In conversation with Allison Chi
IN CONVERSATION WITH
Allison Chi is a designer and art director based in Queens, New York, specializing in cover and interior book design. Currently, she's the Associate Art Director at Countryman Press, an imprint of W.W. Norton. Prior to this, she held positions at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Time Inc. Books, and Hachette Book Group.
When she's not designing, you'll find her knitting, weaving, or baking fresh sourdough bread.
How did you find yourself working in publishing?
I accidentally found myself working in publishing. During the summer between my junior and senior year of college I interned in the books and special projects department at Martha Stewart Living. I absolutely loved working on her cookbooks and bookazines (special edition magazines). After I graduated, I moved to New York City and did a couple more internships at an art PR firm and at the MoMA design studio. I quickly realized I’m terrible at PR and I really like designing for print.
I started applying to design firms, ad agencies, and then one small publishing company called Basic Books. I recognized them from a book I read for my senior thesis. Luckily Nicole Caputo, the creative director at the time, saw something in me and my work and hired me as a junior designer. I’ve been working publishing ever since.
What do you love most about your job?
I love creating a physical object. It’s so rewarding to hold the book in your hands after working on it for over a year (or more!). I also love the photoshoots! Food photoshoots are the best—I’ve learned so much not just about photography and styling but also about cooking and different tips techniques. Also, you usually end up bringing home a bunch of food after being on set.
You designed the cover for the forthcoming book, Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now. Could you tell me about the inspiration and creative process behind the cover?
This book is so close to my heart, and it has been such an honor to design it. Jenny Xu, the editor, and Mark Robinson, art director, assembled the ultimate dream team. Julia Kuo created the stunning illustrations in the book.
Early in the process, we all hopped on a call with the authors and spit-balled some ideas. We wanted the cover to have a Where’s Waldo vibe but filled with Asian American faces. Once I saw early sketches from Julia and Mark mentioned the idea of having a bellyband, I knew exactly how I wanted the cover to look.
The title RISE is so strong and powerful, I wanted it to take up most of the bellyband. I designed a few different comps with the title straight vs diagonal in a few different color schemes. Everyone unanimously thought the red on charcoal was so powerful and loved the energy of the purple burst and title tilt. Julia’s illustration extends over the spine and to the back cover and there is a key to who everyone is on the inside back endpaper.
I cannot wait for this book to be out in the world!
I have to ask about Avocaderia, since you can probably tell I'm a big fan of avocados and I had to order a copy when I came across it on your site. What was it like working on that project?
Haha, yes! Henry Hargreaves and Caitlin Levin did the photography and were so fun to work with. Caitlin was the food and prop stylist and chose all of these intricate marble and stone surfaces. We kept the propping super minimal so that the focus would be on the food. The authors’ restaurant also has a specific look with green and white tiles, so I tried to incorporate all of those aspects into the book. I hired Anna Resmini to create the cover illustration, and she knocked it out of the park. I think the brief I gave her was to create something minimal but with tropical vibes. Thankfully she was able to interpret that perfectly!
If you could recommend one book to someone, what would it be?
Oh, wow this is a really difficult question and I can’t recommend just one book. If it’s a cookbook, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young or Small Victories by Julia Turshen. If it’s a reading book, Sourdough by Robin Sloan (super quirky and timely for all you quarantine sourdough bakers out there) or All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (this one’s pretty dark, fyi!).
What are you currently reading? And what's on your list for the next few months?
I am finishing A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet--it’s a quick read. Next up will be Kat Chow’s new book, Seeing Ghosts. And then all the books I’m reading for work, of course!