Brain Pickings

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

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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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Reality Is Broken: How Games Make Us Better

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Becoming better versions of ourselves, or how the basic paradigms of gaming culture foster social change.

We’re big fans of game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal, whose insights on gaming for productivity we’ve featured before and whom we had the pleasure of seeing speak at TED 2010. Today marks the release of McGonigal’s debut book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World — a compelling vision for harnessing the basic paradigms of gaming culture to foster social change. Armed with equal parts passion and empirical evidence, McGonigal debunks a number of myths about and prejudices against gamers to reveal a complex and highly motivated subculture of dedication and collaboration — the very qualities most fundamental to laying the foundation for global happiness.

When we’re in game worlds, [we] become the best version of ourselves, the most likely to help at a moment’s notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long at it takes, to get up after failure and try again.” ~ Jane McGonigal

Through fascinating examples of how alternate-reality games are already improving our lives, scientific insight into the neurochemical processes that take place in our brains during gaming, and psychology-rooted blueprints for employing the reward systems of gaming to motivate real-life behaviors, McGonigal showcases the incredible potential of gamers and gaming culture to change not only how we live our lives on an individual level, but also how we do business and engage in our communities socially and globally.

For a teaser taste of McGonigal’s visionary insight, don’t miss her excellent TED talk:

The average young person today in a country with a strong gamer culture will have spent 10,000 hours playing online games, by the age of 21. For children in the United States 10,080 hours is the exact amount of time you will spend in school from fifth grade to high school graduation if you have perfect attendance.” ~ Jane McGonigal

We anticipate Reality Is Broken will do for gaming culture what Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog did for the counterculture sustainability movement of the sixties, reining in a new kind of collective awareness and mainstream reverence for a practical ideology that will shape the course of culture for decades to come.

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Vi Hart’s Playful Mathematics: Flatland on a Möbius Strip

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What Victorian novellas have to do with higher mathematics, optical illusions and illustration.

Vi Hart has a rare gift: making math cool. She distills mathematical concepts in clever, engaging, relentlessly creative ways using visual metaphors like balloons, doodling, beadwork and food to illustrate anything from Platonic solids to hyperbolic planes to binary trees.

In this fantastic 7-minute video, two months in the making, Hart takes the iconic 1884 satirical novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, which applies Victorian knowledge of higher mathematics to a witty story about a fictional two-dimensional world and a humble square who tries to wrap his mind around a third dimension, and adapts it to a Möbius strip, a non-orientable looped surface that only has one side and one boundary component, with lovely hand-drawn illustration.

(For the definitive resource on the fascinating Möbius strip, do check out The Möbius Strip: Dr. August Möbius’s Marvelous Band in Mathematics, Games, Literature, Art, Technology, and Cosmology.)

Hart’s work reminds me of Robin Moore’s string math portraits from the 1980s and Kevin Van Aelst’s edible science, a living testament to the power of playfulness as a gateway to learning.

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