Mauricio Díaz (’12) is the Art Director of Open Road Integrated Media, a digital media company founded on “breathing life into classic works” by authors like Alice Walker, Jack Kerouac, Joan Didion, and Sherman Alexie – writers whose books were traditionally only available in print. In his position, Díaz designs covers, hires freelance artists and designers, and dreams-up creative concepts for content.
Born and raised in Mexico, Díaz knew he wanted to study publishing, but wasn’t sure what his focus should be. Cue Pace’s M.S. in Publishing program, a “perfect fit” for someone looking to find their niche in America’s publishing capital.
How would you describe your experience in Pace’s publishing program?
My experience in the publishing program was amazing. Being surrounded by students and teachers who are as passionate about the industry as you are is very inspiring. It was during the program that I completely fell in love with design. It’s where I typeset my first chapters and designed a few covers for books and magazines. I was hooked.
Where did you complete your internships as a student and how did they help you get to where you are today?
I did two internships as a student. The first was a publicity internship at Psychology Today magazine, where my boss recognized my love for design. I did a lot of creative work in ads. The [second was] at Open Road Integrated Media, where I was the first design intern in the newly-formed art department. Open Road was a very young company then, so I got to design several covers as an intern, something that would have been very difficult to do at a more established publisher. It was during this internship that I saw my first cover published. When the internship was over, Open Road offered me a part-time design assistant position and I never left!
How do you interact with other departments in the company?
I work very closely with editorial and marketing when it comes to nailing the design of a book cover. There are MANY people who need to be on-board with a cover before we even show it to an author. Then, if an author doesn’t like something, we usually try to accommodate their notes. It’s very important to us that authors are happy with the way their books are presented to the world.
How do you see your field evolving in 5–10 years?
We are realizing that readers are initially coming across books on their screens, rather than in physical form. Because of that, one of our main concerns is making sure our covers look best at thumbnail size – that the design stands out, and that the text is readable online. For almost a year now, we’ve done our weekly cover meetings exclusively on phones. Before the meeting, I send out an email to the editorial and marketing teams, and we’ll go through covers on small screens rather than big televisions. It’s been incredibly insightful!
What advice would you give to students entering the field?
As a student, I learned so much from my internships. In my experience, the first place an employer will look when trying to fill an entry-level position is past interns. I’m living proof! Social media is also more important than ever. I’ve actually hired freelance designers and illustrators because I’ve come across their work on Instagram. Also try to attend as many book-related events as possible. Book events happen every single day in New York City. In my experience, everyone is very friendly and open to helping in anyway they can, so it’s absolutely worth it to get out of your comfort zone, put yourself out there, and meet peers as well as established publishing professionals.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading a great book on the work of Paul Rand by Steven Heller, and I just started Chip Kidd’s Book Two. I’m also halfway through IT by Stephen King, and almost done The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.