Art + Design

The Beautiful Imperfections of a Book Based on Handwritten Letters

Lizzie Vaughan is a designer at Chronicle Books who worked on the book Dear Friend by Gina Mulligan. Here she explains her process translating handwritten letters into book form. 

Girls Love Mail is a charity that collects handwritten letters of encouragement and delivers them to women who have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Dear Friend is a compilation of those anonymous letters.

Dear Friend

Gina Mulligan, the founder of Girls Love Mail, came to the Chronicle Books office early on in the design process. Her warmth and excitement radiated as she handed over a large cardboard box. Inside were over 100 letters, carefully partitioned into individual folders and organized alphabetically. Even at first glance it was clear these letters, packaged so thoughtfully, were full of heart and personality.

Dear Friend

Flipping through, some had drawings, some had stickers, some had super tight and script-y penmanship you had to squint to read. Some were composed on binder paper, some on fine stationery. There were jokes, and there were poems.

Dear Friend

Dear Friend

Once we were finished scanning and reading all the letters (often with a smile, sometimes with heartfelt tears), we knew we had all the design assets we needed. The challenge was simply to preserve the character and flair handed to us. No rules were set—you won’t find a consistent typeface or color palette, and you may even find an “i” left undotted. We were happy to embrace this beautiful inconsistency.

Dear Friend

Breast cancer has touched the lives of so many, and like the letters inside this book, each story is unique—but we are bound together in solidarity. As if opening an envelope from a friend, we hope that every time a reader turns the page, she feels comforted and loved. We believe in you!

Oh, and here’s a bonus peek at the cover process—below are a few of the other directions we explored.

Dear Friend

Dear Friend

And here’s the final cover:

Dear Friend

If you want to learn more, you can read about Gina’s story and get involved with Girls Love Mail to pen your own letters. And, of course, you can pick up a copy of Dear Friend here.

Dear Friend

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To read more about all things design at Chronicle books, visit here.


Lizzie Vaughan

Designer at Chronicle Books. Ephemera collector. Moodboard maker. Rainy day enthusiast. Follow her on instagram @lizziehunter and see more of her work at

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1 Comment

  • Gina Mulligan November 13, 2017 at 10:37 am

    Lizzie, thank you for sharing your story about the book process. Every time I look at the book, all of the elements you talked about come through. I wasn’t sure how the feel of a letter would translate into a book, but it does because of your attention to detail and beautiful artwork. You and the team did an amazing job and it’s been a true pleasure to work with you! Thank you!!



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