In conversation with Janet Hansen



Janet Hansen is an associate art director at Penguin Random House focusing on the Alfred A. Knopf, Pantheon Books, and Everyman’s Library imprints. She also teaches graphic design at the School of Visual Arts. Her work has been featured by AIGA, Artsy, It's Nice That, the New York Times, and the Type Directors Club. 

She currently lives in a little old house in Montclair, New Jersey with her husband, daughter, and two whippets. 

What's a typical day in the life like working as an Associate Art Director at Penguin Random House?

Typical (these days!) is biking to work on the other side of town where my husband and I rent a studio space. At any given time I am juggling at least 15 book jacket design projects in all their various stages—whether reading a manuscript, brainstorming ideas, sketching, preparing mechanicals, or sending files out to the printer. Summer is pretty quiet and meetings are a bit on a lull. Not too shabby!

How did you get into the publishing industry? 

By accident. It’s not where I thought I would be after graduating—I was trying to break into design within the fine art and nonprofit worlds, but it was proving difficult. I met the creative director of Penguin when I went to a party with my boyfriend (now husband). He offered me a freelance project, and after that a junior designer position at Penguin. I went out on a limb and decided to take it.

A Selfie as Big as The Ritz by Lara Williams

What advice do you have for my readers who are trying to break into the industry?

Try to get to know the people who work behind the scenes of the books you admire. Reach out cold—via email or introducing yourself at a book or design event. Ask for their advice. Network!

I absolutely love the Voices in the Night by Steven Millhauser cover. What was the inspiration behind that?

I wanted to try to create something that embodied the book as a whole, rather than calling out any specific occurrences. A common theme was a divide between ordinary logic and magical realism. The characters all seem to be grasping for something (very) unattainable, or for some form of fantastical fulfillment. That led me to researching op art, which deceives the eye by appearing to be more than what it is. I went to the Guggenheim Museum while all of this was fresh in my mind and coincidentally happened to see the perfect optical illusion in the lines of the building. I sketched it out, and luckily it fell into place.

Voices in the Night by Steven Millhauser

You have no shortage of fantastic cover designs in your portfolio. What's the most memorable cover you've designed and why?

Probably ‘Cherry’ by Nico Walker. It’s not every day the author you want to present your jacket designs to is in prison.

What are you currently reading? Any books on the must-read list for the coming months?

Currently, reading manuscripts (Selma Blair’s Mean Baby and Hurricane Girl by Marcy Dermansky). Two books sitting on my bedside (along with some parenting ones) are Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner and Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults.

Cherry by Nico Walker

Stay up to date with Janet's work by visiting her website