Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Penguin on Design

In the last month or so, Penguin Modern Classics re-released a set of four books on visual art and design as the 'Penguin on Design' series. I've just finished Bruno Munari's Design as Art, which is a fascinating, wise and entertaining guide to making things look good, work effectively, and not letting form destroy function. His appealing writing style struck gave Design... the effect of being a playful textbook written by Primo Levi in collaboration with Jorge Luis Borges.

Here's the new edition, with a cover design by an entity called YES (using a number of Munari's pictographs), and the original Pelican edition from 1971 with cover by Munari and the great Germano Facetti. (UPDATE: YES has a website full of their drool-inducing work, mostly outside of the books field; thanks to Daniel Gray for the information.)

The second book in this series is Susan Sontag's immensely wise history/philosophy book, On Photography.

(UPDATE: This is not the final cover, as it turns out, though it is the version that appears on Penguin's site as well as every online bookseller. Until the real book appears in Australia and I can photograph it, you'll need to visit Daniel Gray's excellent blog to see it.)

(UPDATE 2: See the end of the post!)

Every other edition of this book, both American and British, has featured exactly the same cover image: a striking 1850s daguerreotype by an unknown photographer.

John Berger, blurbing Sontag on the 1979 Penguin edition above, is the author of the third book on the series, Ways of Seeing, from his 1972 TV series.

Title type and publisher logo aside, this book has not changed at all in over 30 years. Here are the 1970s Pelican edition and a 1990 Penguin edition.

Finally, there's Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore's The Medium is the Massage.

This looks very different from its 1967 original.


Bonus fact I only discovered today: Germano Facetti collaborated with Chris Marker on the great and moody end-of-the-world, nuclear-apocalypse, time-travel short-movie 1962 masterpiece La Jetée. Here's the cover of the photo-novel (or 'photo-roman') of the film.


UPDATE THE LAST: YES were kind enough to allow me to use this image of the whole set of Penguin Design Classics, which includes the final Sontag cover. Please click for a bigger version.


Ian Koviak said...

sometimes it's hard to improve upon an idea if it worked so well to begin with or if it became iconic somehow. Penguin knows the difference and when to do it. Most of the time.

JRSM said...

That's very true. Though I was looking through the new 'Ways of Seeing' last night, and realised that they've repaginated the text without fixing up the references at the back which describe each image, so every note refers to the wrong page. That's the sort of fundamental cock-up an outfit like Penguin Classics ought to be beyond, I would have thought.

Anonymous said...

That isn't the finalised cover image for On Photography, merely a placeholder. Here's the actual cover:

JRSM said...

Ah, brilliant--thank you for that. Will update the post!

YES said...

Thank you for your article featuring our work, and of course for your kind comments. We have recently updated our site with a photo of all the new books, feel free to use this image in this article.


JRSM said...

Thank you very much for that, YES: I will amend the post to include that image!

Sara W said...

Germano never got the credit he deserved for his collaboration with Marker on La Jetée. He was a passionate believer in the power of the still image and I love the way the 'film' which is of course all stills proves his point; I can't be certain it was his idea to make the film in this way, but I like to think so. He appears in the film too which is all on YouTube. He was a wonderful and inspirational person as well as a superb designer. He fell out with Penguin due the innovations of Alan Aldridge who had been appointed without his agreement, which is why he decided to return to Milan.