Posted 23 February 2022

Josie Staveley Taylor on working at Penguin and designing a book cover for Bernardine Evaristo

With a love of both drawing and reading, it’s perhaps not surprising that Josie Staveley Taylor would go on to work at Penguin Random House. Sure enough – and thanks to a few strategic choices – she joined the team as a design assistant in 2020. As well as curating a portfolio of lettering designs and page layouts, Josie also entered (and was later shortlisted for) the Penguin Cover Design Award. Today, she supports the team across a variety of tasks, and has even worked on the cover for an upcoming paperback version of Bernadine Evaristo’s Manifesto. Here, Josie fills us in on her day-to-day, going from illustration to design and shares advice for other aspiring cover designers.

Josie Staveley Taylor

Job Title

Design Assistant, Penguin Random House UK (2020–present)



Previous Employment

This is Josie’s first full-time job

Place of Study

BA Illustration, Falmouth University (2017-2020)

Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do, and specifically what you do at Penguin Random House?
My job title is design assistant, which means I help the rest of the cover design team with anything they need. An average day for me can include setting up freelancer files for print, talking with the production team about book finishes, helping to lay out internal spreads for illustrated books, doing small illustrations and bits of lettering for other people in the team – as well as working on my own cover designs.

It’s a really great job for me, because not only am I becoming an expert on the physical processes involved in sending books to print, I’m also able to learn about the thought and design process that goes into a variety of covers from all of the talented designers in my team.

“I usually adapt hardback covers to paperback. But with “Manifesto” I got to do a complete redesign – which is usually the job of a senior designer.”

What recent piece of work at Penguin are you most proud of?
The most exciting thing I’ve done recently has been designing the paperback cover of Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo. When books print in paperback format – and if the cover doesn’t need a major design overhaul – I usually do the job of adapting the hardback cover design so it works well in paperback format. After Manifesto was allocated to me to adapt, the editors decided that the book needed a complete redesign.

Luckily my art director had already let me have a go at designing a couple of new covers anyway, despite this kind of job usually going to a much more senior designer. By some miracle, everyone liked the designs I came up with, and so now my design is on the paperback due to be released in September. I’ve been a fan of Girl, Woman, Other since before I started to work at Penguin, so I am incredibly excited to have my work on a book by an author I enjoy so much.

Paperback cover design for Manifesto by Bernadine Evaristo

How I got here

What kind of skills are needed to do your role? Would you say you need any specific training to do what you do?
I use Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator every day, so understanding Adobe Creative Suite is pretty important. I learned most of my tech skills at university, but there’s absolutely no requirement to have a degree – a lot of my InDesign knowledge has come from YouTube tutorials.

Generally, my job involves working on lots of different tasks all at once, so it’s really important to stay organised and be precise when following instructions. I have to ensure that all my books get sent to print on time, and that everybody is happy with the finished result.

“I wrote my dissertation about Penguin Books; so as soon as I heard a job had opened, I knew I had to apply.”

How did you land the job?
I love to read and I love to draw, so being a book cover designer has always sounded really fun to me. During my third year of university, I deliberately directed my portfolio towards showcasing skills like lettering design and page layout; I thought it would help me apply to in-house jobs at a publisher or magazine.

In 2019, I also entered the Penguin Cover Design Award and was shortlisted for my cover for Norwegian Wood, by one of my favourite authors, Haruki Murakami. Even though I planned strategically, it was also a massive stroke of luck that the right job appeared at the right time. I wrote my dissertation about Penguin Books; so as soon as I heard a job had opened, I knew I had to apply.

At the prize ceremony I got to meet lots of the designers and art directors at Penguin, which meant that when I applied for this design assistant role, I had already met the people interviewing me. This was a massive help, as it made me feel confident that the people at the company already knew and liked my work! After interviewing for the job on Zoom, I was offered the role during the early stages of the pandemic.

What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
I feel incredibly lucky to have landed any job straight out of university. I had done a few freelance illustration jobs during my degree – but I am a simple soul, I love structure and routine, so I knew that I wanted to work as a designer in-house.

Starting my first ever “real” job remotely, from a tiny desk in the corner of my childhood bedroom, was a ginormous learning curve. As I studied illustration (not graphic design), it felt daunting joining a team full of very impressive designers. But being thrown in at the deep end helped me learn really quickly.

Paperback cover design for true crime-style business book, The Key Man, by Simon Clark and Will Louch
Josie contributed to this design for Normal Sheeple by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, a parody of the cover for Normal People by Sally Rooney

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Not three specific things, but I am always inspired by wandering around bookshops. Every cover is a tiny little artwork, designed to make you excited about what could be inside the book. One designer who I’m always amazed by is Jon Gray. I remember talking about how much I love his cover for Zadie Smith’s Grand Union in my job interview, so that design has a special place in my heart now. I am also obsessed with Holly Ovenden’s designs and would love to design covers as fun and illustrative as hers.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
I think my main challenge was making the decision to study illustration in the first place. Nobody I knew growing up was artistic at all, so I had no concept of what jobs would be open to me if I studied an arts subject. It felt to me like being a designer was an unrealistic thing to aspire to.

Choosing to study illustration instead of an academic subject (which felt like a ‘safer’ option jobs-wise) created extra pressure to succeed, so I could prove to myself and others that I had made the right decision.

Inside the Penguin offices

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
My university tutor gave me some good interview advice. He said that “By the time you’ve been selected for a job interview, you know the interviewers have already seen your portfolio and liked it. An interview is a time to relax and show that you are a nice, fun person to have around the office.” I think a lot about that advice and tell it to other people all the time – hopefully this helps someone else too!

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
If you want to get into cover design, probably the best thing to do is to engage with a lot of books. When I’m reading a book I’ll always look at the cover and work out why the designer made their choices.

Setting yourself speculative briefs is a really useful way to prove that you can do the job. At university, I chose to redesign a couple of my favourite books, which was great practice in working out which parts of a narrative are most important to pull out in a cover design. Also, think about how designs are set up to appeal to specific audiences.

There are also a lot of design competitions, which are a great opportunity to practice working on professional briefs. Entering the Penguin Cover Design Award was incredibly helpful to me since it gave me the experience of following a brief set by a real art director; and gave me a tiny glimpse into the world of cover design and Penguin. This eventually opened doors to a full-time job doing something I love!


The Penguin Cover Design Award is currently open to UK and Ireland-based designers and illustrators who haven’t yet had significant experience in a paid creative role. Click the button below for all the details on how to apply.

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Interview by N'Tanya Clarke