Coralie Bickford-Smith graduated from Reading University in 1998 after studying Typography and Graphic Communication and has worked in-house at Penguin Books since 2002. Coralie’s book covers have been recognised by the AIGA (NY) and D&AD (UK) and have featured in a numerous international magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, Vogue and The Guardian. She was also selected as one of the rising stars in British Publishing by The Bookseller, 2011. Her work with Penguin Classics on the clothbound series attracted worldwide attention and harks back to the world of Victorian bindings and a golden age of book binding.
Could you please tell us more about your background and career? How did you start your job at Penguin Books?
I am a graphic designer currently based in London. I studied Typography and Graphic Communication at Reading University. Reading was a huge influence on me. It was the first formal design training, and therefore the foundation of my design knowledge. It was such an intensive course. I look back with rose tinted spectacles now but at the time it was a struggle, a lot of confidence breaking – and building – hard work. After trying out a few different design jobs I have ended up as senior cover designer at Penguin books for the last 10 years. At Penguin I have worked on many series and rejacketed lots of classic literature.
To which of your projects are you most fond of? Why?
For me it has been the Cloth Classics. They hit a moment in time when the book had become disposable once read. The reaction to them was so surprising it was like suddenly I had finally created something that not only I loved but that was loved outside of me. Very gratifying. I think there’s a broadening appreciation of the book as a designed object. There’s the gift market, and people are using books as an element in interior design. Then there’s the e-book factor. If it’s cheaper and more convenient to read a novel on your phone – and many classics are available free that way – then books have to justify their presence and expense by accentuating the qualities of the physical object. Materials such as foil and cloth are ideal for that because they have a tactile quality that can’t be replicated digitally.
Could you please tell us more about the creative process related to the clothbound series?
I always start by asking myself ‘what is the most effective set of book covers I can produce using just standard materials which are simple but incredibly effective to be within the usual budget constraints?’ To marry design with materials in the most considered and best way possible. So in a way it always starts with the materials so I can make my design suit that method of printing. With the cloth classics its was all about creating a book that would be loved and cherished and not throw away. The materials were the starting point. The foiling was a real struggle at first, the detail of the design cant be too intricate. So the patterns were all designed with this in mind so that the printers could reproduce the design easily. Every material has its limits and its all about getting to grips with those limits to produce an end product that looks effortless and deceptively simple.
You work for a renowned publishing company with a strong visual identity, how do you balance innovation and tradition ?
In my curent project this has been a task assigned to me more than ever before. I am designing a series of 100 titles which is called the Penguin English Library. This series was already part of Penguin history (originally published in 1966) and I had to dig deep into Penguin design heratigae and analyse what had gone before, why it was succesful and how to do something fresh which pressed a few of the Penguin buttons. The spines were a key part of this which I am immensely proud of. We wanted to give the Penguin brand a strong feel on the spines but in a fresh and exciting way, to evoke the original orange spines that was part of the Penguin branding a few decades back. I love the use of colour in this element of the series design and these really gave me an opportunity to work with colour in a way that I had never done before. Its is all a fine blalance as just reproducing the past would not fulfil the brief of a book cover today.
What are your favorite fanzines – magazines – books?
I read the odd magazine if I am getting on a plane but 99% of the time it is about books. I am always reading wether it is for my job or for pleasure. For work right now I read classics and for my own entertainment I read books about design or about particular designers.
Do you consider yourself a strong reader? What’s the last book you read?
Yes and no, I seem to consume a lot of books and I always have but what I get out of them in a literary sense is probably very different to an non disylexic person. The last design book I read was, Pattern Design by Lewis F. Day. He sums up my feelings about emerging your self in the technical production aspect of a designers life better than I ever could. ‘The art of pattern design consists not in spreading yourself over a wide field, but in expressing your self within given bounds. The very strictness of such boundaries is a challenge to invention. In a realm of applied design manufacture is autocrate, and the machine is taskmaster. Let who can rebel against their authority. For those who cannot – and they are the great majority – revolt is futile.’
What is a typical work day like for you? Any special perks?
There is no typical days work for me, thats the perk. Each new project I undertake seems to require a different type of research. For example for the F. Scott Fitzgerald series it was all about art deco objects and I was at the Victoria and Albert museum a fair bit. For Great food I was researching ceramics here there and everywhere. For the Penguin english Library its about textiles and pattern. I love that each project teaches me something new about an area of design and takes me to new places.
Could you please describe your house and neighborhood?
I live in a two bedroom flat in south east London, I love minimal decoration, and every object in it means something specail to me. The neighbourhood itself has an inner london feel, chaotic, mixed in with a couple of gems for when I am around but in London I dont tend to hang out in my area as I am always seem to be visiting friends or exploring other areas. I never thought I would cope with living in London and I miss the coast.
Who is the woman you’d like to see featured/ interviewed here?
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