Penguin Books

Classic Paperbacks and Iconic Brand

The Challenge

To extend the Penguin Brand by translating the iconic Penguin Classic Paperbacks into designs, products and ideas for retail.

Project Overview & Solutions

Books do furnish a room - Anthony Powell

Four Faber and Faber Books as Canvases

Project Overview

The project had a 10 year life with products were designed, prototyped, sourced, manufactured, wholesaled and distributed in UK, Europe, USA, and Australia.

The products were sold in top retailers globally including Conran (London, Paris, New York, Tokyo), Harrods, John Lewis, Waterstones, The Design Museum and hundreds of leading design-led outlets across the world.

The project also received phenomenal cross-media (Magazine, National, TV, Film) press exposure globally during its life cycle.

Final phases involved agreements with the US, Canada and Australia divisions of Penguin Group to distribute within territory. Penguin Group brought the project in-house in 2012 as part of pre-prep for its merger with Random House. Tony Davis oversaw transitional arrangements for manufacturing, testing, and branding continuity during this phase.


Designs - Produced

The artist in me cries out for design - Robert Frost

Design Ideas which stayed as protoypes

If you are truly innovating, you don't have a prototype you can refer to - Jonathan Ive

Prototypes and Ideas presented which did not progress for financial, technical or brand reasons by Penguin or had very limited production runs include: Tins, Lampshades, Bedding, iPad Covers, Beach Chairs, Kindle Covers, Tables (also for the Puffin Project LINK, and working with the ever brilliant and stylish FurnitureDesigner/Maker Steuart Padwick), Stationery Binders, Teacups, Teapots, Bookshelf, Glasses, USB storage, Messenger bags. Wanda Sowry even made a brilliant one-off automata to celebrate Penguin’s 70th Birthday. 

Press & PR

Be careful - with quotations, you can damn anything. - André Malraux

Press and PR
The response to the designs was phenomenal for a decade. Everyone sold them. We think almost everyone has them.

They have featured in almost every magazine of quality globally. They’ve appeared as props in West End plays. Lifestyle makeovers. Documentaries about design of the Deckchair. Incidental elements in Films (Simon Peg in How to lose Friends and Alienate People adaption of Toby Young’s b ook, which has Actor Bill Paterson Simon’s Dad in the film washing the mugs in New York) and TV. Elbow created a pastiche for their Seldom Seen Kid Album. Grayson Perry has parodied them (woven Penguin Mugs as in his Vanity of the Small Differences Tapestries at Victoria Miro.

Lily Allen has even been chased down the street by the paparazzi carrying her Penguin Mug. When the BBC did a feature on Penguin Books at 75 seven images summarised the company Pearson’s Marjorie Scardino was shown with one of our Deckchairs (also used for the Financial Times annual report). Below is just a very small selection of the press garnered by the project.

Anthony Gormley’s Trafalgar Square Plinth One and Other project saw William from Melrose installed just after midnight with his Big Sleep deckchair and a Penguin Mug.

There was even polemic about books being turned into commodities in The Guardian which Tony Davis replied to in article form.

…in British acting circles, these probably now have the cachet of an Oscar! (commenting in The Times on receiving an Agatha Christie Body in the Library Penguin Mug)

Joanna Lumley Actor

Kitchen greats – mugs for bookworms

The Times

Display your intellectual credentials with a classy mug

The Scotsman Design for Life

Jim Hendrix reading a Penguin Science Fiction paperback

Penguin mugs – the freshest look for your table

BBC Good Food Magazine


The Guardian

it can be confidently asserted that the presents which gave me the most pleasure were the cheapest: mugs imprinted with the jacket images of two of my favourite books

Max Hastings Daily Mail

Beautiful and useful – the perfect Penguin mug for drinking cocoa while nestling on the sofa with a good book

Telegraph Weekend

Penguin mugs -my best buy

Carol Smillie Woman's Own

Feelgood, zingy orange mugs – you know you want it

She Magazine

Project Background

Books do furnish a room - Anthony Powell


Tony Davis was inspired by the original classic banded Paperbacks (designed by Edward Young in 1935) from Penguin. He grew up seeing them everywhere and then they disappeared except to collectors. The Penguin Brand and familiar (if subtly altered logo) was still very much evident but book design had moved towards photography and illustration in the 50s and 60s. The original cream and orange banded paperbacks could only now be found in secondhand bookshops. The orange still remained a key part of the Penguin logo.

So how to translate a design (from the 1930s onwards) which still had a cognoscenti following amongst typographers and designers but had largely disappeared from public consciousness? The original typography was created by Jan Tschichold.

Tony Davis’s exciting vision was that the originals (in all their variety) could be ‘translated’ into lifestyle objects which were utilitarian and mass-market, affordable yet without sacrificing quality (like Allen Lane’s original intention for the Paperbacks). In addition, there was the potential to play with language and the relationships of Author and Title with an object. Suggestions anyone for Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep…?

About Penguin: For more about Penguin look here


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All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better - Ralph Waldo Emerson