Speaking to the Past: A Penguin Anniversary Project by Douglas Coupland

Penguin covers!

With their cutting edge worthiness! And their dutiful minimalism! What would our lives be like without them?

Last month I installed new bookshelves in a room in my house. They're black, and my painter offered the unsolicited opinion that they might look depressing when completed. I knew he was wrong because, at the very least, the paperback shelf couldn't help but have a cheerful orange zing a zing that comes from the Penguin spine, the most wonderfully insidious default interior design statement in our culture. Even crack dens glow with Penguins on the shelf.

And how many of us can time-stamp periods in our life just by the merest glance a Penguin cover and its genius format? College. Loneliness. Relationships. Adulthood. In some sense Penguin covers function more as diaries than they do as covers.

So I got to thinking, when Penguins start talking back to you, it makes you realize that the Penguin dialogue is a lifelong dialogue one of life's catch-free pleasures. Happy 75th, Penguin, and to anyone reading this, join in the discussion. It's easy, fun and oh, so worthy.
View the Set 
Douglas Coupland
March, 2010

Design Your Own

How would you speak to someone in the year 1935 from 2010 using a Penguin cover? Click on the templates below to download and create your own.

  • Design Your Own - 1
    The Horizontal Grid, 1935

    The horizontal grid was devised by Edward Young, Penguin's first Production Manager. Different colours were used to indicate subject matter—orange for fiction, green for crime, dark blue for biography, cerise for travel and adventure, red for plays. The design features popular typefaces of the time—Bodoni Ultra Bold for the publisher's name, and two weights of the relatively new (1927-8) Gill Sans were used for the remainder of the front cover and spine information. The horizontal grid was perfected by Jan Tschichold in 1948 with the most obvious change being the substitution of Gill Sans for Bodoni Ultra Bold in the publishers name.

  • Design Your Own - 2
    The Marber Grid, 1962

    In 1962, Penguin Art Director Germano Facetti commissioned three designers to create a new grid for crime covers that would allow for a clear and consistent typography as well as an area for illustration. The solution came from Romek Marber and quickly became known as the Marber Grid. Made up of a series of horizontal rules separating the publisher's name and logo from the title and author's name, the Marber grid featured Intertype Standard typeface—a font Marber preferred for its curves and different weights to those of Helvetica.

  • Design Your Own - 3
    The Vertical Grid, 1951

    The vertical grid was worked on by Jan Tschichold with his assistant Erik Ellegaard Frederiksen and Hans Schmoller. The three divisions and use of colour ensured continuity with earlier Penguin standard designs. The central area was most commonly used for line illustrations, but could also include an extract from a book review or a 'blurb'. The first title with the vertical grid—J.M. Synge's Collected Poems—appeared in 1952.

  • Design Your Own - 4
    Pelicans Redesigned, 1949

    The Pelican redesign by Jan Tschichold was a departure from the original horizontal grid. Instead, Pelicans used a frame to carry the imprint name within each side. This allowed for different text treatment within the frames as well as the incorporation of an image when appropriate. Pelicans remained related to the main series by their use of Gill Sans, but differed from those titles by using, almost always, upper and lower case instead of all caps.

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Celebrating 75 Years

This project is part of Penguin's 75th Anniversary celebrations.
Learn more at penguin.ca/75

Bow-tie Penguin

Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland photo by D.J. WeirExtraordinary Canadians: Marshall McLuhan by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland's first novel, Generation X, was published in March 1991. Since then he has published nine novels and several non-fiction books in thirty-five languages and most countries. He has presented as a visual artist, with exhibitions in spaces in North America, Europe, and Asia. His most recent novel is Generation A. Coupland's biography of Marshall McLuhan is part of Penguin Canada's Extraordinary Canadians series, and is available in March 2010.

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