The influence of the Swiss Typographic Style has had a long reign at Penguin. Bursting out in 1961 with Romek Marber’s famous grid, it has reappeared in different forms ever since. The Swiss design philosophy was to achieve a kind of informational purity, with the use of modern sans serif fonts, taut assymetrical layouts, and, when images were needed, photographs rather than hand-rendered illustrations. It was ‘high modernism’ in graphic design.
Penguin art director Jim Stoddart employed a version of the Swiss style in his layouts for the Mini Modern series. The formula is very simple: no illustration and just serif type in black & white with a silvery-grey background. The covers have a minimalist aesthetic – achieving the maximum with the minimum, but with elegance.
On his website Stoddart has published the design grid he formulated for the series. Look for other grids on the site, it reinforces the impression of classical design rigor at Penguin that goes all the back to the 1940s and the era of Jan Tschichold and Hans Schmoller.
The Mini Moderns were published as a “memorial” to the Penguin Modern Classics which started in 1961: “In 2011, on the fiftieth anniversary of the modern classics, we’re publishing fifty mini modern classics: the very best short fiction…”
Was Jim Stoddart inspired by this 1960s title? JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was one of the most successful of all Penguin Modern Classics. It was printed with this elegant minimalist cover in the late 1960s – Salinger famously insisted on typographic covers. A mint condition copy is like a bar of silver and Stoddart’s series shares that feeling of preciousness, despite their small size.