The last post on this subject proved popular thanks mostly to The Guardian’s John Self for bringing it to everyone’s attention. Thanks to him and everyone else who shared it. It opened a bit of a can of worms, with everyone scratching heads wanting to know exactly why this weird practice exists, and a few people got in touch to share their thoughts and insights – which is worthy of a little recap here.
Why were those penguin covers so hideous?
I gave the above design a kicking. I couldn’t understand how something so horrible and uninspiring could be allowed to hit the shelves. John Self of The Guardian said I was unfair in this assessment. Amazingly, the designer of the above cover series, David Pearson, read my blog and said ‘Unfair [was] one way of putting it’. I was confused, surely they could see where I was coming from? But then, it all became clear when I was made aware of the design rationale.
Everything in marketing and packaging has a rationale, it’s a guide to help ensure designs look right and attract the right audience. What sort of rationale was behind a series of book covers that I considered nasty and an insult?
Well, as it turns out, that was the plan.
The Penguin Popular Classics series was redesigned to look cheap and nasty in order to distance themselves from their higher priced and better presented cousins, meaning, people like me would bypass the hideous green cover and shell out more for something that didn’t light up the room in a powercut. Same book, different cover, publisher makes more money.
Therefore, perversely, the above design can be considered a roaring success in business terms. I bet you didn’t see that coming, did you? Neither did I. I’ve worked in advertising for over ten years and consider myself not easily fooled, but I walked right into this one. If the bottom line was profit, Penguin wanted to sell out of copyright books for as much as they could, and these green books will force book cover snobs like me to pay more for the covers we want.
So, there you have it.
I’m guessing the burgundy edition below was the original design (which I prefer). The burgundy is tasteful, and you can’t really go wrong with Gill Sans. It’s a good clean solid font.
Walking away from this subject slightly…why does budget design exist?
It exists for two reasons. 1) To save production money 2) To force people to buy the expensive stuff. Which is a shame really. I was turning the subject over in my head and immediately thought of Tesco’s value range. I tried to weigh/equate the above Penguin designs with bargain goods, but I came unstuck. The Tesco designs work because they are for disposable objects. For me, books are something you display with pride on your shelves, the way you might put family photos around your home. You look at the spines and are reminded of the great adventures you had reading them. To have an ugly object of relative permanence on your shelf would surely make you miserable (at least would me). You could argue designers are duty bound to make all objects pleasing, as in a world of objects, do we really want to purposely surround ourselves by things that are ugly? I suppose thinking about this, you have to draw a line. I don’t want fancy fire-alarms and fire-exit signs in bizarre fonts, but would like to see people refuse to accept plainness. But variety is the spice and all that…if all design was intricate and engaging and overwrought, it would become the norm and then we’d never notice it or appreciate it.
Who is the designer behind the Jasper Fforde front covers?
Last blog post I failed to credit the designer behind the Jasper Fforde front covers – they are by a chap called Mark Thomas. You can check out his fantastic portfolio here. I was pleased to discover he’s behind a range of covers and posters that I’ve admired over the years, particularly the cover to Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth series of novels (below)