Tom Etherington on stepping away from a dream role

Tom Etherington has left Penguin Press after six years as a cover designer at the publisher. He talks to us about why he gave up many designers’ dream job and what comes next

“I have a book cover designer friend who says you should only ever stay in a job for six years, and after that you need to leave. He is really adamant that it’s six years,” says designer Tom Etherington, who has just left publishing house Penguin Press after – you guessed it – six years, though he insists the timing is a coincidence rather than a fulfilment of his friend’s logic.

Etherington readily admits the design role at Penguin Press had been his dream role. “I was looking at the Penguin website every other week to see if a job had come up,” he recalls. Finally, Penguin was looking for someone with experience in illustration – the publishing company was starting to embrace more illustrated titles – and magazines, to cover work on the Happy Reader, the title Penguin Random House publishes in collaboration with Fantastic Man. Joining from Rankin Photography, where he worked on photo books and its fashion magazine, Hunger, Etherington fit the bill.

For the next six years, he worked on a blend of projects across Penguin Press, home to imprints including Penguin Classics and Allen Lane: “I would work on book covers, and then also illustrated titles, designing the whole book, and then every six months, I’d work on the Happy Reader magazine. So it felt like a really nice balance of different projects, which I think is quite rare in publishing. I think a lot of book cover designers are just book cover designers.”