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Penguin Great Ideas

25 Jul

Read an interview with the editor about Series One of Penguin Great Ideas on the Penguin (UK) website.

This is the last collection from Penguin that I’ll include, I promise. These books are just such good examples of using design to create a collection and to emphasise the object status of a book that I can’t not include them.

There are twenty books in each series and each series is colour coded (I’ve included the red series here). They’re not big books and each one boasts a cover that’s worthy of appreciation all on its lonesome. But the fact that there’s a whole set of beautiful books creates this impulse to want to have the complete collection (as they’re designed to all stand together).

So, as with the other collections I’ve talked about, design here is the focus: so much attention is paid to making the books pretty or desirable, that their look becomes just as important as their contents.

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Popular Penguins

15 Jul

See more Popular Penguins on the Penguin Group (NZ) website.

There’s actually not a lot for me to say here that I haven’t already said (collections, retro revival, etc). And that which I haven’t already said is all fairly obvious with the Popular Penguins, but I’ll say it anyway.

This is such a simple design and it’s stock-standard, which is the genius of it. No having to worry about coming up with a new design for each book, you can just cover it with the good old orange and cream template. Easy peasy (and cheap-o).

And, even though the design of these books seems not to be focused upon the object of the book so much as the text it contains, I’d argue otherwise. It might seem that giving every book the same cover privileges the story inside, but I actually think it makes these books commodities in the sense of being ‘those trendy Penguin editions that trendy people have sticking out of their back pocket at bus stops or smoky cafes’. They’re all about what they are, who they’re written by, and who the publisher is. All thanks to the simple but highly recognisable design of orange and cream stripes.

My Little Golden Books

20 May

Look inside The Poky Little Puppy on Amazon.

It seems only right that I should begin my book design scrapbook with those books that very first piqued my interest in reading and, you could say, my appreciation for books in general: My Little Golden Books. Especially The Poky Little Puppy (which I now have to thank for an unhealthy infatuation with strawberry shortcake) and Scuffy the Tugboat.

The reason (aside from pure nostalgia) that I thought it worth including the My Little Golden Books in my book design scrapbook is because they are deliberately designed as a ‘collection’. There are a number of traits that makes them obviously Golden Books, the most obvious of which being the distinctive golden spines and the pattern design on the inside cover with the ‘This Little Golden Book Belongs To’ plaque. By creating a collection, the publisher (or designer) instantly creates a sense of need: a person buying the books won’t want just one, they’ll want the whole set so they can line them up on their bookshelf with all the spines together. (Or at least that’s what I know I did as a kid.)

The individual traits (the illustrations and stories) of each book are then fitted into the wider ‘frame’ of the golden book. You can see with The Poky Little Puppy that the internal design is very simple: it’s just a matter of picture up the top, words down the bottom or vice versa. In fact, I think the edition they’re printing now is exactly the same in terms of design as the one I had when I was little (at least, the typeface looks like it’s even older than I am!).

I think it is worth noting how the My Little Golden Books are designed to be a collection because similar techniques can be seen in play with what Penguin is doing with their Great Ideas Series and Popular Penguins now. I think that, in the face of new technologies, people’s ideas of why they want a book and what they want it to be are changing and book design is necessarily changing too. There is much more emphasis on making a book a commodity, and I think that’s what making it a part of a wider collection does: it makes book as an object just as, if not more, important as the book as a story. Which seems a fairly smart thing to do, given that the book as an object is one obvious characteristic an ereader won’t ever be able to replicate.

Beatrix Potter Books

20 May

As with the My Little Golden Books, these books are a throwback to my childhood. The Tale of Tom Kitten was my favourite book when I was too little to read myself (but I insisted it be read to me so often that I ended up learning it word-for-word by heart anyway) and I still have a Peter Rabbit soft toy on my bed. But that has nothing to do with their design.

I’ve included them for the same reasons (again, aside from nostalgia) as I did the My Little Golden Books. They’re all designed according to a very recognisable template: you look at the cover of one, with its quaint little illustration, times new roman-y font and abundance of white background, and you know who it’s by. You know that it’s one of the Beatrix Potter collection. Each book has its own story, but in appearance and design they are all essentially same … and they haven’t even changed much from their first editions, as you can see with The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle I’ve included.

One thing I particularly like about the Beatrix Potter books is their endpapers. They reinforce that collection idea by including characters from all of her books (not just the one in your hands), and they’re the same in each book. They’re very pretty and I can remember enjoying pointing out and naming each character when I used to read these books. I’m a big fan of detail and of putting extra space to good use, so I do like to see interesting endpapers.