Tag Archive: book design

Scribbly’s Top 5 Illustrated Books

Last week, Georgina and I discussed some of the books we think should be illustrated. During my research for that article, I realised that one of the books on my list, ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’, which I had only listened to on audio and never seen, was actually illustrated already! This leads on nicely to my topic this week.

As an illustrator myself, I like to have a collection of images and inspirational books around me to aid me in coming up with new ideas. When it comes to working with images and my creative writing, I like to look at fiction books for both children and adults to see how they use illustration to enhance the text. In recent years, with the gradual acceptance of graphic novels as a legitimate reading source, I think the way illustration is used in other books is beginning to become more dynamic. Here are a few of my favourite illustrated books:

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.


A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay

Conor is a thirteen-year-old boy who is struggling to deal with his mother’s cancer. His father is absent and he is bullied at school. After many recurring nightmares, one night he wakes to find a monster in his room- apparently the personification of the yew tree he can see out of his bedroom window. Each time the monster (played by Liam Neeson in the film version, due to be released in late 2016) visits to tell Conor its stories, the consequences of their meetings escalate…

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking ‘A Monster Calls’ for a graphic novel. Jim Kay’s stark black and white illustrations are not for your run of the mill children’s book. Kay, of course, is currently gaining a large amount of publicity in the industry for his work on the soon-to-be-released illustrated editions of the Harry Potter series. His work in ‘A Monster Calls’ is a far cry from the bright and optimistic magical illustrations already released for ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ (release date 6th October 2015). In Ness’s book, Kay uses a mix of paint, blown ink, possibly charcoal and a whole range of other materials to create texture and moods. Such dark images show great potential for what his illustrations for the later Harry Potter books could be like as the series grows darker and more adult.

Monster spread

‘A Monster Calls’ is an award winning children’s book, but it deals with some very complex adult issues. Illness, death, the complexities of being human.

The illustrations themselves are like a living entity. They set the pace of the narrative, surging forward with the action and ebbing away during the calmer periods. They interact directly with the text, sometimes pushing the writing to one side or the other, widening the margins and spreading across them like weeds in the crack of a garden wall. The complexity of some of the images makes them worthy of being put on the wall. This book is as delightful as it is dark.

by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts

‘Tinder’ is another book aimed at children that resonates adult themes. Gardner was inspired by ‘The Tinderbox’, a story by Hans Christian Anderson. She wanted to retell the tale in an historical context, settling for the time of the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) after having a conversation with soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, who were struggling to settle into civilian life. The resulting tale was ‘Tinder’, which tells of a young soldier, Otto Hundebis, and his encounters with a shaman, werewolves, a beautiful girl, an evil Prince, and Death himself. Otto comes across a tinderbox and, though he throws it away repeatedly, the little box keeps finding its way back to him. With it comes the power to summon three great werewolves. But there is always a price to be paid for such power.

Gardner’s twisting, tangled tale of suffering, adventure and magic is spellbinding. What makes it even more special are David Roberts’s fantastical illustrations. As with ‘A Monster Calls’ the text and illustration grow together on the page, each supporting the other. Primarily black and white, Roberts accentuates the elements of gore in the book with the occasional slash of bright red, sometimes on a girl’s cape or inside the mouth of a salivating wolf.

Tinder spreads

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
written and illustrated by Brian Selznick

This book really is something special. Part written word, part picture book, Hugo is a hybrid of the best kind.

Hugo spreadsHugo is an orphan, twelve years old and living secretly in the walls of a Parisian train station. Using his dead father’s notes, Hugo is trying to fix a mechanical man who he hopes will, when fixed, write a message from his father. When he gets caught stealing parts from a toy shop at the station and he meets an eccentric girl, everything starts to change.

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” Brain Selznick

Selznick’s book is just over 530 pages long and boasts almost 300 drawings. Whether written or illustrated, each page is bordered in black, resonant of old silent films- a topic which is key to the plot. The black borders tie together the illustrations and the text, as there is no overlapping of the two. In other publications, when images are used as very static plates, maybe at the beginning of chapters, the lack of communication between the words and images is frustrating. But Selznick’s drawings are nothing at all like this. He uses them like stills from a movie, played sequentially to build up a story. The result is that you have to read the illustrations as well as the text in order to grasp a full understanding of the story.

The Edge Chronicles
by Paul Stewart, illustrated by Chris Riddell



The Edge Chronicles is a series of fantasy novels for children, comprised of four trilogies, each centred around one character, and four stand alone books, as well as other publications that link to The Edge world.

Between them, Stewart and Riddell have bought the world of The Edge to life. Riddell’s illustrations have inspired me for over ten years as the accuracy with which he draws completely fictional creatures is so prices its as if they’re posing in front of him. Paired with Stewart’s knack for adventure, this series is the kind of thing you hope your kids will love, as it will give you an excuse to read them too!



As with ‘Tinder’, Riddell’s images sit snugly on the pages, enveloped by Stewart’s words, or enveloping them. Such illustrations are also a useful point of reference- Riddell has meticulously mapped out The Edge, as well as detailing a number of wacky creatures it would be a challenge to imagine a clear image of going by words alone.



The Child Thief
written and illustrated by Brom

This is a dark tale, not for the fainthearted. In ‘The Child Thief’ Brom re-imagines the boy who will never grow up. Peter is a boy raised by wolves. He is charismatic and brave, and after saving Nick’s life in New York City, he wants the kid to follow him back to his land. But its not Neverland. Peter’s magical world, Avalon, is dying. He wants Nick to join his band of soldiers- all abused, lost or runaway children- and to train to become a bloodthirsty warrior, fit to defend Avalon.

The Child Thiefjpg

Child TheifI love this book. Its been a favourite of mine for many years. Its a sour twist on a tale that already had debatably dark undertones. Brom writes like he draws- with fine details and a wicked imagination. ‘The Child Thief’ is peppered with his illustrations. Unlike the other books I’ve listed today, the placing of his images is more old-fashioned. There is a full page black and white drawing at the beginning of each chapter, and eight full colour plates in the centre of the book, depicting eight of the main characters. It is interesting that Brom would chose such a traditional way of displaying his images in a book that is essentially very modern. The juxtaposition actually makes it work in a way, though I feel the plates, instead of being grouped together, would work better spread throughout the book, presenting each character as we meet them. The chapter illustrations I can’t fault. They act as little teasers for what is to come, enticing you to read on.
Child Thief spread
Admittedly, I do not like the cover design at all. It feels too far removed from the artwork inside and the cropping of the central image doesn’t make for a very dramatic illustration. Or maybe I’m being picky.

To see more of the artwork from ‘The Child Theif’, visit Brom’s website.

Next week: As an illustrator, I do often work in the realms of fantasy and make believe. But thats not to say I only read books set in fairy lands with imaginary monsters and pretend suppers. It just so happens that these are the books that are illustrated the most. This is why I’ve set myself the task of finding out more about books that are illustrated, but that aren’t in the fantasy/sci-fi genre. Next week I’ll be introducing you to an unusual book I’ve been reading of late. Its an interacting story for adults and, personally, I think it’s the future of books.

Books That Should Have Been Illustrated: Part 2

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.


With the release of the new illustrated versions of the Harry Potter series due to be launched only a few months from now, it seemed fitting that Ms Parfitt and I discuss what books we wish were illustrated. As an artist, myself, I often enjoy sketching scenes from the books I have read, and some publications are so full of rich imagery and imagination that it seems almost a crime that they do not contain a single illustration.

So here are the books that get my fingers itching to illustrate:

The Dark Towers Series by Stephen King

I had to list this first, as I just finished the final installment last week and am still adjusting to life without another Dark Tower book to read! Seven books make up the epic tale of Gunslinger Roland of Gilead and his quest to find the point where all worlds meet- The Dark Tower. During his journey, he remembers friends of old and meets new friends from other worlds, including our own. The tale stretches across so many different landscapes that beg to be painted. We walk by Roland’s side, watching him encounter creatures like flesh eating Lobstrosities and the evil half-baby half-spider Mordred. Oy is one of my favourite characters, and the one I could sketch for hours. He is a billy-bumbler, described as a cross between a badger, a racoon and a dog. With his “intelligent, gold-ringed eyes” and “surprisingly graceful neck” I can’t help but liken him to my border collie, Simm.



The series has a number of spin-off comics attached to it, thanks to Marvel and King working together, and there has been talk for around eight years now of producing several films and a television series based on the books, but personally I’m a stickler for the original text. If I could spend the next ten years illustrating The Dark Tower series and nothing else, I’d be a very happy bumbler.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

ChocolatSet in a fictional little town in France, ‘Chocolat’ begins as the town’s inhabitants are taking down carnival decorations that marked the beginning of Lent. A mysterious woman and her daughter move into the old bakery opposite the church, and anticipation grows as rumours of her opening a chocolate shop spread.
‘Chocolat’ is a beautiful book, full of delightfully real characters, quaint french settings and, of course, the magical art of the chocolatier. What better way to capture all this than with illustration? The descriptions of Vianne’s edible creations, flamboyant window displays and the sensuous aromas of melted chocolate and spices floating down the street would make fantastic images. Even some portraits or character studies dotted throughout the text would be interesting- accentuating the rivalry between Vianne’s unorthodox ways and the parish curé’s disapproval. I wonder if perhaps the addition of illustrations would bring this much-loved book to a willing younger audience too. Because who doesn’t love chocolate!?

Will and Tom by Matthew Plampin

I don’t often read books based on historical conjecture, but ‘Will and Tom’ captivated me within the first chapter and I had to continue. The story covers a week in 1797, West Yorkshire, when budding but rather introverted artist Will Turner (J.M.W. Turner, to us) is commissioned to sketch Harewood House. There, he unexpectedly comes face to face with his charismatic childhood friend and rival artist, Tom Girtin. In the next week, their complicated relationship in exacerbated by their aristocratic surrounding, of which Tom fits into seamlessly, while Will is constantly mocked and ridiculed.


Woven throughout all of the drama are passages describing the acts of putting pencil to paper, the colours Will imagines he would use to paint the night sky or a passing scene which captures his imagination. The artist in me desperately wants to see these sketches within the pages as I read. As a point of reference as well as a fictional aid to make the story more real. It is only a possibility that Turner and Girtin really met at Harewood House, though it is true they were taking similar tours of the north at that time, so their paths may well have crossed. What is interesting, however, is the art that is referred to. The sketches Will took of the house and the surrounding estate are very real. So why aren’t they printed with the text!? No doubt its something to do with complicated permissions and copyright procedures, but this book positively yearns for a few Turner sketches in the least, not to mention some images from Girtin’s “Eidometropolis”, his 18ft by 108ft 360 degrees panorama of London which he exhibited in 1802, only a few months before his early death.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

In a similar vein to ‘Will and Tom’, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ is threaded with beautiful imagery of Clare’s art, from her therapeutic paper making, to the intriguing sculptures she creates. Niffenegger herself is an artist and paper maker. Her understanding of the processes really gives life to her descriptions. Perhaps, if she illustrated the book herself, she could release it as a deluxe edition.



Though, of course, this book is a complete work of fiction, the artwork described feels real. Interestingly, the far-fetched idea of a man plagued with a time-traveling-related genetic disorder is also made fantastically realistic. We watch from Clare’s perspective as she meets the love of her life when he appears out of thin air in the gardens of her family home when she is just a child. At this point, he is from the future. Later, she meets him in the present when their ages are the same. This is the first meeting for Henry, who is still yet to time travel into Clare’s past. Its confusing to explain, but fantastically easy to read and comprehend in the book. Throughout, Clare’s artwork is a metaphor for her relationship with Henry- she creates birds and wings and things that feel insubstantial or fleeting, as hard to capture as Henry’s illness. Niffenegger‘s vivid imagery paints each scene with all the clarity she uses to convey Clare’s artistic process. The whole book is like a grown-up fairytale. And what fairytale doesn’t suit illustration?

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Last but not least is the book that started this two-parter blog between myself and Georgina Parfitt. We were discussing the possibility of writing a review of the new television adaption of ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ but the talk quickly moved to imagery and illustration. Arguably, I shouldn’t be mentioning this book, as it is already illustrated- a fact of which I was not aware until writing this blog, as I listened to the audiobook version and have never seen the physical publication. I’m thrilled to hear one of the books on my list is actually illustrated! And no book is more suited to it than this.



Clarke’s beast of a novel is set in 19th Century England, during the Napoleonic Wars. Magic, which once thrived in England, is returning in the arms of two magicians- the stuffy and reclusive Gilbert Norrell, and the imaginative and charismatic Jonathan Strange.

As with ‘The Dark Tower’ I think this kind of other-worldly magic cries out to be drawn. The realms of fairy, the castle of Lost Hope, the gentleman with the thistledown hair. Clarke’s writing is Dickens-like, each scene creating a wonderfully clear tableau in the mind of the reader. Her characters, of which there are many, are all fantastic individuals, each with their own secrets and motives. The gothic settings in Yorkshire almost feel as remote and mysterious as the fairy world Jonathan Strange discovers he can travel to through mirrors, and the Raven King would be a marvellous subject for a wood engraving, surrounded by thorns and celtic knots.

The artist lucky enough to have been given the task of illustrating Clarke’s novel is Portia Rosenberg. And she doesn’t disappoint. Rosenberg, who has also illustrated Alexandre Dumas’s ‘The Black Tulip’, has captured ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ in 28 wonderful yet understated drawings that have the quality of old fashioned woodcarvings or etchings akin to those plates in Dickens novels. Faced with so many details and descriptions, instead of being overwhelmed and trying to fit everything in, Rosenberg hasn’t fallen into that trap, instead leaving her illustrations  uncluttered, but with enough life in them to inspire the reader to create more complex images in their imaginations. The only thing I can fault is that 28 drawings is not nearly enough to capture all of the incredible imagery in the book! But maybe I’m just being greedy.

I could go on with this list of books that should be illustrated for at least another two parts. My note book page for this article is covered in titles that I’ve not yet mentioned! Other tales of magic like Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘Kingkiller Chronicles’, epic classics like ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas and the dystopian worlds of Suzanne Collins’s ‘The Hunger Games’ and James Dashner’s ‘The Maze Runner’. But I’ve share my opinion, and we here at Towerbabel want to know what yours is. What do you think about illustrated books? Which books do you think would be improved with some images? Tell us what you think on Twitter and here on the Forums page.

Next week I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite illustrated books- and they’re not just for kids. See you then.

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.


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!