Geray Gencer, whom we know from his book cover designs and typography projects, began his career by working as an art director at various advertising agencies. Having received important awards from reputable institutions such as New York Type Directors Club, Graphis and European Design Awards, the designer still works as a creative director at Dogan publishing house and continues his personal work at his house in Macka.
Who is Geray Gencer? Could you introduce yourself?
It’s hard for one to talk about himself. I would like to answer this question through the answers of other questions.
How did you decide to become a graphic designer? Could you talk about your career a bit?
I was studying Management in college but I had no career plans in that direction. Right after graduation, I went to London to confront myself about design, and also to discover the limits of my curiosity. After creating a what I believed sufficient portfolio at St. Martins, I began working at a small studio in Ankara. Gaining a bit of experience, I came to Istanbul and continued my career as an art director at advertising agencies McCann Erickson and BBDO. However, after a while, I discovered that I was not suitable for the agency life. For the last 6 years, I have been working as an art director at Dogan Egmont publishing house. Graduating from my master’s degree at Bilgi University last year, I began working at Işık University as a lecturer.
How do you remember the days when you were working at agencies?
It is a difficult industry where fast production forces humanly limits, where relationships and creativity gets worn out rapidly. Of course there are other agencies and studios with different work ethics, but my main opinion is this.
Has your advertising background helped your book cover designs? How should a good book cover look?
I try to question the relationship the book could have with its target reader audience, I believe this comes from my advertising past. My job is not to satisfy the writer, the publishing manager or even my very own aesthetical concerns. I try to design book covers that are childish and fun, while at the same time frank about the book’s own voice.
What kind of a research period is required before you begin your designs? Do you read all the books you design covers for?
If you are designing a book cover, it is ideal to read and to internalize it. However, because of tight deadlines, sometimes it is not possible. I begin reading the book; meanwhile I meet the writer and talk face to face about their book, I brainstorm with the book’s editor about the content and the possible visual concepts and I begin working. Naturally, I get better outcomes when the book is in my area of interest and I can relate to it. But sometimes the opposite is also true.
How does it feel to see your own designs on books at stores?
I got used to seeing my designs on shelves at stores. But at the subway, if I see someone reading a book, I always try to see the cover. If it is one of my designs, I smile at myself. :)
Does book cover designs affect the book sales?
A book’s commercial success depends on many different factors. The language, the setup, subject, the writer’s past, recognition, writer-publishing house matching, the quality of the book, pricing, current market condition, the publishing house’s distribution, marketing and appearance, etc.
All of these affect the book sales directly. The design of the book cover is only one of these. Only when we recognize this can we question the cover design’s role and success healthily.
On the other hand, I have a difficult time understanding why we value the cover design more than the book’s content itself. If you want to have a relationship with the book, you have to read it. Looking at the cover is not enough. As we move from printed to digital content, we still have the eagerness to buy real books. But we certainly are not the same when it comes to reading the books we buy.
You have received important awards from respectable institutions such as New York Type Directors Club, Graphis, European Design Awards… Have these contributed to you?
Ever since I began working as a graphic designer, I’ve been trying to create my own internationally recognized voice. To have this approved by known, respectable institutions certainly makes me happy. I can say that it increases the responsibility I feel to keep doing what I do at even higher standards. Because of these awards, I get invites from many international organizations. I get the chance to get together with colleagues from different academic and commercial cultures.
You are a GMK board member. What kind of works or studies are you carrying out?
Graphic Designers Professional Organization, of which I am a board member, holds an Exhibition of Graphic Products each year. We have begun working on this year’s. We are trying something new; we want to make the institution’s works financially and structurally sustainable. I hope we can reach our goals during our administrative period and create a more including GMK that builds stronger relationships between designers.
Could you talk about your lectures at Işık University? As an academician, what do you think about the design education that is given in Turkey?
This semester I am teaching “Authentic Book Design” and I am helping our master Yurdaer Altıntaş at “Graduation Project” classes. What I focus on is my students finding their inner voice and coming up with their own design language. Yes, there are great universities in Turkey on Graphic Design and Communication Design in general, but it makes me sad to see that the graduates are still far from creating a rich expression language.
You are working intensively. How do you set your work discipline?
When I look back on the last 5 years, I see that I have in fact worked very intensively. I guess I have a strict inner discipline. However, I also want to use this energy sparingly and set some time for myself as well. This is why I chose my projects meticulously, quality over quantity feels good for me.
Soon you are going to teach design in the American University at Beirut. How does it feel that you are going to experience a different culture?
I plan to spend a semester at Lebanese American University as a visiting lecturer. I have already worked with the students there as workshop manager during short-term workshops before. Working with different students from various cultures opens up one’s mind and spirit at the same time.
Is there a city you dream of living in, other than Istanbul?
Frankly, I don’t like living in Istanbul. This might be because I find that the city environment is very demanding to live daily. I would prefer living somewhere where life progresses a little slower, where I could be in more interaction with the nature.
What are you interested in these days? Are there any new projects?
I have recently been invited by NY Type Directors Club to be a juror for the TDC 61 Communication Design Competition in New York. The 61th almanac that will include the selected works will soon be published by Harper Collins and be distributed all over the world. This August I will also be the head of a 15-day workshop founded by Emre Senan and Ayşegül İzer. It will be held at the Yahşibey village of İzmir, for successful university students – free of charge. The preparation of the course and the selection of the students is still going on. Meanwhile I am also working on a font design and preparing for my personal exhibition that I am going to hold next year.
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