Interview by Holly Stuart Hughes
As the executive creative director for the U.S. branch of Penguin
Books, Paul Buckley oversees a department that includes six art
directors, three associate art directors, seven designers and four
administrators. They work on the cover designs for roughly 800 books
a year produced by 12 diverse imprints. Buckley, whose designs can be
found at www.paulbuckleydesign.com, has worked at Penguin Books
for 23 years. He’s been both cursed and praised by countless authors,
“sometimes in the same day.” He talks to PDN about designing book
jackets that entice readers and buyers, how his team finds art and
photography for use on book jackets, and whether changes in the
book business affect what a book cover looks like.
PDN: What sorts of books do you and your team design covers for?
Paul Buckley: Adult books; what we in the industry call “adult
trade books,” which is basically everything not mass market. [Novels
by] John le Carré, Zadie Smith [and] Junot Diaz, Penguin Classics, business books, political books, celebrity books be [they by] Neil Young
or Penn Jillette, science, current events—the list goes on and on.
Everyday we get to dip into such wonderfully varied topics and reads.
PDN: What for you defines a successful or enticing book cover?
PB: One word: Distinction.
PDN: What determines when photography might work better
on a book cover than, say, illustration or type only?
PB: There are many ways to skin a cat and whether I use photography,
photos by paul buckley
Above: The Penguin Group art staff (plus Kim Jong-il and Bruce Lee); Paul Buckley is in the second row,
second from left. Right: An image by Erika Larsen was chosen for the cover of a non-fiction account of
human trafficking on the California-Mexico border.