Illustrating The Story of Work: A Q&A with studio MUTI

The Story of Work by Jan Lucassen - front cover

We work because we have to, but also because we like it: from hunting-gathering over 700,000 years ago to the present era of zoom meetings, humans have always worked to make the world around them serve their needs. In The Story of Work: A New History of Humankind,  Jan Lucassen presents a truly inclusive history of humanity’s endless labor throughout the ages. 

The stunning book cover art was commissioned from MUTI, a creative studio of dedicated illustrators and designers based in the city of Cape Town, South Africa. We asked MUTI to tell us a bit about themselves, as well as their creative process and influences.


 1. Could you tell us a bit about your creative process and how much of it is collaborative? 

We’re a studio of 12 illustrators working on multiple projects at a time. Some of them require collaboration, but generally one illustrator would work on a project, lead by a creative director . One of the nice aspects working in a studio with many talented people is that you always have someone to discuss your idea with and ask for a fresh perspective when needed. The typical creative process in the studio starts with pencil sketches which is an easy and quick way to get multiple ideas without investing too much time. From there you can easily scan for the best idea and start the sketch again digitally, refining as you progress. The last step in the process would be moving into rendering and final touches.

2. Where do you draw inspiration from? What are your influences? 

We often draw inspiration from our individual interests and our environment. It’s evident in our portfolio which has a diversity of ideas and styles.

3. Fires, factories, a woman with a briefcase, an ancient Egyptian figure stirring a pot… How did you choose what to feature on the cover of The Story of Work

The story of work has lots of fun elements to draw from given the amount of time it spans in history. We chose stories and ideas that showed diversity and that would be interesting to illustrate.

4. Static illustrations or images in motion? How different are they to create? 

Depending on the level of motion required it’s essentially the same process. If the character moves extensively then you might need to separate limbs to allow for rigging.

5. Can you tell us about any upcoming or current projects you are excited about?

We’re excited about 2 new sets of playing cards we are working on, as well as an in house animation due for the end of the year. We’re probably forgetting a ton of work that has not been released yet so keep checking our Instagram for updates. 


The Story of Work will be published by Yale University Press in July 2021. While we wait for the book, we couldn’t resist asking Studio Muti to animate their superb cover for us – scroll down to get the full effect! See more of studio MUTI’s beautiful work on their website and Instagram.

Interested in illustration and book design? Check out our interview with Alex Kirby on designing beautiful books.

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