Project Description

Penguin Marber Grid

Romek Marber was invited in 1961 to do two trial covers for Pelican books. He submitted quite different designs. Their strong geometry foresaw his proportional ‘grid’; the manipulation of photographic images was repeated in many later pieces of his artwork.

Soon after, Marber was asked to propose a unifying ‘look’ for Penguin crime fiction. The resulting ‘Marber Grid’ helped the imprint signify the quality of the contents, maximised the space available for artwork and, with the Swiss clarity of the Akzidenz Grotesk typeface, put Penguin, and Marber, into the vogue of sixties style.

Other designers provided some artwork, but Marber himself produced it for roundly a hundred covers. His rigorous division of space was adapted for other Penguin series, and even when the grid itself disappeared, its shape still showed through in the cover layout of many Penguin books.

James Mackay
Editor, Penguin Collectors Society

Romek Marber’s Notes (above) on redesigning Penguin Crime Series Covers
The following are the factors I have considered and the analysis of these factors is the basis to the design solution I am submitting for future Penguin Crime Series covers, to which all new covers and reprints will conform.

Current covers (identity)
Penguin Crime books are an integral part of publications which form the Penguin Identity. An important factor in emphasising this identity are the covers of this series. With the years, because of developments in the field of visual communication, and changes in the response to visual ideas this identity may lose its initial impact and efficiency.

New covers (continuation of identity)
The Penguin identity is synonymous with the goodwill to Penguin Books, which has been created over many years. Despite the change in typography and the introduction of new a element (pictorial), the new crime series will maintain a continuity of this goodwill, by means of identification between the current and the new styles. This identification is achieved by establishing a common denominator between the current and new series through integration of areas and type. This denominator is the strong horizontal movement, which is emphasised in the current crime cover (fig.1), and which is repeated in the new cover by the use of a white horizontal panel (fig.2). The white panel will help in the transition period, but after the new style is established this panel can be discarded.

Impact and efficiency
The current constant typographic cover in present-day paperback publishing has no means to excite or attract attention. With the addition each year of new titles to the Penguin Crime list, it becomes more difficult just by looking at the current typographic cover to discern between books already bought, and those newly published. When confronted with many crime books the reader has at present no other means of selection but that of reading all the titles. Because of the number of books displayed this is not only trying but also slows down the process of identification of separate titles. This results in the Crime series being subject to considerable commercial limitation, particularly as its readership consists of a wide spectrum of the general public.

The typeface used throughout is Standard and Standard medium. The typography will remain constant, and the variations which occur are dictated by the length of the titles. This arrangement and the change in the colour of type, between the title and the name of the author, will help the public to place with ease, either the title or the name of the author, whichever happens to interest them.

The pictorial idea, be it drawing, collage or photograph, will indicate, if possible, the atmospheric content of the book. The public’s awareness of kinematic images offers the crime series, particularly, great photographic possibilities. The clarity and simplicity of the pictorial idea will emphasise the contrast between covers, will be easily memorised, and will have when books are displayed in large numbers an accumulative effect.

To retain the Penguin Identity these formal elements are translated in a ‘grid’ (fig 2). This grid which will form the basic structure for the design of all crime covers, will also help in the problem of production. The grid allows for variations in the length and the placing of titles and for the use of different pictorial ideas as evident in enclosed covers.