In the early sixties Penguin Books implemented a design overhaul conceptualized by art director Germano Facetti, a young Italian designer, who took a more thoughtful and practical approach than his former colleagues. The problem he found was that there was very little consistency between books and they needed some sort of unifying, underlying principle to maintain a strong Penguin brand identity. He did this by having his designers come up with a new cover grid and by writing a description of aesthetic ground rules that each book cover should follow:
…the typography will remain constant, and the variation which will occur is dictated by the length of the titles. This arrangement and the change in the colour of the type, between the title and the name of the author, will help the public to recognize with ease either the title or name of the author, whichever happens to interest them.
The pictorial idea, be it drawing, collage or photograph, will indicate 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 emphasize the contrast between covers, will be easily memorized, and will have - when books are displayed in large numbers - a cumulative effect
To retain the Penguin identity these formal elements are translated into a ‘grid’. This grid, which will help form the basic structure for the design of all Crime covers, will also help in the problem of production.
The first category, or series to get this new treatment was the green crime series. For Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep this was the result of what was called, after the designer, the Marber Grid:
The difficulties for Penguin and perhaps any large publisher is how to make new books and reprints look “newer” than the previous editions while maintaining an aesthetic bridge that identifies the two as members of a succession. The form these solutions seem to take is pendulum-like, swinging from less aesthetic constraints to more, and back again; from letting the book spill out into the design, to the design fitting the content of the book into a standardized frame.
In the early seventies James Tormey was the designer for Raymond Chandler’s books at Penguin. His designs came after a couple metamorphoses of Chandler covers but still have a lot of similarities to the Marber Grid. The changes, though, are what’s interesting.
All of the images come from famous films that weren’t necessarily based on the book they’re selling. Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart staring into each other’s eyes, for instance, are the cover of Playback, in a scene that’s probably from The Big Sleep. The darkness and stark design of the former cover from the early ’60s has given way to an art deco pop surrealism. It might be how they’ve aged, but the greens have become almost neon and the other tones blare like the hue on a broken TV set.