The famous Marber grid is one of the foundation stones of Penguin mythology, a design so clever that it is still studied half a century after it was made.
Romek Marber was a well-trained Polish designer working in London. He had done two covers for Penguin when the new art director Germano Facetti invited him and two other Penguin illustrators, John Sewell and Derk Birdsall, to propose a design grid for the crime imprint. Marber won. His approach was very methodical, reflecting his interest in symmetry and proportion:
To retain the unity of the series, the freedom of where to place the title, the logotype and price and in what colour, is controlled by the grid, and routine readers of crime fiction will be able to pinpoint without difficulty the title and author’s name. (Romek Marber)
This is the design Marber presented to Penguin in 1961. He based his development of the grid on the Golden Section, the ancient formula for well-proportioned designs, especially in architecture. Since the A-format paperback is made in the Golden Section proportions (1 : 1.618) it was a logical starting point.
But how did he develop it? The following panels show my analysis of the steps that Marber may have taken in developing the grid.
….…. 1 The golden section. Marber uses its main cross line to begin his grid / 2 Diagonal lines are drawn to the midpoint and corner / 3 Corner-to-corner diagonals and the vertical centre line are added
….... 10 The completed grid uses horizontal and vertical lines for text / 11 The grid as it was presented by Romek Marber in 1961 / 12 An early crime cover using the grid, with illustration also by Marber