Penguin goes Art Deco

Coralie Bickford-Smith is senior cover designer at Penguin Classics. Her latest designs are the sell-out special edition series of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels.

What did you want to achieve with the F. Scott book designs?
I wanted to give the books a touch of the jazz-age setting of Fitzgerald’s works. The obvious touchstone for that was Art Deco.

What effect were you trying to create with the use of foiling on these books?
I wanted them to be lavish but substantial; the idea is that the metallic foil gives that sense of decadence; the uncoated stock, and the formality of the patterns and typography helps keep it from spilling over into gaudiness.

You initially didn’t want to use foil on the books?
I just wanted that extravagant, beautiful, I don’t know how to describe it but I had this idea of this gold on black and I just thought that foil would be too much, so I thought metallic ink would be a really subtle way to do that but it was just dead, it was really flat and when I saw the gold foil proofed I was just like wow

Are you worried that in a recession buyers might reject such extravagance?
Perhaps in a recession people turn away from disposable design – there’s a comfort value to objects that have a feel of heritage and longevity about them. I think extravagance for its own sake is not what I try to do.
I try to create designs that suit the finish that I chose and that create a certain feel when they’re picked up like they’re cherished. And when I did my first book Hans Christian Anderson I decided not to put a jacket on it because it was like an anniversary edition and I just did lots of research and looked at Victorian binding and I thought how these have become objects that have been passed down from generations upon generations.

Why do you think foiling is so popular at the moment?
There are probably a number of reasons. The most prosaic is that publishers and retailers see foiled books selling well and want to ride that wave – the cloth bound classics series came about because Waterstones and Penguin saw the success of Fairy Tales and Poems for Life. As to why they’re popular with the public, I think there’s a broadening appreciation of the book as a designed object. Then there’s the e-book factor.
Books have to justify their presence and expense by accentuating the qualities of the physical object. Materials like foil and cloth are ideal for that because they have a tactile quality that can’t be replicated digitally. There’s a nostalgia factor too, that harks back not only to how books used to look, but also to ideas of craftsmanship.

What project are you working on now?
At the moment I’m doing a set of 20 books about food (Great Food Series out April 2011). The managing director came up with the idea of somehow using ceramics for the front of the jacket instead of pictures of food and so we thought we would choose pieces of ceramics from the period that the books were written in and then the typography is inspired by the ceramic mark on the back of the object. To create a ceramic effect I’m using translucent foil on some of them and gold foil to pick out details from the ceramics.

Edited interview of feature for Design Week. To see more of Coralie’s work, click here.