Friday book design blog: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Where better to start with this new book design blog than with this typically cheeky and intelligent cover for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. This coming Monday, 21 January, the 63rd anniversary of the death of the great English writer, is the first ‘Orwell Day’, organised by his literary estate, together with the influential Orwell Prize for political writing.
To mark the day, Penguin Classics are reissuing five Orwells, all designed by David Pearson, the man behind the hugely successful Penguin Great Ideas designs and, it could be said, the resurgence of typographic book covers over the past decade.
As with Great Ideas, some of those Orwell covers evoke the time of the books’ writing, with an elegant ‘propaganda’ look to Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia. Others are more intent on engaging with the history of the publisher itself. For if it’s easy to say that Penguin has long been a trendsetter and groundbreaker in British book design, it’s also been more than happy to capitalise on its own often iconic design heritage.
So Down and Out in Paris and London is a vectorized reboot of the Penguin Modern Classic cover, in its 1970s incarnation, with the typography, logo and ruled line all present and correct, and the illustration (not, I think, based on an original, though I may be wrong) an elegant take on mid-century abstraction as pushed through a Photoshop filter.
Most striking of all, though, for the sheer chutzpah evident in its abuse of the Penguin brand, but also its comment on the text within, is Nineteen Eighty-Four. This , too, pays homage to a classic from Penguin’s design back pages – no less than the original cover design (the so-called ‘horizontal grid’), as seen in the very first Penguin paperback, in 1938, but in the subtly adjusted version made by Jan Tschichold in 1948 – the very year that Orwell was writing his dystopian novel.
All that Pearson has done is blacked out the author’s name and title in the manner of a state-censored document. In the digital image shown these are clearly visible through the black, but in its physical form the black is completely opaque, with the words very lightly stamped into the cover, so you can see them only when you hold the book at an angle. It’s a hugely effective device, and one, you think, that Big Brother would be proud of.David Pearson, george orwell, Penguin Books
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