Logo Watch: Random Thoughts on Building a House For a Penguin

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Finally, Penguin and Random House have a new corporate identity. For months there was speculation over what the merger would bring. 

Logo mashups inevitably emerged, ranging from a penguin in the shape of a house (above, by Marco Leone) to a house filled with penguins (by Nickie Huang, below), while an interm logo was adopted in July of last year.

But for those hoping for a serious mashup, or a radical departure, stop the presses: The Penguin logo remains untouched, a missed opportunity to refresh a classic mark, the Coca-Cola of book logos.[more]

The Penguin Books mascot is a timeless piece, to be sure. It was designed in the 1930’s by Edward Young for British publisher The Bodley Head, as a simple icon for an inexpensive sixpence paperback series. It grew up, polished for a longtime shelf life by Jan Tschichold, who, aside from fine-tuning the characteristic penguin mark, created the iconic centered cover designs. It has become one of the most successful book series in publishing.

As for the Random House logo, designed by Rockwell Kent, it too has remain untouched. What has changed is the way the Penguin Books logo, along with the Random House logo and the 250 other independent publishing houses within Penguin Random House, operates as a visual system.

By choosing to spell it out, the wordmark created for the merger of Penguin and Random House, by Michael Bierut and team, is a nuanced statement.

Stylishly set in Shift, a typeface designed by Jeremy Mickel as an homage to the typewriter-type (and as a successor to the Courier font), it connects Penguin Random House  to the traditional world of writers and writing. The type fits perfectly. The wordmark is framed by orange bookends. In color it refers to Penguin; in shape, to classic bookends on a shelf.

This wordmark is designed to be teamed up with the 250 different logos and marks for imprints such as Vintage Books, Puffin and Fodor’s within the combined entity. A challenge, but the new system seems to balance perfectly between the classic Penguin-orange brand and the “house of brands” that is Random House. It’s a nod to the diversity within the publishing behemoth as the world’s largest publisher.

It’s something of a disappointment, however, for those expecting and hoping for a serious mashup of the House and the Penguin. It feels a little safe, but then, this logo will rarely be used outside corporate communications and lovers of the iconic Penguin bird will be glad that their bird hasn’t been plucked. 

• Matt van Leeuwen is a senior graphic designer and social mediaite who can also be found on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.

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