Before joining What on Earth Books in 2019, Daisy Symes studied graphic design at Kingston University and worked in design at Macmillan Children’s Books

For each project, Daisy will pair an author’s manuscript with an illustrator whose style will visualise the subject well, and is suitable for the reading age of the book. She will then send the illustrator briefs, including the layout of each page with the text in place, so the illustrator has an idea of what to draw. Designing book covers is also a big part of her job.

1. How did you get into designing children’s books?

I studied Graphic Design at Kingston University, and I have always enjoyed playful, simple and colourful design. My dissertation was on Children’s Picture Books and Learning Through Play, and for my final project I made a life-size bookfor children to interact with by getting inside the story — literally. The audience can poke their heads through the holes to become the character, and other elements such as pop-ups and flaps to engage the child. After graduating in 2018 I worked at Pan Macmillan, before joining What on Earth Publishing in July 2019. We publish illustrated non-fiction children’s books across a range of topics from interesting and quirky perspectives. Our idea is that ‘the real world is far more amazing than anything you can make up’! Working in a small team means I get to work on different areas in the company and learn lots while doing it.

2. What’s the process for deciding which illustrator is the right fit for the book?

Usually, the author will write a manuscript for the book first and then we (the designers and editors) look for illustrators on Instagram and through illustration agencies. We pick a selection of illustrators whose style will suit the topic best, and fits the age range of the book. Then we present the illustrator deck to the rest of the team, and discuss who would be the best fit for the particular title. For example, I’m currently working on a lighthearted and humorous book that is aimed at a younger audience. We chose an illustrator with a quirky style who uses lots of expression and movement in her work, and gorgeously vibrant colours.

3. How do you design a book cover?

Designing book covers is a big part of my job, and they normally take several rounds of ideas and iterations before we decide on one route. It can be a challenge to get the whole concept of the book into one main image that instantly explains what the book is about, and is also engaging enough to make you want to pick it up. Often, a clear and simple idea works best, but normally we need to experiment and play a bit before we get to that point. Simple isn’t always easy! The type plays an integral part in cover design, and we usually experiment with different type stacks and fonts, or even create one ourselves. For example, when I designed the cover for 150 First Words I wanted to use a young and playful font but couldn’t find one that was quite right, so I cut out paper to make the numbers ‘150’ and then scanned it and made it into a vector. I also drew the type ‘First Words’ on Adobe Illustrator.

4. How do you work out what will happen on each page of a book?

I begin by reading the text on the page or spread, and think about what will look best visually. I really like working out how the text and illustration can work together, and how to best communicate what is written. I then sketch a rough layout and composition with the text in place, so the illustrator has an idea of what to draw. However, the illustrator doesn’t necessarily have to use my sketch if they have a better idea — it’s quite a collaborative and flexible process. After I have briefed the illustrator they will send a rough sketch back. Myself and the rest of the team markup comments with any changes that we would like to be made, then the illustrator sends a revised sketch. We send another round of comments, and then the illustrator will take the sketch to final colour.

5. What’s your favourite part of your job?

I enjoy so many parts of my job. It’s so creative and never gets dull as each book is so different. Collaborating with artists with different styles is brilliant, and there is nothing more exciting than seeing an illustration come to life! Importing the final illustrations to piece together the book is also great — it’s very satisfying to see it slowly come together. I like putting together the InDesign files for each project, and choosing background colours and artwork for the front and end matter. It’s fun working on the endpapers too. Our projects are very time pressured, so it helps to be organised to keep track of where things are at. I also enjoy artworking illustrations in Photoshop eg. lightening areas that may be too dark for text to be legible, and adjusting anything that needs tweaking.

You can purchase a digital subscription to the What on Earth Books digital book collection here.


Absolutely Everything by Christopher Lloyd:

Amazing Islands by Sabrina Weiss & Kerry Hyndman:

Amazing Rivers by Julie Vosburgh Agnone & Kerry Hyndman:

Explorer Bugs! by Nick Forshaw & William Exley:

Explorer Dinosaurs! by Nick Forshaw & Andy Forshaw:

Explorer Mammals! by Nick Forshaw & William Exley:

Explorer Plants! by Nick Forshaw & William Exley:

Humanimal by Christopher Lloyd & Mark Ruffle:

Ocean — Secrets of the Deep by Sabrina Weiss & Giulia De Amicis:

Planet SOS by Marie G. Rohde:

Prehistoric by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld & Julius Csotonyi: