Penguin Plays with grids


In 1963, the dowdy layout of Penguin Plays, shown on the left, was replaced by a fresh colourful grid designed by Denise York, shown on the right.

The new designs have a modular format with three horizontal sections that naturally echo 1930s Penguin covers. They express the Swiss Typographic Style, especially the theatre posters of Josef Müller-Brockmann.


Above: Josef Müller-Brockmann posters from the 1960s. (

The sections are strongly coloured with either two or three colours that cleverly generate further hues through overprinting. The series title, Penguin Plays, is set in large dotted type suggesting theatre lights, while the titles and authors are in neatly arranged Helvetica. The backs continue the grid with author portraits taking up two bands, but otherwise maintaining the simplicity and functional order of the front.


These components were the typical qualities of Swiss design thinking that flourished at Penguin in the 1960s. The Marber grid, the African Library grid and the Penguin Specials all reflect this same approach in different applications.

The modularity of the Swiss method was particularly suited to book series where individual illustrated covers could not be justified. A grid could supply a recognisable format while allowing variations through colour or photography. You can see how bold and energised they look when placed together, as they were in bookshops. And in the context of 1960s Britain, they would have looked as contemporary as the original Penguins looked in 1935. 



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