Expert Voices: A View From the Top with Fabrizio La Rocca

Fabrizio LaRocca is the Vice President for Corporate Design at Penguin Random House. With a 30-year career spanning print and digital publishing while leading a team of UX and visual designers, I got a chance to speak with Fabrizio about how he got started in publishing, career milestones, putting customers first, and communicating design ideas for such an iconic brand as Penguin Random House.

How did you become VP for Corporate Design at PRH?

I started as an Art Director with the Fodor’s Travel imprint where I was in charge of print design. Prior to that, I was focused on the design of audio and language books. The one thing that never changed was putting the core idea of putting the consumer first and foremost.

Was it a difficult transition from print to digital? Many publishers have struggled and some are still struggling with how much the landscape has changed.

For me, it wasn’t very difficult because I was working very closely with print houses. I saw the way digital was hitting printing presses and how most were going out of business because they couldn’t keep up with technology. Those that learned to quickly transition survived are now thriving. At the same time, this idea of informational design was already happening, so it was a natural progression for me to combine the two.

How difficult is it to design around such an iconic brand as Penguin? I imagine you can’t change very much about it.

That’s right. There is some level of difficulty because of all the nested imprints, but we have very detailed guidelines we follow whereby you can tell the difference between designing something at the division/imprint level and it still carry the Penguin Random House look.

What is the one thing a UX designer should know as they learn to communicate visually?

I expect my designers to be able to present their idea clearly. I’m talking about the actual presentation to the group. It’s a skill that you must practice. If my designer can tell me clearly what their idea is, we can work on actual designing something out.

I thought you were going to say to focus on color theory or typography.

Those things are important, too, but just being able to show me in a presentation a design idea is something more new designer should work on. It’s a skill that will help you throughout your career.

How much research is done at your level and within your group of designers?

A fair amount. Right now, my team is focused on designing intranets and employee portals, so it’s all about making design decisions based on use cases. And, these use cases are worked into presentations which are not only presented to me, but to division/imprint heads depending on the project.

If you had all the time and money in the world and if you couldn’t do what you are doing right now, what else would you be doing?

I’m not interested in much else! I’m wedded and happy to be working in publishing and I’m happy with my evolution. I guess if I couldn’t do this, I would work with smaller presses and spend more time with traditional print publishing. But I’m pretty happy where I am now.