The saying goes that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in the life of a graphic designer that is not necessarily the case, as their work is assessed and given value — by author and consumer alike — based on the covers, business cards, calendars and more they create on a daily basis.
Jim Friesen, senior graphic designer for Mennonite Press, has been in that line of work for nearly four decades. Book covers, in particular, are one of Friesen's favorite projects to work on and he noted he is often striving for two things when creating those — to grab the potential reader's attention and design something that relates to the book's subject matter.
Starting that process, Friesen will often meet with the author and the salesperson to go over some ideas for covers. Sometimes the author will already have something in mind, while other times they will leave it completely up to Friesen's imagination, but most of the time the end result is the same — the author leaving a satisfied customer.
"I would say that most of them did not expect at all what it was going to look like and are very pleased with what they're seeing," Friesen said.
"Jim has worked for us a long time," said Mennonite Press managing director Steven Rudiger, "but I think he's still able to perceive from the customers what's in their mind when he meets with them to come up with things that meet those objectives and he has kind of an ability to match the design styles and types with the need that the customer might have."
Over the years, Friesen has worked on hundreds of book covers. A poster of some of his greatest works hangs in the halls of the Mennonite Press offices, where Friesen has worked for the entirety of his 38-year career in graphic design.
Right out of college, after receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bethel College, Friesen heard about the local position and jumped at the chance.
"Someone just told me that there was going to be an opening at Mennonite Press and I thought, 'well, I've been out of college and I'm not gonna be the starving artist,' so I went and applied and got hired," Friesen said.
Working in the same field for such a long time, Friesen has seen first-hand the evolution of the job, namely with the integration of computers — of which there was no exposure to while at Bethel — into a process that used to be done fully (from design to layout) by hand. Friesen admitted that has sped up the design process, but working for a commercial printer there are still deadlines that have to be met.
Book cover jobs can be pretty spread out among the other work Mennonite Press does (printing brochures, calendars, etc.), but Friesen said there are times when he will have a few to do in a week and only about three hours to work on each cover — which makes the use of computers that much more advantageous.
"It can go by really quick, all of a sudden, especially if you get to a point and then you're like, 'oh, I don't know what I'm doing with this anymore,' or it's kind of going the wrong way," Friesen said. "But still, because you're at a computer, it's so much quicker to go in a different direction."
Not only does Friesen work on the covers, but he helps design the entire layout of the book (or any other job he is working on), often starting with the first chapter of the book to get the green light on the design from the author before working through the entirety of the product.
Most of the time, Friesen admitted he does not know what he is going to do until he sits down and begins the design process. From the graphics to the fonts used, though, Friesen enjoys it all and that is what has kept him going.
"The creative process, for me, is so very intriguing. You take a blank sheet, basically, and are coming up with something," Friesen said. "That whole emotion of getting there, that's probably the most fulfilling and the reason why I'm still here."