• Pelican_flying

    The Pelican logo

Graphic Design

Behind The Scenes: Insights from the designer who oversaw the Pelican Books relaunch

Posted by Rob Alderson,

In 1936 a Penguin executive passing a bookstand in Kings Cross station overheard a woman asking for “one of those Pelican books” and so, worried rivals might start imprints named after birds, he moved to snap up the name for his employers. With its distinctive blue covers, Pelican made a name for itself publishing “concise, accessible and intelligent” books which aimed to “capture the current state of knowledge in their field.”

Now the range has been relaunched, starting with titles including Orlando Figes’ Revolutionary Russia 1891 – 1991 and Robin Dumbar’s Human Evolution. We spoke to the in-house designer Matt Young about the new series.

  • Pelican

    The new Pelican Books

How do you decide which design elements to keep and which to change when approaching a relaunch like this?

It’s not often you get an opportunity to relaunch a brand with such a fantastic design heritage. The Pelican series has worn several different uniforms over the years, from the early tri-band designs of the 1930s and 1940s to the Tschichold blue bordered facade of the 1950s, moving into the Marber grid which allowed for wonderfully graphic, illustrative covers in the 1960s, and then some brilliantly witty, intelligent covers under Derek Birdsall et al. in the 1970s and beyond.

The only elements that have remained (fairly) constant on Pelican covers throughout the decades are the Pelican logo, and the association with the colour blue. I say fairly because actually the logo has been re-drawn several times over the years, and the shade of blue varies dramatically across covers from different eras.

But I think we knew from fairly early on that these two elements would be retained in some way. As it turns out they became the main ingredients of the new covers, but it wasn’t always going to be this way – we explored all sorts of different designs before settling on this very simple pared-back approach.

What we’ve kept really gets back to Pelican’s roots: bold type-only covers, two-colour printing in blue and black, and a very distinctive, recognisable series look.

There are some hefty ideas covered in these first books; how does the design react to that?

The emphasis from the outset was always to make these new Pelicans as accessible as possible. My remit only normally extends to the covers, but for this series we’ve considered every aspect of the new books – the way the text is presented inside, the way the ebooks are formatted, the way the website is presented, and so on, ensuring a cohesive visual language across all things Pelican.

The priority is making these books easy to read and to understand, taking those “hefty ideas” and presenting them in a clear, accessible way. Chapters are clearly signposted, all diagrams, maps, tables, etc. have been redrawn in the Pelican style to ensure they’re consistent and easy to interpret. The index has been rethought from the ground up.

We spent ages trying different page lay-outs to strike the right balance between the number of lines on a page (ensuring comfortable, generous leading, making sure the text doesn’t look too dense) and the number of pages in the book (if you space it too generously you risk ending up with a whopping great big spine that could look equally off-putting).

The typography has been designed to look welcoming and approachable, intelligent but not intimidating. Our main Pelican typeface is a slightly customised version of the wonderful Brandon Text face by Hannes von Döhre and the body text inside is set in Freight Text, again chosen for its large(ish) x-height, clean open characters and great legibility both on and off screen.

  • Human-evolution

    Pelican Books: Human Evolution

  • Economics-the-user's-guide

    Pelican Books: Economics: The User’s Guide

These books have always been about accessibility; does this restrict what you can do design wise because of the price point?

Obviously you become more aware of the costs involved in printing etc. as the project progresses, but actually knowing the constraints often opens up new ideas, forces you to be creative in ways that you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. For a while we were looking at printing two colours throughout the book for example, but it worked out too expensive, so this forced us to rethink how diagrams and maps and so on are presented using just one colour.

Tell us about the new logo and how that’s evolved?

The Pelican logo is a curious one. When it was first drawn by Edward Young in 1937 there were two different versions – a flying Pelican, which was used prominently on the front covers, and a standing version with his wings tucked, for use on the spines. Over the years the flying variation gradually got dropped from the covers, and I don’t think it’s seen at all from the 1960s onwards.

When we came to relaunch the brand, we had a great opportunity to update the logo for a new era, and to reintroduce the flying bird to the covers. The flying version just felt like such a great fit for what these books are all about – taking an interest in a new subject, taking flight, spreading your wings, etc. It’s got momentum, it’s moving forward.

The two new logos were drawn by Richard Green who works in the Art Department here at Penguin. The big challenge was making sure that the new logo looks at home as part of the Penguin family, alongside the famous Penguin and Puffin logos, whilst also being a recognisable evolution of the Pelican logos that have come before.

  • Pelican_standing

    The standing Pelican Books logo

  • Pelican_buoy_highres

    Ed Harrison/Pelican Books/Super Superficial T-Shirt

  • Pelican_cover_design_highres

    Matthew Young/Pelican Books/Super Superficial T-Shirt

  • Pelican_louise_pomeroy_highres

    Louise Pomeroy/Pelican Books/Super Superficial T-Shirt

  • Ryan-todd's-design

    Ryan Todd/Pelican Books/Super Superficial T-Shirt

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Behind The Scenes View Archive

  1. Gif1

    Adam Ferriss is one of those technologically-minded creatives who is able to put his ever-growing knowledge of code and processing to use building aesthetically wondrous digital art for the rest of us to enjoy. His images make me feel like I’ve just taken some psychedelics and stepped into one of those crazy houses you get in funfairs, where there are giant optical illusions on every wall and the floor keeps moving under your feet, except these are made using algorithms and coding frameworks and, for the moment at least, they don’t exist beyond the screen.

  2. Listnh

    Colourful costumes, coconut curries and calypso aside, at the heart of Carnival is the celebration of a community. New book Carnival: A Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill Carnival, published by Rice n Peas Publishing, champions the magic, the musicians and the makers of the Notting Hill Carnival. In it, authors Ishmahil Blagrove Jr and Margaret Busby look back at the origins of the festival in the 1950s and 60s, before crime and crowd control began to hog the headlines.

  3. List

    The best of J.G. Ballard’s fiction is incredibly divisive. On the one hand readers are often disgusted by his brutality; an unparalleled ability to paint a picture of the world that is at once alluring and repulsive. On the other, devotees love that about him. As a result he encourages a near-obsessive loyalty among fans, for a body of work so distinct it’s been awarded its own adjective by the Oxford English Dictionary.

  4. Main9

    I’ve rarely spent as much time on an artist’s site as I did on Pooneh’s when first stumbling across it. Scrolling through her reams and reams of photographs is akin to waking up at a festival and trying to piece together flashbacks of the night before like some sort of stained, star-studded puzzle.

  5. Patlist

    Taking on the art direction of a musical installation touring about British woodlands sounds like a somewhat complex task. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what a musical installation set amongst trees would even involve. I assumed it wasn’t anything to do with singing pixies.

  6. Main67

    The curious work of Corinne Day seems to rear its ever-appealing head every now and again, just to remind us of a time gone by that we weren’t part of, and will never fully understand. Gaining worldwide notoriety with her famous, career-making shots of a teen Kate Moss on Camber Sands for The Face, Corinne’s groundbreaking photographs of quintessentially British, black-soled urchins were to become stuff of legend. Contrived shoots of hired models were never her thing, instead Corinne lifted her lens to those closest to her – the ones doing the washing up, smoking fags out of windows, watching telly. The fact that all her friends were rebellious models was just a bonus.

  7. Salva3list

    From the way Marjorie Salvaterra describes how she works, she could be taken for an author, a screenwriter or a director. Like a writer waiting for a stroke of inspiration, this American actress-turned-photographer says “I mostly wait for images to come into my head before I shoot them, which can mean I don’t shoot for weeks at a time!”

  8. Bs1list

    In films, books, plays and works of art, one item can become piled high with layers of meaning; Desdemona’s handkerchief, Matisse’s apple, Dorothy’s ruby slippers. In Lucy Hilmer’s photography series Birthday Suits, one pair of white pants comes to stand for more than itself. Baring almost all, Lucy stands before the camera; sometimes defiant, sometimes distressed, most often smiling. There’s something deeply personal and poetic about these pictures which made me want to learn more about the woman – and the pants – at the centre of them. So over to Lucy, who answers a few of my questions.

  9. Jack_list

    Ever since he was a wee lad (Jack was an It’s Nice That Graduate in the summer of 2009) Jack Featherstone has been impressing us with his record sleeve designs and music videos, made for the likes of Holden and Simian Mobile Disco. Spying a pair of new sleeves and a brand spanking new video for Hachinoko by Jas and James – the pair behind Simian Mobile Disco – we decided to ask Jack a few questions on how he does his stuff.

  10. List

    Almost exactly a calendar year ago we introduced Dan Woodger on It’s Nice That; showed off his desk-space, his process and some of his skateboarding Dinosaurs. Six months later he was contacted by an art director who’d seen that article and enlisted him to produce one of the most labour-intensive illustration projects we’ve ever come across, creating over 1000 unique images for an emoji app. By way of apology for this torturous commission, we asked him a few questions about how it went…

  11. Main1

    Think about the sheer amount of books, articles, lectures and podcasts there must be floating around the earth on what makes a good record sleeve. We tend to consult designers, or record labels about the images that, thrown against sound, create something that sticks with you your whole life, that you could probably draw from memory. It’s rare when get an artist who creates the music and the artwork that makes it shine, but Tim Presley does.

  12. List-2

    I’m sure there are plenty of documentary photographers for whom going to Brazil to capture the World Cup would be something of a dream, but as far as I’m concerned none of them even come close to the exceptional Jane Stockdale. After having her application to photograph the crowds watching the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow turned down three times, she decided to take matters into her own hands, and jumped on a plane to Brazil to shoot audiences there instead.

  13. List

    Three years ago Milan studio Leftloft were commissioned to help iconic Italian football club Inter Milan with a ticket sales push, but the relationship developed into something much more comprehensive. Here art director Francesco Cavalli tells us how they came to lead an extensive rebranding of the whole club, from a new crest and a bespoke serif typeface to an exhaustive style guide for use across print and digital.