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Monday, April 04, 2011

Penguin By Design - Film Presentation

( Bibliography for film shown in credits.)

Design Canon: - 'Penguin by Design' <(")

Ever since I can remember, whenever I've walked up to a shelve of books the Penguin publishing brand instinctively and unconsciously stands out to me. I've always dismissed this notion of how a Penguin book is always appearing in my hand until, I had to think who was my design hero. We are told to never judge a book by its cover, as bad design doesn't necessarily mean a bad story. The history of Penguin publishing explains the difficulty of book design in an increasingly competitive market; to create a strong brand identity, and still appeal to a mass market by use of thrilling visuals. 
(Penguin logo)Ref1

Penguin was established in 1935 by Allen Lane, the managing director of limited edition book publishers The Bodley Head. The idea was to reprint fiction and non fiction titles in an attractive paperback edition, capitalising on what other publishers didn't seem to feel was important; accessible, well presented, cheap pocket editions. After ten years the word paperback and Penguin became synonymous. 

In march 1947 Jan Tschichold took over in production and typography of publications, the printers were re-educated in the importance of consistency with composition rules of which to structure the work. Before his arrival type was not being correctly letter spaced leaving awkward holes. Type looked standard and ordinary as all the features of which were left up to the individual printers.

Tschichold did little to the main elements of the horizontal design but instead tweaked certain aspects,  for example; Bodoni extra bold replaced Gill Sans. Thanks to his refinements the three paneled design provided strong visual language, there was a definitive clarity between author, title, and publisher through use of two type weights and a bolder typographic style consequently creating a benchmark achieved by no other publishing company. 

(Left - Initial cover - Edward Young.  
Right - Shows Tschichold's refinements to the cover design.)Ref2

However by the 1950's Penguin had over 700 titles in print all with a relatively similar cover design, which had become very hard to differentiate. Competitors were also manufacturing more modern approaches, leaving the horizontal grid looking boring and unimaginative by comparison. 
Hans Schmoller had an idea to change the horizontal grid to vertical to modernise cover design, allowing a continuation of brand identity but a new overall visual. For the first time different typefaces were introduced for certain authors to provide author identity. Despite the change, there was a restriction of whether to intrude on the coloured borders and thus impose upon the brand, this led to clumsy composition and therefore an off-putting visual language. Although it is evident how designers are trying to progress to a more contemporary approach in my opinion the intrusive artwork and various types appear to just sit on top of the vertical grid. As further progression was made, photographs became introduced and the graduating tones allows the image to blend in, which is more visually pleasing.

The horizontal and vertical grids allowed for a strong brand identity but displayed little variation and were very restrictive in regards to space, colour and typography. Originally these early examples were very fresh and distinctive but as time wore on they became a plain sea of orange and white titles, their presence formed a background to the unattractive yet bolder designs of their competition. The 60s 'represented change' for the company, drastic editorial adjustments needed to be made to keep up with the interests of modern society. 
Clear acknowledgement of audience is then demonstrated within each sub series, each composition targeting a specific audience. For example the Education series of 1971 displays large bold black type set on a white background which allows visual ease when selecting a title. Even the spine is instantaneously recognisable the audience can see what they're looking for without wasting time picking up the wrong book. This bold typographic style is repeated on the front, often highlighted and complimented through use of humorous illustrations. The daunting topic of education is therefore made bearable and approachable to students, which successfully addresses their audience. 

(Education series)Ref3

Penguin have always concentrated on sensitivity of design in relation to content, which spoke for the quality of its publishing setting the highest possible standard. However "the financial uncertainties of the early 1970s brought the inevitable shift away from the intrinsic value of books themselves towards the profit orientated nature of modern publishing."Ref4 Commercial pressure meant book covers became tie-ins to film and television series, promoting across both media platforms as a creative strategy to transfer the financial success of popular culture. The earliest example of a tie-in is the 1953 publication of the Quatermass Experiment, a BBC television series about the British Space programme. The book combines the classic tripartite style, with an illustrated imitation of the programmes opening credits, linking the two mediums. The covers were no way near as clever or visually simulating but the public are attracted to the familiar and thus will buy into fads or franchises in order to be seen as fashionable. 

(TV credits)Ref5

 (Cover tie-in)Ref6

The original cover design of the tripartite or horizontal grid is still found on a few books today. Coloured upper and lower sections categorise genres, concealed within each was the Penguin name and of course the infamous logo. Up until recently the penguin logo appeared on every publication in one place or another, drawn by Edward Young in 1935 it is now no longer thought to be necessary. The middle was left white to display, author and title.  This composition is “now regarded affectionately as classics of style.”Ref7

Despite eras where it was not possible to create outstanding design, it is evident the company are proud of their development. Their idea has always been to maintain a high standard of publishing and brand continuity, reinforcing the founding ideas of attractive, cheap, accessible literature. Penguin are a world renowned, trusted and quality publishing company and even in todays chaotic digital age they still manage to stand out amongst a shelve of design. My design hero 'King' Penguin. 

Ref 1 -

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Ref 3 -

Ref 4 - Phil Baines (2005). Penguin By Design. London, Penguin. p162

Ref 5 -

Ref 6 -

Ref 7 - Phil Baines (2005). Penguin By Design. London, Penguin. p52

Phil Baines (2005). Penguin By Design. London, Penguin. 

Too Much Information

Ok so this goes back to earlier blogs about bombardment of information in the 21st century. everyday we see posters, billboards, product design, information graphics, semiotics, ect. Our eyes take in about a billion pieces of information per second and only a very minute percentage of that actually gets processed and used, data becomes lost in translation. By visualising information in an attractive way, we become far more able to engage with it. Stimulating our brains using colour or easily recognisable shapes we are able to differentiate between each piece of information and also connect similarities to create patterns thus understanding underlying issues such as government spending. 

Shown here is David McCandless  - Information is Beautiful - Billion Dollar O'Gram
Information graphics displaying figures of spending reported in the media.

Each colour represents a pattern, categorising a topic of spending. This allows our brain to easily break down each piece of information and discover their relevance.

This overload of information is only increasing with the digital age. Social Networking sites provide endless amounts on just one person; age, DOB, marital status, likes, dislikes, interests, hobbies. If you then collected all the data on everybody who uses Facebook, no-one would even want to look at it, there is too much, none of which has any real relevance to our day to day lives. Unless you begin to reign in this information, perhaps taking one segment and explaining what  might be effecting this. For example 'individual' interests -peers, glossy mags, trends, calendar dates.

This abridged version of the BBC's Antiques Roadshow condenses one episode illustrating the information given to us through the course of a programme. We sit and we watch with interest but what would you take away...the ability to provide an estimated value of objects around your home, or remembering the price of  each item that was exhibited? No, its not going to happen the item maybe of interest to us in terms of historical context, however we receive over half of this data unconsciously because we don't understand what it means or have the ability to recognise relevance and process this efficiently enough before the cycle restarts.

Our ability to understand comes from the context in which information is placed; a series of words or statistics on a black and white badly spaced document, is extremely difficult to begin to comprehend. Where as that same information topically arranged, using bold type, bright colours is much easier to accept and discern meaning.  In order to competently communicate it is important to first appreciate audience, then develop a design of which is visually motivating through use of strong illustrative language appropriate to the topic in a context accessible to those in question. Beautiful data can change our perspective, our approach, the boring is manifested into fun, engaging information, and can often be of great intellectual benefit. "We have a lot of information problems in our society from the overload and saturation to the breakdown of trust and reliability and runaway skepticism and lack of transparency." By simplifying the complex we can build a foundation of which to quickly appreciate the topic and create a solution to that problem.



Thomas A Sebeok describes Semiotics as "The study of the difference between illusion and reality"; how we differentiate between living things and inanimate objects. Semiotics is the theory of signs, informing the reader of its purpose through an illustrative medium. However signs only signify a meaning when we attach a meaning to it. If we agree upon its significance it can mean anything we like and can take on multiple interpretations, for example the image of a hand -  stop, hello, goodbye, hi 5, ect. 

In this case it represents stop, this is due to the context in which the hand is surrounded. The colour red connotes danger, and therefore is likely to mean an order or instruction rather than a friendly gesture.
Due to the prevalence of signage we tend to unconsciously associate them to cultural conventions. The linguist Ferdinand de Saussure invented a model which describes the composites/ elements of a sign. "He defined a sign as being composed of: a 'signifier' (signifiant) - the form which the sign takes; 
and - the 'signified' (signifié) - the concept it represents." e.g. disabled access
sign = signified + signifier; the associations of the two parts is what provides our understanding.
 There are 3 types of signs; the first is an Iconic sign which has a direct implication it simply describes what it represents. An example of this would be the disabled symbol as seen as above, it looks like a person sat  down on a wheel - which would therefore connote a wheelchair which is associated with disabilities. 

2nd - Indexical - The signified and the signifier have a causal relationship, an example of this would be the infamous peace symbol. This was designed by Gerald Holtom a member of the  campaign for nuclear disarm of which the symbol originated. The design employs naval semaphore of the two letters N and D (nuclear disarmament).  The N is displayed using two flags, each pointing down at a forty five degree angle, and the D is again two flags but this time with both arms outstretched one straight up and one straight down. The semaphores are supposedly upside down, i.e. the D is over the N which stands for anti-miltary. 

This symbol was quickly adopted in the US and its power was reinforced through usage in civil rights marches, it was also strongly opposed by fundamentalist organisations. 
The design is one of the most widely recognised signs in the world.

3rd - Arbitrary - The sign has no relation to what it refers to, (double yellow lines) neither direct or indexical. When using arbitrary signs we have to know the person were communicating with understands the same meaning. This type of sign relies exclusively on the reader having learnt this meaning.

These two symbols would be completly lost on someone who has no understanding of astrology. Each represent Mars or Venus the concept of men and women are from different planets. This notion is widely understood in somewhere like Britain where we are rich in diverse cultures. Remote destinations may not  acknowledge existence of other planets and their individual relation to behavior. Therefore using this sign as a way of communicating your gender or beliefs will not be recognized.

When designing it is important to consider semiotics to ensure the message you are communicating will be correctly interpreted. Signs are entirely dependant on their context, without which we have no undersatnding for what they imply.


The best design disrupts

TBWA describe disruption as "a tool for change and an agent of growth: a working methodology and a life view philosophy."

Disruption is doing something different, taking what is known and what is expected and turning that on its head to create something controversial, the unexpected.
Guinness's Surfer advert is a perfect example of disruption. They have created one of the most famous advertisements in history and not once do you see the product. This is revolutionary it breaks the mould of the traditional cliche low angle shots of an icy cold beer, or watching beer being poured from the tap, as it smoothly washes into the glass. Guinness combines various historical concepts, from the story of Moby Dick to the Roman god Neptune.

 The Guinness ad plays around the concept of time, having patience. It takes 2 minutes to pour, a long time to wait for a beverage. This is worth it though "tick followed tock followed tick followed tock..." Onomatopoeic words of time passing this pumping of adrenaline, the delay for the dream ale. One man holds out, the other sailors return to the bar. It's all about waiting, for that perfect moment, the moment you can catch the almighty Moby dick.
The advert appeals to men in their middle ages, delivering the excitement, youthful fun. A feeling of adrenaline rushing is created by the beat of the drum, it becomes stronger and more powerful as time ticks on.  A metaphor for what happens to the drink.

Use of white horses as symbolic imagery for the rolling white waves. As Neptune races to the shore, ride with him or be knocked off with a crushing blow. The black and white film suggests a history, its been around, the drink itself is patient. Everything becomes exaggerated to emphasise the message "good things come to those who..." , horses become giant as does the wave, displayed as a miniature tsunami. Notice how the birds eye shot of the wave appears as the fin of a whale reinforcing its connection to Moby Dick.

The disruptive breaks down the barrier of the cliche and the obvious, Guinness have taken historical references and transformed them into a metaphoric narrative of waiting for your drink to be poured. It captures your imagination, turning a negative aspect of time passing into a positive. Advertisments and branding creates chaos at every turn perhaps the only place we can escape is the safe confinements of our minds. Every now and then an ad will creep through, deep into your subconscious, the only way to achieve that is to disrupt, to take something completely unconventional and put it into the context of your audience.