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Anatomy of Design by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

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44
ANATOMY OF DESIGN
For the seventieth anniversary of the illustrious paperback publisher Penguin
Books, the idea to make a boxed set of seventy unusual short stories by
luminaries from their backlist, such as Anton Chekhov (“The Kiss”), F. Scott
Fitzgerald (“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”), H. G. Wells (“The Country of the
Blind”), Hunter S. Thompson (“Happy Birthday, Jack Nicholson”), John Updike
(“Three Trips”), and Muriel Spark (“The Snobs”), opened a wealth of design
opportunities to draw from design history but also build a new legacy.
Penguin, founded in 1935 by Alan Lane to provide high-quality content
as inexpensively as possible, has enjoyed a significant place in the annals of
design. As Phil Baines notes in
Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935–2005, the
name Penguin was chosen as “dignified, but flippant,” and the penguin logo,
created by Edward Young, who sketched penguins at the London Zoo, was a
playful counterpoint to the serious literature. Yet this humor was in stark
contrast to the solemnly tasteful book covers. Rather than using conventional
illustrations, Lane preferred a simple, cohesive horizontal grid for Penguin’s
covers, printing in colors that signaled the genre of the book: orange for fiction,
green for crime, and blue for biography. Starting in 1946, the German
typographer Jan Tschichold (1902–1974), who codified the radical New
Typography, introduced an even more disciplined approach. Eschewing
asymmetry, Tschichold established a central axis template that designated
where the title and author’s name would always appear.
Baines notes that he unified the design of the front, spine, and back and
redrew the Penguin mark in eight variations for the different book genres. He
also produced rigid composition rules used to keep designers from swerving off
course and persuaded Lane to incorporate illustration on the jackets of sets of
books, such as the Shakespeare Series.
In the early 1960s, Penguin appointed the Italian art director Germano
Facetti (1928–2006) as its new head of design. Facetti enlivened the old
Penguin formula with the introduction of more eclectic designs by Alan Fletcher,
Colin Forbes and Derek Birdsall, Robert Brownjohn, and Bob Gill. While
maintaining Penguin’s identity, in keeping with the times, covers turned into
lively mini-posters, and the basic ethos continues to this day. For the seventieth
anniversary, the idea was to wed tradition with contemporary while retaining
the publisher’s exclusivity.
Every volume in this extensive set has the same dimensions, and
although each cover has a unique image, the spines are uniform. The Penguin
logo aligns on the bottom while the author and title (at different line lengths)
hang from the top. Yet what truly ties this together—and gives it a striking
contemporary aura—is a swath of prismatic color that spreads from light to
dark across the row of spines.
A precedent for this look is simply the split-fountain printing technique,
whereby two colored inks are poured on either end of printing rollers and
merge as the press accelerates, obtaining the appearance of more color
combinations. It was frequently employed during the 1960s in underground
newspapers and on posters (to save color costs) and also occurred at the turn
of the twenty-first century on book covers, annual reports, and other printed
objects to give the illusion of many hues. The prismatic coloration also has an
even more contemporary association: The distinctive shine of a compact disk
has become symbolic of the computer era.
This sequential spine conceit also has precedents dating to the 1925
Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, where Art
Deco was introduced to the world with the fair’s multivolume catalog. Here the
book title stretched across twelve spines. Since then, designers have employed
this impressive method with typography as well as photography and illustration.
The final but no less important component of this series is the Penguin
anniversary logo, which adheres to a basically clichéd convention of using the
numerals as a frame for an institutional logo. Like Playboy’s fiftieth and the
United Nations sixtieth anniversary logos, the zero in the Penguin seventy
includes the venerated mascot.
Penguin Books
Designer: John Hamilton
2005 Penguin 70th Anniversary Pocket Penguins, book collection
d: John Hamilton
For the seventieth anniversary of the illustrious paperback publisher Penguin
Books, the designer made a boxed set of seventy unusual short stories.
Rainbow
Penguin logo development
Anniversary logos
Creative spines

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