Coralie Bickford-Smith
Graphic Designer


Written by Stacy Thomas
Images from


For every million people who never find their calling, who spend their lives in jobs they hate or searching for what will make them feel happy at the end of the day, there is a Coralie Bickford-Smith—someone who has I’m found exactly what they were meant to do, and the perfect place to be.
After a childhood spent “obsessively reading or frantically drawing”, Bickford-Smith had a revelation when she realized that she could make a living by continuing to do just that, and Penguin Books, with its historical deference to literature and clever, respectful book designs, has become the natural home for her particular skills.
She admits an obsession with pattern and with colour, appropriate for work with a publisher known for its classic, pattern-heavy book covers. For almost ten years, she has impressed the literary world with her cover designs for such high-browed series’ as the original Classics series, which she cloth-bound with fresh yet timeless designs, and she has breathed new life into such stalwarts as Arthur Conan Doyle and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels. Effectively, she combines history with whimsy to create patterns which are intricate and which reflect the content of the books, revealing an innate sensitivity—the ability to capture the essence of stories ranging from children’s stories to classic literature, and to display it in a way that is pleasing and appears effortless. Her process is research heavy; her designs are based on facts, and details such as lettering styles are always accurate, giving her work legitimacy which exceeds pure aesthetic value.
She achieves with her designs what seems simple but is in fact incredibly complex. Starting with a small intricate detail which may be a concrete reference to the story inside or something more oblique, she then expands the motifs into patterns which are then connected to the other series pieces via an overarching theme or design. This theme may or may not be apparent to the casual observer, such as the pattern grid on the Classics series.
Another example is the ornate covers for the Great Food series. Each book in the series of classic recipe books is adorned with an item of crockery or a tool from the period of the book’s writing. The background pattern is from a prominent ceramic pattern of the time, and the lettering is based upon the trade marks on the backs of the ceramics.
Beauty, intricacy, and the innocence of the Victorian age combine in Coralie-Smith’s designs; “The tradition of my craft really comes from looking at Victorian bookbindings. I’ve sort of stuck in the past, but then I try and fuse that with modern inspiration.”
In a time when it seems the past is constantly being mined for inspiration, in architecture, art, fashion, etc., Bickford-Smith’s regard for Golden Age design and binding with her subtle knack for uplifting an expired image is exactly on time and has earned her a fan base of devoted followers. She is a designer by trade, but only an artist can create something timeless—can take an iconic design style, a design philosophy even, and move it into a new era while remaining perfectly faithful to the original spirit.


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