This article is a basic analysis of the penguin books, which were produced by Tschichold. The basis of my observation is to verify the presentational style and unique illustrations of the penguin book designs.

Penguin Books has paid particular attention to the design of its books since recruiting German typographer Jan Tschichold in 1947. The early minimalist designs were modernised by Italian art director Germano Facetti, who joined Penguin in 1961. The new classics were known as “Black Classics” for their black covers, which also featured artwork appropriate to the topic and period of the work. This design was later revised to have pale yellow covers with a black spine, colour-coded with a small mark to indicate language and period (red for English, purple for ancient Latin and Greek, yellow for medieval and continental European, and green for other languages).

In 2002, Penguin announced it was redesigning its entire catalogue. The redesign restored the black cover, adding a white stripe and orange lettering. The text page design was also overhauled to follow a more closely-prescribed template, allowing for faster copyediting and typesetting, but reducing the options for individual design variations suggested by a text’s structure or historical context (for example, in the choice of text typeface). Prior to 2002, the text page typography of each book in the Classics series had been overseen by a team of in-house designers; this department was closed in 2003 as part of the production costs rationalisation of the Classics list, and any design work is now done by editors and outside suppliers (Wikipedia, 2010).”

From observing the Curwen press as well as the Penguin books, I find that both has similar qualities on how they both design their products, but also features that separate them. One being how the Curwen press primary objective was to print books specifically for libraries, where as the Penguin books concentrated on their presentational design concepts. With the Penguin book designs their concepts are based on simplicity, also they keep to their traditional way of design. Where with the Curwen press was aimed on more modernised ideas, based on their cover concepts.

“Classic Penguin books design concepts”

“Everything is Illuminated Penguin Book (Front Cover)”

“Collection of published Peguin Books”

“Tschichold was equally rigorous in the design of special sets of books published by Penguin. These included Penguin Modern Painters, introduced in 1944 by the art historian Sir Kenneth Clark to popularise modern art to “the wide public outside the art galleries”, and the Penguin Shakespeare Series, which had the same democratising objective for William Shakespeare’s plays. Among Tschichold’s innovations was to persuade Allen Lane to allow Penguin to take advantage of recent advances in printing by using illustration on the jackets of particular sets of books such as the Shakespeare Series (Design Museum, 2006).”

Based on this fraction of research that relates to the design of the Penguin books, I think the basis of the design concept was influenced on the designs of William Shakespeare’s play designs. The idea I believe was to attract a wider audience by using modernised art forms as well as combining the style with illustrations based on designs by William Shakespeare. I think they chose to idolise his work in terms of design, because he had a natural understanding of what elements to use to attract specific audiences.


Wikipedia. (2010).

Image1. Corey Doctorow. Boing Boing. (2009).



Design Museum. (2006).