2002. As Art Director she has played a key role in giving the Puffin list a new design identity. She is responsible for the art direction and design of Puffin’s entire list from baby buggy books to teenage fiction and everything in between. Her team designs for a wealth of picture books from authors and illustrators such as Eric Carle, Ed Vere, Jan Pienkowski, Jeanne Willis and Allan Ahlberg. They have also recently acquired the licence to create a new range of Moomin titles. Over the last few years she has redesigned and rebranded the Puffin Classics and created stunning packages and brand looks for, amongst others, Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl,
Roald Dahl, Cathy Cassidy and the Young Bond series, which includes the iconic gold block for Hurricane Gold.
my name is Anna Bilson and I'm an art director an art director is someone who basically oversees the look and the feel and the design of everything that we do so for publishing that means everything from the front cover right through to the folios on the pages every single illustration I work with in children's publishing so what I do encompasses kind of books from sort of first simple ball books which have no words at all right through to kind of Ricci and a teenager novels I started off actually not working in publishing not really knowing what I wanted to do after I'd left college having done sort of graphics degree and it was actually through a series of connections and make it in conversations with people that I got the opportunity to go into publishing as a junior designer and once I was there I realized that it was kind of combining my lifelong passions of designing and also books and it just went from there basically I've that was 15 years ago I've slowly worked my way up the ladder I think internships and work experience are incredibly important but what I would say is really key is making sure that you find the right ones for you if you just sort of scatter a scattergun approach isn't necessarily going to stand you in good stead if I'm looking at a portfolio or a CV of someone who just has ten different internships all over the place that immediately strikes me if somebody doesn't really know what they want to do I want people who have a passion for what they want what makes people stand out for me it's their portfolio it's seeing that the kind of design they do really fits our publishing and it's their character basically it's it's how they come across whether they're personable whether they feel engaged whether I think they're going to work hard if you are lucky enough to get a workplace mentoring internship which they aren't incredibly difficult yet you really really need to make the most of it you need to ask questions all the time you need to be really really hungry definitely not arrogant helpful whatever you whatever you end up being asked to do in your time in that company be it order a bit of stationery or design the front cover for the latest bestseller you need to do that you need to do it with good grades but you also need to do it in the absolutely best way you can and that was what we'll get that was what will get you notice basically people will remember you for being enthusiastic helpful and engaged number one is appearance matters I recruit for design roles and the first thing I see is a CV and a covering letter and if that CV uncovering that don't look good then I'm just not interested in what it says basically you are you know that's your showcase to me to prove that you can design so make sure it looks good tip number two smile and you'd be amazed at how far a smile can get you tip number three is work hard I think you know I've said it before basically work hard anything you do no job is too small get on with it do it well and you'll be remembered my fourth tip is be honest be honest about what you know but actually also be honest about what you don't know I think that's really really important my last tip is engaged engaged with every aspect of the business you want to be in not just your little bit everyone everyone has to work together and so if you focus just on your your little bit of the job and sort of think to insulae and think well that's not my job then you're not going to get anywhere in the roles that I recruit for I would say qualifications aren't essential actually I I look in after I've looked at initial sort of CVS and covering letters I look at people's portfolios and I judge them then on what those portfolios look like if they've got a first from a top design college or they've got a third or actually they just manage to sort of scrape the school qualification in design I'm really actually not that interested in that I think things that impress me are applications that have really been thought through that you know it's very obvious that someone wants to work in publishing and then they want to work in children publishing I've had people create kind of mini picture books for instance which showcases kind of examples of their illustration their typography and they're sort of general design other book things like that really stand out for me be determined be patient and put in the hard work

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