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Penguin Random House's Logo Solution: Spell It Out


Penguin Random House's Logo Solution: Spell It Out

Courtesy Penguin Random House

When Penguin and Random House joined forces last year, the publishers brought together 10,000 jobs, 250 independent imprints, and $3.7 billion in annual revenues. The merged publisher left vague how it would handle combining two very distinct logos with long-running literary traditions.

The solution announced on Tuesday is an elegant, inclusive, and understated two-part branding system. Rather than choosing either a previous logo or trying to come up with something new, Penguin Random House will exist as a wordmark spelling out the company’s name—think Coca-Cola (KO) or GE (GE)—that can sit alongside the sigils of the mega-publisher’s vast array of imprints. It’s a nod to the diversity within the publishing behemoth that still projects a singular strength as the world’s largest publisher of consumer books.

Courtesy Penguin Random House

“The basic idea and vision behind Penguin Random House is to find that balance and that synthesis between 250 creatively and entrepreneurially independent publishing houses and the leverage, scale, and possibilities and reach of a global player,” said Chief Executive Officer Markus Dohle in a video for Penguin Random House employees about the new corporate identity.

Tuesday’s news follows months of online speculation about what the new logo would look like. “That wasn’t idle curiosity because in any of these situations—but particularly this one—people thought that would provide a clue about what kind of company this would be,” says Michael Bierut, a partner at the New York design firm Pentagram, which created the Penguin Random House branding.

Courtesy Penguin Random House

Bierut’s team also made the publisher’s interim logo, which featured the inimitable penguin and the stately house sitting side by side. It was a way of signaling that the merger was between two near-equals: Germany-based Bertelsmann Bertelsmann has a slight advantage over Penguin’s U.K.-based parent, Pearson (PSO), which controls 47 percent of the combined publisher.

With neither being dominant, the challenge became how to convey the heft of the conglomerate, the individual heritages of the publishing houses, and the independence of their imprints, none of which was going away. Although Pentagram explored different ways to merge the penguin and house—including one of a penguin stepping out from behind a door—the hybrid logo fell flat with the stakeholders. “Instead of satisfying to both sides,” Bierut says, “we found it to be insulting to both sides.”

Courtesy Penguin Random House

The branding system, comprising the wordmark and rotating imprint logos, won out, to the designers’ surprise. “It seemed to solve all the problems,” Bierut says, “but it didn’t appear to be, ‘What’s our new logo going to look like?’—which was the question we were there to answer.”

The wordmark itself is a nuanced statement. Rendered in a lightweight font and stacked three lines high, Penguin Random House softly endorses the imprint logo on its left, creating an association that can be mutually beneficial. “If you put your logo next to Penguin Random House, you become the symbol of Penguin Random House, as opposed to feeling you’re being smothered by some unwanted corporate parent,” Bierut says.

The choice of typeface, called Shift, subtly refers to the publisher’s business as a merchant of words: Jeremy Mickel conceived it as a successor to Courier, which mimics the output of an old-timey typewriter. As a serif typeface, it exudes a warmth that belies Penguin Random House’s corporate magnitude.

The final design may disappoint those who had hoped for a disarming penguin-house mashup, but any disappointment should be muted. The wordmark will rarely be employed outside the occasional corporate communication, whereas the imprint logos will often appear unchaperoned. That’s especially true of book spines, for those who do judge books by their covers.

Lanks is the design editor of Businessweek.com.

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