Penguin Logo

The Humble Beginnings of The Iconic Penguin Logo In Book Publishing

Enter 21-Year-Old Edward Young…

It must have been a memorable workday for Edward Young. In 1935, the 21-year old production editor and designer met with his boss Allen Lane who was the head of their promising new publishing company. Young’s assignment? “We need you to go to the zoo and draw us a penguin.”

It had to be a penguin, they decided. Albatross Books in Hamburg had successfully turned that particular bird into an internationally recognized symbol for their brand. From the beginning, Lane and Jump set out with the objective to make their own bird logo a global representation of the crisp, affordable paperbacks they wanted to market.

So Young picked up his sketchbook and made his way over to London Zoo “to spend the rest of the day drawing penguins in every pose.” Mission complete, he returned to the office, and his variety of penguin images presented an abundance of offerings for Lane and the team to consider. Eventually, they settled on one that struck Young as “dignified but flippant.”

The Mark of a Publishing Empire

This whimsical penguin, they decided, would be a perfect piece of iconography. An insignia synonymous with literature itself. Lane paired Young’s drawing with the modern typeface Gill Sans and a three-band

cover (the design that distinguished the penguin imprint for years) and thus began the roll-out of a publishing empire.

Young’s drawing impressively ushered the company through its first decade and half, and Penguin made no revisions to the original sketch until German typographer Jan Tschichold gave it an update in 1949.

Tschichold’s version may seem like the definitive rendering up until 2003, but in his Penguin By Design, chronologer Phil Baines disclosed how the logo actually underwent many very slight modifications throughout the decades.

The 2003 streamlining came about as at Pentagram’s Angus Hyland redrew the little bird to be 15% thinner and gave it horizontally placed feet and a more detailed beak, neck, and eyes. The adjustments may seem minute considering how small the penguin itself actually appears on the spine of a paperback book. But Penguin’s ongoing legacy spares no extremity. Hyland even accompanied his visual revamping with guidelines for how to implement the penguin logo across the international market.

As Edward Young, the bird’s original designer reflects on the choice of a penguin as the mascot and brand name for one of the world’s most powerful publishing houses, “It was the obvious answer, a stroke of genius.”

Moving Beyond Just a Great Looking Logo

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