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  • Writer's pictureEmma Clayton

The role of an editorial designer has gone though considerable changes in recent years, particularly in-house positions. And now, more than ever, is it important to diversify in order to progress within the publishing industry.

Design roles are evolving

At the start of my career, the printed product was our only focus and design teams tended to be larger with more specialised roles such as layout designers, jacket designers and picture researchers, etc. But now it’s often no longer sustainable to specialise in a particular area of editorial design – such roles don’t really exist anymore. During the course of my career, in-house design roles have responded to changes in technology and within our industry by becoming increasingly multi-disciplinary. Therefore to progress in our careers, we need to be able demonstrate that we possess skills beyond editorial design and typography.

As a senior art editor, my main responsibilities also included sourcing, commissioning and managing freelancers (designers, illustrators, photographers and picture researchers); managing multiple projects across a variety of genres; ensuring that all briefs were worked on and that the design workflow ran smoothly and on schedule; checking colour proofs; organising and directing photography shoots; conducting picture research; managing art budgets; building schedules; pre-flighting documents and creating print-ready PDFs.

Adobe expertise

Proficiency in the standard Adobe toolkit – InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator – is essential. While InDesign is the editorial designer’s bread and butter, we’re frequently required to edit, colour-correct and cut-out images, especially if you’re working with tight budgets. Although illustrators are likely to have been commissioned to create most, if not all, of your artwork, it’s always advantageous to have a fundamental familiarity with illustrator so that you’re able to make basic amendments; perhaps even create some simple, decorative elements to help elevate a design project that hasn’t been assigned an illustration budget.

Scanning recent job advertisements made me aware of how editorial design has evolved even further. In addition to the usual criteria, a number of advertised roles were also looking for experience using After Effects (for creating and editing films for marketing purposes), as well as the ability to create animations and banners for social media platforms. In some cases, where designers may be required to support sales and marketing departments, some knowledge of designing elements for digital platforms is preferred. Although wearing multiple hats can be challenging, well-rounded designers are better equipped to succeed professionally.

Keep on learning

As a freelance designer, my role may not be as multi-faceted as my previous in-house positions – being predominantly focused on the design and pre-press aspects of book design. But it’s a very competitive market so it quickly became clear to me that if I was going to succeed, I would need to expand my skill set, so that I would not only make myself a stronger candidate but I would also have more opportunities for work – potentially including areas outside of book design, such as magazines and digital publishing (especially since a number of magazines, are now digital-only). Regardless of our experience or expertise, there is always something to learn. And it’s important that we don’t let ourselves become stagnant.

This was the motivation for developing my Illustrator abilities, so that I can now create my own artwork. It’s something I particularly enjoy and would love to pursue, so I continue to watch online tutorials, learn new techniques and practice. I also studied the fundamentals of video editing using After Effects; how to create animations, banners and creative effects in Photoshop; as well as the basics of coding using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. But most of all, I simply had fun experimenting, trying new things, and discovering where my passions lay.

As we navigate the pandemic, many of us have found ourselves facing a lot of change and uncertainty, which can be daunting. But approaching change as an opportunity rather than a threat strengthens our ability to adapt. Ask yourself what you enjoy about design, keep an eye on current job postings to identify what design teams are looking for and any skill gaps you may have. And always be prepared to learn something new.

Five useful online resources to help you expand your skill set

  1. Adobe ( Adobe offers free tutorials for all its software, ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced. It’s a great place to start.

  2. Skillshare ( Offers a range of classes in a variety of creative disciplines including design, illustration, photography and animation. Some classes are free, but others require a subscription.

  3. Udemy ( Offers 130,000 online video courses, with new additions published every month. Courses are bought individually, so no subscription is required.

  4. LinkedIn Learning ( Its design courses are taught by real-world professionals and you will be awarded a certificate upon completion. A subscription is necessary.

  5. YouTube: A fantastic resource and the first place I look whenever I have a specific design issue.

The full article is available on the BookMachine website at

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