Brain Pickings

Penguin by Design: “Good Design Is No More Expensive Than Bad”


In 1935, British publisher Sir Allen Lane found himself on a train platform at Exeter railway station, looking for a good book for the ride to London. Disappointed with the limited and unseemly options available, he eventually founded Penguin Books, famously declaring that “good design is no more expensive than bad.” He revolutionized the publishing industry in the 1930s with its affordable and beautifully designed paperbacks, and Penguin eventually went on to become the world’s largest publishing empire, overtaking Random House in 2009. Best known and loved for its paperback covers, the iconic publisher has become a living record of the evolution of contemporary design.

In Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005, graphic designer Phil Baines charts the development of Penguin’s iconic legacy, from the evolution of the Penguin logo itself to the seminal introduction of Romek Marber’s simple cover grid in 1962, which reined in a new era of cover design.

In more than 250 glorious pages, the book features over 600 gorgeous, vibrant illustrations that tell the story of the most monumental testament to the power of graphic design in packaging and disseminating culture.

Images by Robin Benson

As a wonderful companion to the book, you won’t go wrong with Postcards from Penguin: One Hundred Book Covers in One Box — a lovely collection of exactly what the title promises, featuring 100 different Penguin book jackets spanning 70 years of iconic literature, from crime to classics.

And we’d be remiss not to remind you of Coralie Bickford-Smith’s remarkable classics covers, by far our favorite Penguin designs of all time.

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