A Brief History of Penguin Design: Part Two

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!

schmoller vertical covers


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.

simone de beavoir


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.

crime series


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.

fiction series


ways of seeing

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.”

Helpful links:

Design Museum: http://design.designmuseum.org/design/penguin-books

Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/oct/28/art1

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/

A Brief History of Penguin Design: Part One

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.

As promised in my previous blog on graphic designer David Pearson, this week I’m looking at Penguin Books and their design history. Penguin was founded in 1935 when Allen Lane (then director at publishing house, The Bodley Head) got sick of the meagre selection of affordable books on the market. His dream was to make good quality fiction available to everyone.

After an idea suggested by Lane’s secretary, twenty-one year old Edward Young was sent to London Zoo to sketch penguins in order to create a “dignified but flippant” logo for Lane’s new venture. The original penguin illustration, with slight variations, stayed with the company until 1949 when Jan Tschichold created the “definitive penguin” that we still recognise today. The logo was subtly re-designed by Angus Hyland in 2003 to be a little thinner, with both feet sat on a horizontal line. And in 2007 David Pearson put two penguins side by side, as if they are dancing, for his winning design of the relaunched Popular Classics series. Whatever the variations, the Penguin logo is now iconic and is recognised globally.

Penguin logos


When the first Penguin paperbacks were published in the summer of 1935, the public’s view of books was changed forever. Editions of Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway now cost the same as a cigarette packet, and fitted in your coat pocket. Within a year of becoming independent of Bodley Head, Penguin had sold 3 million paperbacks.

Albatross covers


The early cover designs were heavily influenced by the German publishing house, Albatross. Like Albatross, Penguin colour-coded its books; orange for fiction, blue for biographies, pink for adventure, green for crime and yellow for miscellaneous. This utilitarian style with its simple grid layout and plain sans serif lettering kept printing costs down, ensuring the books remained affordable. The design also complimented the new Modernist movement that was beginning to spread through Britain, made especially popular since the launch of Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground in 1933.

Harry Beck map

In 1937, Penguin expanded its offices and launched its Penguin Shakespeare series, as well as Pelican for contemporary non-fiction. Their popularity soared in the late 30s to early 40s with topical publications on Adolph Hitler and Aircraft Recognition as the threat of war in Europe increased then broke out. Soldiers and civilians alike used such books for vital reference, identifying enemy planes. The small size of the paperbacks meant they could be carried in a soldier’s pocket wherever they went.

War books Penguin

During this time, the cover designs of Penguin books became, in my opinion, a little chaotic. Images were introduced- sometimes photographs, often illustrations -and font sizes varied, stepping away from the uniform uppercase titles of the company’s previous publications. Perhaps this was due to the use of caricatures and dynamic type in wartime propaganda adverts, or the need for more information on the covers so civilians would be drawn to the potentially vital information each the books contained.

Things changed in 1946, when German typography designer Jan Tschichold was brought in to standardise Penguin’s covers and logo. As well as updating the Penguin logo and creating eight official versions of it, he laid down rules for how each book design element should be used, from the font used to the spacing between the letters. He encouraged the editors and printers to follow this new style guide religiously, emphasising that in good design and branding, consistency is everything.

Tschichold covers

Arguably, these are what most people think of as the classic Penguin books. As a graphic designer, I love the simplicity and use of space. However, as a reader, the uniformity gives nothing away about each individual publication. In his three years working for Penguin, Tschihold went as far as using illustrations on the jackets of certain book sets, including the Shakespeare series, but by the end of the fifties his designs were considered outdated. It was time for Penguin to remake itself again for a modern age.

Next time: In part two of this brief history, I’ll be looking at Penguin book cover designs throughout the 60s through to the 90s and up to the present day.


Go Set a Watchman: Expectations and Reality


Monday night at Foyles’ flagship bookstore in London, fans of To Kill a Mockingbird came from far and wide to share the last moments of suspense before sales of the new book by Harper Lee opened at midnight. There was southern music, food, a screening of the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird, and of course, piles and piles of orange-covered books.

Go Set a Watchman is possibly the most long and eagerly awaited new release of the past fifty years. The only comparisons I can think of are recent hyped-up sequels like additions to the Fifty Shades of Grey series or the release of a Harry Potter book. But the new Harper Lee has something extra special about it; since the initial publication of To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960 the reading world has absorbed Harper Lee’s characters as part of their own lives. They are real as members of our own history but also, in that beautiful literary way, stuck in the time and place in which we first met them. The addition of a new volume to our treasured relationship with Scout and Atticus is to shake up the canon and look at it afresh. It’s a huge risk.

So how can this average sized novel that supposedly sat in a safe box with its author’s assets for years possibly live up to the hype?

Well, to review the novel, I think I have to first confront its “cover,” so to speak, the imagery and story that precedes the novel itself.



A writer exposed

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Watchman media saga has been how Harper Lee has evolved as a public figure. She has spent fifty-five years as the author of To Kill a Mockingbird and this single book has defined her style, her career, her themes. Inevitably, when I pick up my copy of Go Set a Watchman, I am ten times more aware of Harper Lee than I was when I picked up To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. Not only am I more aware of her as a writer, I’m also aware of her as an American woman, 89 years old, that slightly aloof face that graced the papers a few months ago when the Watchman news was announced, the woman whose nostalgia for the Finch family must be very different from ours.

Rumors that Lee had been somewhat taken advantage of in her old age were quieted recently, at Lee’s claim that she gave complete consent and was very pleased with the new publication. Still, even disregarding age and fame, there must be a feeling of profound change that occured to Harper Lee when she saw her new book on the shelves. From such a simple identity, as the author of the Mockingbird book, Harper Lee instantly became a more complicated name, connoting not just the canonical morality and dusty childhood scenes of Mockingbird but now many other things besides, a media frenzy, rumors, Atticus’ bigotry, and more. The new scenes of Go Set a Watchman.

So our new relationship with Harper Lee also affects the way I start to read Go Set a Watchman as I turn to the first page.

A new way to do books

If only all new releases were able to cause such celebration and ruckus, I found myself thinking as I walked round Foyles looking at the rows and stacks of orange hardback Watchmans. People have been so curious and excited about the new novel since it was announced in the press earlier this year that no attention seems too much to bestow on the book or its author. Every publication interested in literature has covered the release, images of the book are everywhere, generations of readers who discovered the book on their school reading lists are reacquianting themselves with the classic text.

watchman guardianBut moreover, one of the most beautiful things about the reading era we’re currently in is the dynamism of it. When we’re about to buy a book now we can see trailers and interact with authors online. The publicity campaign that has struck the world press ahead of Go Set a Watchman’s release has been nothing short of a global party. And I think it’s a model that will continue to grow, and hopefully lesser known works will benefit from it too. Just imagine, for example, if all new releases could have a moving trailer, with train sounds, and narrated by the transporting voice of Reese Witherspoon, like Go Set a Watchman had in the Guardian.

By the time I open Watchman, I am rooting for it in a way that I haven’t really rooted for any other book before.

Go Set a Watchman

So finally I get my hands on a copy of the burnt orange volume. There is a moment of surprise when I see the whole story laying in wait, as if I don’t quite believe that the book would ever be more than teasers and suspense.

The first thing that jumps out at me is the language that Harper Lee uses to tell her story. Mockingbird has become so iconic for its characters and storyline, and so synonymous with the proverbial phrases that sum up its philosophy – “[Courage is] when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway,” for example – that it’s easy to forget the linguistic texture of the book. But Lee has a wonderful tone and rhythm, a way with words that both manages to conjure the heat and tradition of Maycomb but also has a sparkiness to it, something modern. In this way, the prose of Watchman feels like it belongs in the bookstore – it’s not an anachronism; it isn’t the freak that you might assume it is by the media coverage.

It’s a humble book. It’s hooks are small and slow, unlike most other bestsellers’ this year. It’s a family story and a county story. Relations between people are labored over, dialogue is deliberate and characterful. The story is moral, but it’s also accepting. Jean Louise (formerly Scout) is a woman now, has a sweetheart and thoughts of marriage all her own, but she resists being transformed by growing up. Again the thought of Harper Lee, the woman behind Jean Louise comes to my mind. I think of a feisty independent thinker, with a warm heart, and can see the author in the character in a way I never did in the first book.

To critics and seasoned readers, Watchman may not live up to its sister novel. Some certainly feel that they wouldn’t have published the volume had it not come from such a famous hand. But to a certain extent, the new novel is a more interesting literary prospect than the first. It is messier, has changes in pace, and its plot doesn’t seem to unfold in a clean suspenseful arc. But at the same time, it’s a bit challenging, it’s meandering, and I bet it will inspire endless conversations.

Astonishingly, despite the crazy magnification of every aspect of its release, Go Set a Watchman manages to transport me to Maycomb as if I’ve just landed there for the first time.

Are you reading Go Set a Watchman? What do you think? Do the controversies or media frenzies affect your reading experience, or does the book manage to rid itself of its surrounding hullaballoo? Do let us know – we’d love to talk about it!

David Pearson on working for Penguin

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.

In October 2012, I had the pleasure of attending a talk entitled ‘Cover to Cover’ at Arnolfini in Bristol. It was hosted by designers Teresa Monachino, who I’ve detailed in my previous blog, and David Pearson who I am looking at today. This article is based largely on his lecture, encompassing his love of design, type and what it is like to work for one of the most well known publishing houses in the UK and America…

Even as a young university student, David Pearson was determined he was going to work for Penguin as a book cover designer. Some of his earliest memories, before he could read, are of playing with numbered Penguin books. He informed his university tutors he was already consciously working in a ‘Penguin style’ and spent a lot of his third year searching tirelessly for jobs at the publishing house.

His first job at Penguin was as a Junior Text Designer. Sadly, this involved little in the way of designing, but Pearson acknowledges the job actually taught him a lot of vital thinking skills that he still uses to this day.

Six months into his job, the Text Design department at Penguin was unfortunately disbanded. This worked in Pearson’s favour, however, as he was finally taken into the Cover Design department. The world of publishing, particularly at such a large company as Penguin, is incredibly busy. This means that even those working at a Junior level are given a large amount of responsibility. And this is where Pearson flourished.

Fascinated by the Penguin archives, Pearson soon developed projects around them which he was allowed to work on in his spare time. This has given him a vast knowledge when it comes to the history of Penguin cover design, its pitfalls and its successes. Such knowledge made him the perfect candidate to take on the more experimental projects in the department, often handed to junior designers as it was unclear if they’d work out or not. The briefs for such projects were dauntingly minimal, but also allowed for a fair amount of design freedom as a result. Not confident in drawing or photography, Pearson used his skills in type to his advantage, bringing title pages to the outside of the books he worked on, feeling confidence in his ideas as he knew from the archives that this fitted well with the Penguin brand.



These covers are from the first series of Penguin ‘Great Ideas’. When presenting his designs for this project at the cover meeting, Pearson soon discovered it was better to show the images side by side, all together instead of individually. This way, you see them as a series, each design complimenting the next. Generally, his designs were quickly approved of when viewed in this manner, whereas meetings could go on a lot longer when looking at the designs separately. I can see where Pearson is coming from. Looking at some of the ‘Great Ideas’ covers on their own, I feel a little non-plussed. But as a whole, the designs work beautifully together, co-ordinating so satisfyingly and using such unusual type that they are bold graphic design statements as much as they are book covers.

As well as the Penguin archives, Central Saint Martin’s Picture Library is also a fantastic resource Pearson uses. It was here that he met Professor of Typography, Phil Baines, a very established typographer and graphic designer who has had a big influence on Pearson’s work ever since. Pearson designed the clever cover of Baines’ 2005 publication ‘Penguin By Design’ which looks at Penguin paperbacks from 1935 to the present and how their changing designs reflect the developments of British publishing and the role of artists and designers in ‘creating and defining the Penguin look.’



As Pearson’s designs for Penguin proved more and more popular, his confidence grew and he began to experiment more with using illustrations in his designs instead of just type. The Penguin ‘Great Love’ series is a good example of how Pearson’s designs have developed with each project he has undertaken. His clever use of illustration in this series gives each book cover the quality of an iconic poster or art gallery print. I’d want these book covers on my walls as much as I want the book themselves on my shelf.



It is interesting that the digital age of ebooks has not yet spelled the end for printed physical volumes. During the Q and A at the end of his lecture, Pearson explained how he thinks the digital revolution has actually been good for book design. He thinks that previously the demand for quantity in print meant the quality of such books was affected. Now, however, the making of physical books has a greater meaning behind it. Maybe books in the future will be more fetishised and used to furnish rooms or coffee tables, but at least they’ll be designed well!

If you haven’t come across any of the covers in this blog so far, Uk readers will almost certainly know about the £2 Penguin Popular Classics. Yes, I’m talking about the lurid green ones!



In 2007, Penguin relaunched their Popular Classics series with brand new covers. They’d held an in-house competition to find a good design for the covers, and David Pearson’s simple but striking type-based design won. It was a wonderful contrast to the dated-by-comparison classics series that was currently on the shelves- featuring classical paintings overlaid with the title and author information in an oval. Pearson’s design was refreshingly modern. It was also in a lovely shade of maroon, and the overall worry was that this beautiful design was actually too desirable! Why would anyone pay £7.99 or more on a book with a fancy introduction and reference notes when the £2 editions were so much prettier!? So, having won the competition, Pearson was then tasked with making his design less desirable, thus ensuring that the pricier versions of the classical books would keep selling too.

Not wanting to compromise his clean typesetting and flawless design, Pearson settled for changing the lovely maroon shade of his design to the most lurid of greens- so lurid, in fact, that it had to be specially mixed before the books could be printed, as Penguin had never before used such an appalling shade. Admittedly, I actually really love the green editions of Penguin Popular Classics as they completely contradict what you’d expect from a design for classic literature. I think it carries a lovely sense of humour, as well as fulfilling Penguin’s original aim to make the classics more accessible to everyone.

Pearson’s talk was littered with so many interesting anecdotes and design tips that I feel I’ve hardly scratched the surface in this article. I love and admire his work. If you’d like to find out more on his work, have a look at this article in Eye Magazine and see his portfolio at TypeAsImage.com

Next week: Inspired by revisiting Pearson’s cover designs for Penguin, I’ll be taking a look at how Penguin covers have changed over the years. See you next time!




You’ve been voting in your swarms this week and have named the winner of the first Towerbabel Short Story Contest as…

 COREN GRAVES for his story, “Forever.”

Congratulations, Coren!

A close second place prize goes to MICHELLE MEDHAT for her story “Whispers in the Autumn Wind.”

Thank you to all our shortlisted writers and all the writers that entered for your concise, stylish stories.

AND STAY TUNED – for more contests of various lengths and themes and formats coming soon…