When two of the world’s biggest publishing houses, Penguin and Random House, merged in July of 2013, they were faced with a challenge: designing a graphic identity that honors the long legacies of two companies—Random House was founded in 1925, Penguin in 1935—while also celebrating their new union.
So do you somehow put the beloved penguin, based on a doodle by a junior executive in the '30s, inside Random House’s house, originally drawn by famed illustrator Rockwell Kent? Scrap both the old logos for something entirely new? What about the distinct logos of the 250 imprints within the new corporate parent, from Puffin to Fodor’s to DK? Penguin Random House decided to bring out the big guns, tapping Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and his team to solve its identity crisis.
“We tried birdhouses, igloos, every combination of a bird and a house,” Bierut tells Co.Design of their quest for a perfect merger logo. Ultimately, the team settled on a simple, elegant solution (involving neither birds nor houses): a wordmark, three lines tall, spelling out Penguin Random House. The mark can systematically and flexibly pair with any of the original 250 imprint logos, and it acts as an anchor for this diverse family. “The wordmark signals that the autonomy, authority, and energy of each of these imprints wouldn’t be compromised or neutralized,” Bierut says. “Each would be strengthened rather than weakened by the new relationship.”
Selecting a typeface for the wordmark was no simple feat. Pentagram had to find something that would pair flexibly with 250 radically different symbols; some of Penguin Random House's imprint logos are old-fashioned, some modern, some are wordmarks themselves, some monograms, some pictures. “The thing you’d normally do, because it’s easy, is default to a sans serif,” Bierut says. “But we felt that looked too cold and clinical.” And because the company sells literature, Pentagram wanted to find a serif typeface—historically preferred in book printing—to subtly channel the world of writing. Ultimately, they settled on Shift, a typeface originally designed by Jeremy Mickel as a makeover of the classic typewriter font Courier (and named for the shift key on your keyboard).
The new identity replaces an interim identity, also designed by Bierut, which featured our friendly Penguin standing, slightly awkwardly, as penguins are wont to do, next to a house. It appeared a bit, well, random, and coupling this doubled-up logo with imprint logos made for claustrophobic design. The binary pairing system avoids that.
Pentagram’s new identity for the merger will be used mainly in corporate communications. Readers might encounter it on a copyright page, or in ads, or in the digital world, on the company's Twitter feed, for example. Imprints’ individual logos will still be printed on the spines of books, as they have been for decades, without the wordmark pairing. So those whose hearts warm at seeing squat illustrated puffins on yellow backgrounds or the DK logo, used for countless beloved children’s illustrated readers, won’t be denied this nostalgia as the publishing giants fuse.