Penguin Books

Classic Paperbacks and Iconic Brand

Four Faber and Faber Books as Canvases

The Challenge

Tony Davis was inspired by the original classic banded Paperbacks (designed by Edward Young in 1935) from Penguin. He grew up seeing them everywhere and then they disappeared except to collectors. The Penguin Brand and familiar (if subtly altered logo) was still very much evident but book design had moved towards photography and illustration in the 50s and 60s. The original cream and orange banded paperbacks could only now be found in secondhand bookshops. The orange still remained a key part of the Penguin logo.

So how to translate a design (from the 1930s onwards) which still had a cognoscenti following amongst typographers and designers but had largely disappeared from public consciousness? The original typography was created by Jan Tschichold.

Unless you were 50 or over it is unlikely this style of books would mean anything to you. In fact, one of the first comments on starting the project was by a retailer who said ‘great. people over 50 will really love this…’.

Tony Davis’s exciting vision was that the originals (in all their variety) could be ‘translated’ into lifestyle objects which were utilitarian and mass-market, affordable yet without sacrificing quality (like Allen Lane’s original intention for the Paperbacks). In addition, there was the potential to play with language and the relationships of Author and Title with an object. Suggestions anyone for Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep…?

About Penguin: For more about Penguin look here

Project Overview & Solutions

Books do furnish a room - Anthony Powell

Books do indeed furnish a Room. What if books could be the cultural source for objects and designs which we also find useful in our daily lives? Everything was guided by William Morris in this. He said…

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”

This wasn’t a slavish adherence to craft methods. The two things combine: useful and beautiful. Mass production is fine if done ethically and without waste. It was important to ensure that all production methods (even for the simplest objects like a mug) were the right ones.

This was the main thrust of the Project. For 10 years (2002-2012) the designs (produced or conceptualised) explored the best ways to combine brand, style and practical utility. The main designs created were:

  • Penguin Espresso – Porcelain pair with matching saucers
  • Penguin Mugs – 31 designs.
  • Penguin Tea-towels – 4 designs
  • Penguin Pencils – 2 designs – Classic Orange and the Classics Black
  • Penguin Deckchairs – 13 designs
  • Penguin Canvases – 11 Designs
  • Penguin Bookchase® – Boardgame

Design Innovation
One of the challenges here was to balance the variety of titles with wit, colour, and the nature of the object. This was solved with the Bookbags by making them double-sided allowing for a ‘change of mood’. Flip the bag and the statement of the title is different. See The Lost Girl/Mantrap Bookbag for illustration of this. Mugs could be ‘paired’ in retail to create messages: see Thinking to Some Purpose & Together. Packaging was also important. Initially none of the products were packaged for eco reasons. The Tea-towel tubes (card) were the perfect gift pack. The mugs also had boxes designed with clever details for recycling.

Cover Archive
Initially select covers were taken from ‘classic’ designs in the Cover archive for use in Print-on-demand. These were printed and framed in partnership with Charles Howell at Fine Digital Print, Wiltshire. He did a great job of faithfully reproducing the original paperbacks – print quality and all. So much so that someone once demanded an explanation for the letterpress impressions (which they thought were print errors) reproduced in the print. These were produced to order and the most popular covers were: The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler), and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

Publishers are increasingly challenged to complement their income from books not just from digital sources (e-books etc) but also what’s termed ‘non-book’ product. Therefore in 2012 due to the impact and success of the project and its potential for revenue and the potential for scalability Penguin brought the project in-house to globally distribute the designs and sell directly.

Website: N/A
Distribution: UK/Europe/ROW
Availability: None of the designs are in production by Art Meets Matter now. Originally sold in various retailers all over the world including: Conran Shop London, Conran Shop Paris, British Library, Bertrams, Blackwells, Uppsala Bookshop (Sweden), Arvon Foundation, Camden Lock Books, Borders (UK), The Literary Gift Company, Heffers (Cambridge), Waterstones, Bijlevelt Boekhandel (NL), Papercut (Sweden).

Contact us if you have any comments about the work.

Designs - Produced

The artist in me cries out for design - Robert Frost

Design Ideas which stayed as protoypes

If you are truly innovating, you don't have a prototype you can refer to - Jonathan Ive

Prototypes and Ideas presented which did not progress for financial, technical or brand reasons by Penguin or had very limited production runs include: Tins, Lampshades, Bedding, iPad Covers, Beach Chairs, Kindle Covers, Tables (also for the Puffin Project LINK, and working with the ever brilliant and stylish FurnitureDesigner/Maker Steuart Padwick), Stationery Binders, Teacups, Teapots, Bookshelf, Glasses, USB storage, Messenger bags. Wanda Sowry even made a brilliant one-off automata to celebrate Penguin’s 70th Birthday. 

Press & PR

Be careful - with quotations, you can damn anything. - André Malraux

Press and PR
The response to the designs was phenomenal for a decade. Everyone sold them. We think almost everyone has them.

They have featured in almost every magazine of quality globally. They’ve appeared as props in West End plays. Lifestyle makeovers. Documentaries about design of the Deckchair. Incidental elements in Films (Simon Peg in How to lose Friends and Alienate People adaption of Toby Young’s book, which has Actor Bill Paterson Simon’s Dad in the film washing the mugs in New York) and TV. Elbow created a pastiche for their Seldom Seen Kid Album. Grayson Perry has parodied them (woven Penguin Mugs as in his Vanity of the Small Differences Tapestries at Victoria Miro.

Lily Allen has even been chased down the street by the paparazzi carrying her Penguin Mug. When the BBC did a feature on Penguin Books at 75 seven images summarised the company Pearson’s Marjorie Scardino was shown with one of our Deckchairs (also used for the Financial Times annual report). Below is just a very small selection of the press garnered by the project.

Anthony Gormley’s Trafalgar Square Plinth One and Other project saw William from Melrose installed just after midnight with his Big Sleep deckchair and a Penguin Mug.

There was even polemic about books being turned into commodities in The Guardian which Tony Davis replied to in article form.

…in British acting circles, these probably now have the cachet of an Oscar! (commenting in The Times on receiving an Agatha Christie Body in the Library Penguin Mug)

Joanna Lumley Actor

Kitchen greats – mugs for bookworms

The Times

Display your intellectual credentials with a classy mug

The Scotsman Design for Life

Jim Hendrix reading a Penguin Science Fiction paperback

Penguin mugs – the freshest look for your table

BBC Good Food Magazine


The Guardian

it can be confidently asserted that the presents which gave me the most pleasure were the cheapest: mugs imprinted with the jacket images of two of my favourite books

Max Hastings Daily Mail

Beautiful and useful – the perfect Penguin mug for drinking cocoa while nestling on the sofa with a good book

Telegraph Weekend

Penguin mugs -my best buy

Carol Smillie Woman's Own

Feelgood, zingy orange mugs – you know you want it

She Magazine

Design Notes

Type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters - Matthew Carter


Jan Tschichold designed the beautiful Sabon typeface (1967) used in more recent Penguin publishing.

Gill Sans

Gill Sans was used extensively for the paperback covers after the initial few and the modernism express in the font complemented the new look for publishing.

Other Projects

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better - Ralph Waldo Emerson