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Designing for Children: A Conversation with Susan Wilder Neuhaus

By: Kaleigh Lueske & Sarah Zahavi

Susan Wilder Neuhaus is a designer located in the New York City Metropolitan Area. She has a wide range of skills and experience as a designer and a partner at NeuStudio, including the design of children’s books, websites, and branding. NeuStudio designs children’s books and marketing materials for children’s books. I knew that Susan would have a great perspective on the publishing industry.

First, I asked Susan more about what she does at NeuStudio. 

Susan Wilder Neuhaus (SWN): Usually what happens is that the editor will acquire a manuscript and they will take it through a couple rounds of editing. They will have selected an illustrator and we’ll put together a layout for the book and figure out what size it will be. We make sure the illustrator has what they need to make the right sized book and that they leave room for the typography and other things like that. We’re at the interface between the illustrator’s artwork, the writer’s manuscript, and the manufacturer. My husband does the art direction, where he ensures that the art is the right aspect ratio.

On NeuStudio’s website, it says “We Design Wonder”, so of course I had to ask about what that meant.

SWN: I love the idea of an open-ended thought. Part of the reason why that statement is so broad is that I want people to ask me more about it. Then I can talk with them about what we do and what they need. That was a marketing choice, but it also fits. I love the idea of having a book that a child wonders about and I love surprising my clients with a new idea, so it has ramifications.

Children’s books come in all shapes and cover all sorts of topics. We asked Susan what, in her opinion, is the most important thing that a children’s book should have? 

SNW: I think respect for the child reader. Sometimes I see books that seem a little cynical, like “the kid will think it’s cute” kind of thing. I think children are very complex people with more sophistication than sometimes some books give them credit for.

Screenshot: NeuStudio Website Home Page
NeuStudio Website Home Page

The publishing industry is always changing, especially in response to new technology. What does Susan think the future of the children’s book industry will look like?

SWN: I think for very young children there’s a social dimension to a picture book. Someone is reading it to them, they’re close to a parent or caregiver. And that’s important because…the caregiver is modeling expressions and all kinds of little nuances that you don’t get if you hand a child a tablet. So, I think for very young children there’s going to be a long life for picture books. On the other hand, eBooks feel like they’re not a totally immersive experience like a video game would be. So, I wonder if there’s a future for certain kinds of books or if the future of narrative is gaming, a more interactive experience. I say that because right now eBooks are constrained by the technology and the choices technologists made up to 20 years ago. MOBI is an ancient format and EPUB does seem to be evolving, but none of it seems to make for a significantly greater immersive experience than print books. So, until that time I see an advantage to gaming over eBooks. 

I’d like to thank Susan for taking time out of her busy schedule for us to ask her some questions! Her last point, about the future of the industry, is definitely very intriguing. What advancements in technology may come about and change how we read books?

We invite all readers to attend our webinar on November 27th at 10:30 am, where we’ll be discussing new innovations and possibilities that will change what an interactive digital book can be. Register for the webinar below:

What do you think is the most important thing that a children’s book should have? Let us know in the comments!

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