Throughout my studies, the merger of Penguin and Random House has been one of the headline stories that has kept re-emerging. It was with a heavy heart that I read of the merger, believing that the quirky little penguin that everyone knows and loves will become eclipsed by the House of Randomness, much in the way the Wicked Witch of the East found her relationship with Dorothy’s house to be a little overbearing.
Neither can I say I was particularly pleased with the temporary logo that had an air of “Oh my God, we forgot about the logo!” about it when it was released at the same time; a frankly unimaginative merger of the two icons with little coherency.
The heavy, sans-serif typeface left me full of confusion. I guess it was an approximation of Tschichold’s infamous use of ‘Gill Sans’ on the classic Penguin covers, but this face has subtle differences and without the use of colour to graphically link with the iconic colour bands, it loses its association with the original covers.
Not to mention that it just seems a little haphazard (dare I say lazy?) to just place the two logos next to each other in an obvious graphical representation of the name. So imagine my relief when this week, PRH revealed their redesigned, global wordmark. At first, I will admit, I feared for the fate of our feathered friend, but when reading the reasonings behind the design and seeing how it works alongside individual imprint colophons, I felt it was a overall success.
I feel that the ‘wordmark’ reflects the new stage in PRH’s development. It makes sense to forge a new global identity as, after all, this is a new global company, yet the dual streaks of orange proffer a nod to the quintessential Penguin brand. When placed to individual imprint logos, it doesn’t look out of place and has a sense of coherency that the temporary identity lacked.
It also allows each imprint, which include Dorling Kindersley and Penguin who respectfully have strong individual identities, to stand on their own two metaphorical feet. The link is maintained to the umbrella PRH company, yet the orange streak physically divides the two, thus ensuring the survival of the randomly wandering penguin (and friends!).
I was also relieved to read that Michael Bierut, one of today’s most eminent and respected graphic designers, was involved in the creation of the new wordmark. When explaining his reasonings behind the design, he and his team at Pentagram wanted to steer away from a direct amalgamation of the two companies into one logo and instead took a step back:
“… it didn’t make sense to create a new symbol for a company that already has 250 symbols, none of which are going away, and each of which has its own heritage and value.The challenge was to come up with a wordmark that could at once provide a strong endorsement for each of the imprint symbols, and that could in turn gain itself in meaning through association with them.” – Pentagram Design
Being somewhat trained as a graphic and web designer, this must have seemed like a monumental task, but I think Bierut, et al. have created a dynamic and successful identity. I especially love how they have used an entirely new typeface, Jeremy Mickel’s ‘Shift Light’ to emphasise the new wordmark as being a singular publishing identity. As stated by Bierut, Shift is a development from ‘typewriter’ fonts, such as Courier that reflect the literary nature of Penguin Random House’s business. By using the light font weight, the ‘typewriter’ link isn’t explicitly obvious and crass, neither does it impinge on the individual logo identities it will be paired with. I also love the quirky curved serifs on the ascenders and the ear on the lowercase g (a particular favourite of mine).
So all in all, despite my initial reservations, I think Penguin Random House, Bierut and everyone at Pentagram have succeeded in re-envisaging the PRH brand going forward into a future. It is dangerous territory to mess with perhaps the only identifiable brand in publishing, but by respecting this, the tuxedo-suited flappy chappie lives on and together, they can build an even stronger, modern identity that can hopefully capitalise on Penguin’s historic recognition with the public.