To say that Coralie Bickford-Smith, Senior Cover Designer at Penguin Books ‘really knows her stuff’ when it comes to book design is a gross understatement. Her covers have earned her awards from numerous prolific organisations, and graced the pages of international magazines and newspapers, The New York Times, Vogue and The Guardian.
We caught up with her ahead of her stint as Book Design Jury President at D&AD Awards, to see what makes her tick. In this article, she dives into the history of the medium, shares some hard earned pearls of book design wisdom and calls for a departure from trend-driven work.
The production of books has changed remarkably little in well over half a millennium. There is a timeless, mechanical simplicity of the physical book that has endured against a backdrop of rapid technological change. Despite the continuity in production techniques, book design can still surprise people with its ingenuity, and in a world of bewildering competition, serves as a powerful instrument for attracting a potential reader’s attention.
When judging book design, I am looking for fresh responses and a sense of adventure, where the designer has left their comfort zone and created the unexpected. That ability to refine an idea down to its simplest form to convey the author’s ideas, and the discipline to distil them to a pure form. I am not interested in trends, if it is a trend it has already happened multiple times and this for me is not the ethos of the D&AD Awards.
In 2016, D&AD changed the categorisation of the Book Design category. Previously it had been simply front covers and entire books. 2017 was the second year where the category has 11 subdivisions. When I was a judge in 2012 there was a lot of heated debate around the constraints of trade publishing versus the specialist limited edition books. The restrictions that are imposed on trade books in terms of budget and production finishes are extreme compared to the freedom and budgets available to designers of limited edition specialist books.
It is liberating to be able to judge these diverse books on their own merits, and I am intrigued as to how the discussions will play out this time around. I think it will remove the impossible pressure to compare these very different types of books, making arguments much more rich and focused. The fact that D&AD is a global awards organisation means I will be exposed to work that I rarely encounter in my daily life in the UK. This makes it even more exciting for me personally.
This year a distinctive project from my own publisher, Penguin Random House, provoked some fascinating ideas in my own mind regarding the place of modern technology alongside traditional book-making. It masterfully explores the brief and raises possibilities concerning the future of the book.
Three of Richard Dawkins’ titles were reissued as anniversary editions, with algorithmically-generated covers unique to each copy. The designers re-wrote a program created in 1980 by Dawkins himself to illustrate biodiversity, and used it to generate imagery to adorn the individual covers.
This was a painstaking technical process given the logistics of creating trade books, and due to the age of the original program it had to be re-imaged and written from scratch to run on contemporary machines. It also had to function within parameters that would be aesthetically-appropriate and technically-achievable on press.
This work took the designers well beyond their comfort zone and demanded an approach that was unique to the project. The result is a beautiful illustration of Dawkins’ underlying concepts which also holds appeal to the reader as a truly unique object. This is a fascinating exploration of the possibilities afforded to modern designers, and exactly the kind of thinking that makes 21st century publishing such an exciting world to work in.
If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.
For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.