Getting to Know Coralie Bickford-Smith

This week we're judging books by their covers with the wonderfully talented, award-winning book designer, Coralie Bickford-Smith! 

Coralie has one of the most impressive portfolios in the business - she's the creative mind behind the iconic Penguin Clothbound Classics, which have brought her worldwide attention and marked a return to sumptuous hardback publishing, as well as author of her own gorgeous children's books.  It's not everyone who can write and design their own book! 

We chatted online to Coralie in the UK about her favourite literary classics, and what book design trends and fonts make her tick. The Song of the Tree is out in paperback in June.


What is your day job?

I design book covers for Penguin Press.

What is your connection to Vic Books?

Instagram friends.

What are you working on at the moment?

Numerous covers for Penguin and I am writing a new picture book about squirrels.


Congratulations on your gorgeous paperback of The Song of the Tree, released in June! Your children's books are all lovely stories of the natural world. What was it like designing your own cover art?

Thanks! It is always a bit strange at first! One bit of feedback when it was shown at a meeting was that my name should be bigger on the cover. I felt a bit embarrassed by it so I tend to make it small. I have to admit that it feels like a bit of a privilege to get to do my own cover artwork. When I am a cover designer I always think about the author I am designing for and how they might feel about their labour of love being visualised by a stranger.


Your design resume is super impressive! Your work has been featured in Vogue, The Guardian and The New York Times - what is your proudest design and why?

It would have to be my cover design for Poems for Life, edited by Laura Barber. It was the first cover where I started to find my own illustrative style. I really enjoyed working on it and it taught me a lot about my favourite cover materials, namely foil and cloth.


Do you have a dream design collaboration?

To design fabric for Liberty.


The Penguin Clothbound Classics have become bookstagram favourites. What's your favourite design and what classic are you dying to package?

My favourite clothbound cover was for the retelling of Grimm Tales by Phillip Pullman for the Penguin Clothbound Classics. I love his writing, so it was a dream to do a cover for a book he had written. One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes is the tale I based the cover illustration on. And I would love to package some more modern classics, maybe some sci-fi by Philip K. Dick.

What trends in book design have you seen emerging this year? Any favourite 2021 book covers so far?

Lots of bright colours with bold confident typography. But to be honest I am not very good at spotting trends. The variety of different styles in cover design is amazing and I love that designers are doing their own things, experimenting, playing and creating lush visuals.

Here are a few of my fave covers I have spotted this year:

Meridiano De Sangue by Cormac McCarthy. Design by Casa Rex.

Women On Nature by Katharine Norbury. Design by Holly Ovenden.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. Design by Connie Gabber.

Some of Coralie's favourite book covers from other designers

You've got a degree in Typography. What is your go-to font and any dreaded font types you can't bear (asking for a fellow font nerd)?

I love Caslon and Futura and I am not friends with Impact.


Some quick fire book recommendations please!

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman.


What are you reading at the moment?

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.


What do you like about it?

The questions that it raises about Artificial Intelligence, its place in the world and replicating the human heart.


Which literary character do you most identify with? Why?

The Little Prince. Because of his wonder, curiosity and naivety.


Hardback or paperback?



Favourite coffee?

A large latte with oat milk - yum.