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Theseus Chan on the D&AD 2024 Book Design category: ‘I just thought there’s not enough risk taking’

LONDON, UK — On the second and final day of its festival in Southbank Centre, London, D&AD 2024 is all geared up for its prestigious Awards ceremony. As is the case each year, the show honors works of creative excellence in design and advertising with the iconic D&AD Pencil after a rigorous process of judging, led by creative leaders from all over the world.

In anticipation of the winners’ announcment, adobo Magazine President, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief Angel Guerrero sat down with D&AD Jury President for Book Design, WERK Founder and Owner Theseus Chan, for an insightful chat on this year’s entries, and the category at large.

As someone who is passionate about printing materials and techniques, and taking the unconventional approach to typography and design, Theseus emphasized the importance of applying creativity and experimentation in book design. In his conversation with Angel, he shared the creative possibilities of book design and the significance of physical books in today’s digital world.


Commenting on the work, “Overall, I just thought there’s not enough risk-taking, there’s not enough exploration of the possibility of what the book can be. The components of a good book would be typography, layout, binding, construction, production values, and all. But underlying that, there has to be an approach in which you can investigate and experiment with book-making.” 

“There may have been little glimpses of experimentation in the entries, but I didn’t really see much. There are good layouts, typography, two-column or three-column grids, the alignments of fonts, and all that sort of thing. I was looking for beyond that,” he added.

On his creative process

Theseus challenged designers to “push it, juxtapose things, deconstruct and put them back together again” and experiment with other ways to make books more interesting.

“I was experimenting on how, ‘Hey, we can print black.’ How dense can you print that blank? As you know, there’s a limit before the paper gets stuck together. [What if you] bind pages together to rip it apart? Those explorations have pushed me to where I am right now as a designer. Constantly always searching and questioning. Constantly searching for my own way to express it,” he remarked.

Books in the digital world

Theseus also highlighted the need for craftsmanship and attention to detail in this particular category, underlining the importance of the printed book. “When you pick up the book that you are attracted to, how does it feel?,” he started. “How does it weigh? How do you feel your fingers when you turn the pages, when you touch them, when you smell them, and when it sends a layer of ink on top of the paper? These are the tactile things that cannot be replicated digitally. If you lose tactility, you lose a lot of your senses.”

“Books do have an important place in our humanity, in our lives. It’s refreshing to just sit on a plane and read a book, not scrolling through screens. Looking at a screen can really be tiring. I’m sure that a good book gives good fuel. It’s just like a beautiful object. Seriously, beautiful object that can be with you anywhere.”


“For designers, it is important not to rest on your laurels on what brings you to success, basking in the success. You have to somewhat deconstruct and then strive even more. What breeds success should not be repeated,” he challenged.

“Graphic designers would have to understand all the fundamentals that contribute to a book. There are more young designers doing book design, but hopefully, it’s not a novelty for them as they have a keen interest in the analog technique. If you’re born with digital, you realize there is more and probe — Can I touch this? Can I make this like? Can I feel that and smell it? I have to do it with my hands — and all of a sudden, it opens up a new dimension, right? Mixing things, they discover, and it gives them another dimension to experiment with and create.”

“I’ve said many times to stay hungry, and if they can afford it, live the dream. And if they can’t work towards living the dream, don’t give up. Don’t be discouraged, but listen to yourself. Don’t take other people’s opinions or comments from media, social media. Be introspective as yourself and have strength to be resilient in diversity and all that sort of thing. You need to live that dream, you need to be passionate. I’m sure you can find it.”

Personal philosophy

“I started in advertising and learned the value of the importance of craft. When I started art school, I saw how the art director showed so much attention and passion. We’re talking about the analog way of doing artwork and the details; it’s like a badge of honor. You know, if you’re an art director, you look up all these things, the details. That was really inspiring,” he opened up.

Theseus continued, “When I started my career, I did films. But I find that extremely laborious and tedious, partly because things are unpredictable when you have a shoot, and I couldn’t work with it. Ironically, now that I’m concentrating on books and printed matter, I’ve developed a personal philosophy that I work with the dynamics of the situation.”

“Figuratively, if it’s raining, I would see a way to do it with the rain in the water. If the circumstances don’t allow me to do certain things in production, I would spontaneously evolve it to see how it turns out. This is my way of somehow trying to move forward, not content with just being able to do the layout — but to be able to see how spontaneity could influence design.”

With these considerations, Theseus hopes that book designers do not lose their grit in designing for the physical book, reinventing tactile elements to make the category exciting and more experimental. To his point, designers must continue to take risks with physical experiences despite and because of the transformations the digital space brings. And through it all, to never lose sight of craft and the art of making.

View the full list of D&AD 2024 Book Design winners here.

adobo Magazine is an official media partner of D&AD 2024.

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