Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.
My last article discussed the rise and success of Penguin Books from when it was founded in 1935, through to 1946 when typography designer Jan Tschichold standardised Penguin’s cover designs and logo in The Penguin Composition Rules- a style guide for the whole company to use.
Further change was seen in the 40s, when Puffin books for children were launched and proved hugely successful. Soon after came the famous Penguin Classics series which included translated texts that were now more accessible than ever before.
When Tschichold returned to Switzerland in 1949, his successor at Penguin was Hans Schmoller, who shared Tschichold’s attention to detail and knowledge of type. Not quite as daring as his predecessor, Schmoller mostly stuck to Tschichold’s templates, refining his designs ever so slightly. His most notable influence was in 1951 when he adopted one of Tschichold’s layouts for a vertical grid that had not yet been launched. Schmoller improved the design and released it. I think this version of the Penguin cover works brilliantly with some of the wood cuts and illustrations included, as the vertical stripes create more space for extra information. The non-illustrated versions are equally as effective as they include a mini blurb on the front cover- almost unheard of today!
1960 was met by Penguin with controversy as, after publishing ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’ (cover design by Stephen Russ) the publishing house was charged under the Obscene Publications Act, but was later acquitted. The publicity and controversy heightened sales of the book. In just six weeks, Penguin had sold 2 million copies of the paperback, paving the way to a cease in book censorship.
In 1961, Italian art director and contemporary designer Germano Facetti was hired to breathe new life into Penguin’s designs, which although once ahead of the trends, were now looking jaded and old-fashioned. Cover designs steadily became more image-based and experimental throughout the sixties as technology in printing improved. This montage-like cover was designed by Giannetto Coppola, encapsulating the vibe of the sixties in bold, vibrant colours.
Facetti commissioned a number of artists and designers to create book covers for Penguin, in order to refresh the company’s look. The result was a dynamic mix of contemporary styles, some of which remain iconic to this day. David Pelham’s cover design for ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was an overnight rush job, but his “cog-eyed image” has been used almost like a brand for the book ever since.
Facetti worked on the redesign of the Penguin Crime series in 1962 with Polosh-born designer Romek Marber, who had previously created some impressive cover designs for The Economist. Marber kept the green crime colour coding in his esignesigns, but made it brighter, which complimented his use of bold images fantastically.
The series was so successful that Facetti adopted the style for several other series, including Penguin Fiction. These Graham Greene book covers were designed by illustrator Paul Hogarth.
In 1970, Sir Allen Lane died and Penguin was bought by international media group, Pearson. The company continued to thrive, despite incidents like Schmoller’s (then a director at Penguin) reaction to Richard Hollis’s design for ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Burgess. According to design critic Alice Rawsthorn, the cover design is now “cherised by design buffs”, but at the time, Schmoller was so disgusted by the jacket that he threw it down a corridor. Personally, I can see why.
In 1972, Facetti left Penguin. In just over ten years working at the company, he’d revolutionised Penguin’s approach to design, modernising hundreds of titles. In his wake, there was not a huge amount of design-related change for Penguin throughout the coming years. Arguably, Penguin designs became more conservative again. TV tie-in books were now hitting the shelves, to the disgust of designers everywhere. Rawsthron writes “design was marginalised as Penguin adopted the financially driven culture of corporate publishing.”
Always at the forefront of technology, Penguin began to launch audiobooks in 1993. They also became the first trade publisher to have a website, and later an ebook store.
In 2004, nostalgia hit Penguin and the company started to re-adopt some of its old design values. Junior designer and Penguin archives enthusiast, David Pearson, was given the task of designing the Great Ideas series. The project was not expected to do very well, so everyone was stunned when Pearson’s designs won numerous awards and more than two million copies from the series were sold. It was believed the sales were in large part due to Pearson’s beautiful designs, which looked like a far leap from Penguin’s other jacket designs at the time, but which actually drew on the company’s design heritage from as far back as the early days of the company. More series were commissioned in this style as Penguin publishers realised people were prepared to buy new versions of older books if the cover design was enticing enough, despite cheaper second-hand versions being now readily available online.
Today, Penguin has offices in fifteen countries, including India, Australia, South Africa and China. The publishing giant proudly “caters for every stage of a reader’s lifetime.” To celebrate their 75th birthday, the Penguin Decades series was released, printing new editions of Penguin’s most popular books from the fifties to the eighties. They featured original cover designs by Peter Blake, Zandra Rhodes, Alan Aldridge and John Squires. “These beautiful editions celebrate Penguin’s extraordinary design heritage as well as following Allen Lane’s ethos of making great writing affordable and available to everybody.”
In July 2013, Penguin united with Random House to form Penguin Random House, “the world’s first truly global trade book publisher.”
Design Museum: http://design.designmuseum.org/design/penguin-books
Telegraph picture gallery: Penguin Books Through the Ages: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatpicturegalleries/7900142/Penguin-books-through-the-ages.html
Penguin Random House: http://global.penguinrandomhouse.com/