Great Ideas

I love the covers of Penguin Books Great Ideas series. Not only do these covers work well on their own, they look great as a set, encouraging readers to buy, and display, them all.

Here are some of my favourite examples of typographic covers from the series:

The Communist Manifesto

by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels. Published by Penguin, 2004. Designed by David Person.

The text in this design, set in Bureau Grot, looks as if it has been freshly stamped into a clean sheet of paper. The boldness of this typeface has an immediacy, an urgentness and an authority that matches the subject matter.

Some Extraordinary Popular Delusions

by Charles Mackey. Published by Penguin Classics, 2010. Designed by Catherine Dixon.

This cover manages to incorporate a large amount of type, using 10 different typefaces – quite a feat for a small publication. The subject matter is the rise and fall of Victorian street slang, and the design makes use of a selection of expressions to great effect.

Travels in the Land of Kublai Khan

by Marco Polo. Published by Penguin Classics, 2005. Designed by Phil Baines.

This cover shouldn’t work, but as a piece of typographic design, it is eye-catching and attractive.  As series editor Simon Winder said, “This was a completely unhelpful jacket in every way: you can’t read it; what had been a pertinent cover quote is reduced to a mockery. And yet – what an excellent piece of design!”1 


by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Published by Penguin Classics, 2008. Designed by David Pearson.

The use of an extremely unusual typeface for this book’s title works well in contrast with the simple typeface chosen for the author, publisher and series information. I like the subtle use of the repeating phrase “in the woods is perpetual youth” to frame the design.

However, as much as I admire this series, there are some designs which, in my opinion, do not work as well as those above, such as:

The Tao of Nature

by Chuang Tzu. Published by Penguin Classics, 2010.

This design almost doesn’t work. The minimalist design, added to the chaotic spacing, makes this quite a risky cover. Because of the uniqueness of this concept, I think you can only produce this sort of design once in a series and get away with it.

The Evils of Revolution

by Edmund Burke. Published by Penguin Classics, 2008. Designed by Alistair Hall.

Overall, I like this series very much, but all design is subjective, and I like the white covers more than the dark ones. Out of a series of 100 titles, there are 7 which are predomantly black. In my opinion, these black covers lose the aesthetic punch of the crisp, white covers.


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