Penguin’s in-house designer Tom Etherington talks us through his most influential titles

7 August 2019

This week we are treated to the delights of Penguin’s in-house designer, Tom Etherington’s Bookshelf. Last year, he radically redesigned cult giant Jack Kerouac’s novels, not to mention bi-annually designing The Happy Reader’s signature aesthetic. His sophisticated design touch has graced the covers of Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man, Maria Alyokina’s Riot Days as well as A Guide to The Cosmos by the formidable Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw.

As a lover of books, and surrounded by books for his day-job, the London-based designer’s personal collection is surely one to be envied. So in this segment, we’re lucky enough to get a glimpse of Tom’s most influential titles that have informed not only his creative practice, but also his values as a designer. So without further ado, here’s Tom.

Chicks on Speed: It’s a Project

This was bought after months of saving as a teenager in the year 2005. As a teenager I listened to a lot of punk and post-punk and through that, I discovered the group Chicks on Speed. It’s a Project is a book they created as a compendium of all their projects. As a group they did everything from making records and holding art exhibitions, to making their own clothes and instruments. This book embodies their do-it-yourself mentality and all-encompassing creativity. Its sections are all different die-cut shapes and uses various kinds of paper, collaged imagery and gatefolds. It even comes with a dress and a paper template for you to make your own overalls with.
I grew up in a small village in the Midlands, so discovering It’s a Project and learning about this Berlin-based art collective doing the most incredible things made me want to move to a city, study design and begin my own projects.

Peter Saville: Unpublished Dialogue

This book was given to me while interning at Yes Studio in 2010. The booklet was Peter Saville’s contribution to an exhibition at Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin. It is a transcribed phone conversation between the designer and the show’s curator in which they discuss design, art and Saville’s career.  
Yes Studio, who designed the booklet, gave me a copy while I was interning with them. I remember reading this cover-to-cover on the bus back from work. At the time, I was a recent graduate and a bit obsessed with Peter Saville. Saville seems to be a controversial figure within the industry, and I can understand why people are bemused by fashion brands commissioning him to design a logo when his most iconic work doesn’t even use typography, but I still love his crafted use of materials and production, and always find him to be insightful in interviews.
In this booklet, I like his take on the increased marketisation of culture: “Ideas from [1980s] pop culture became the mainstream ideas of the 1990s … an Orange campaign is a Pet Shop Boys album”. In an increasingly commercial design industry full of brand messages and sales targets, Peter Saville always reminds me that at heart, graphic design is an artistic vocation. 

Scott King: Art Works

I read this in weekly stages at the Metropolis bookshop in Melbourne to avoid having to buy it back in 2011. Nine years ago, I moved to Australia for a year with the plan to freelance as a designer and save some money to continue travelling. I underestimated how hard it would be to set up as a freelancer in another country and ended up working in a cushion factory for five months. During this time I lived incredibly frugally and spent all my weekends reading in the library and Melbourne’s numerous bookshops. I’d already become a fan of Scott King as a design student so I was very excited to see his monograph on the shelves of Metropolis, and spent many spare hours looking through it.

Art Works documents Scott’s work as art director of i-D and Sleazenation, his collaborations with the band Earl Brutus and his more recent art projects. I love everything he does, whether it’s satirising the art world, pointing out the banality of modern day life, or encouraging people to burn down Buckingham Palace with counterfeit Hello! magazine freebies. 
I have since bought a copy.

Penguin Collectors Society: Penguin by Designers

Found on the “pulp-shelf” in the Penguin offices, 2015, this is a very obvious choice for a designer at Penguin, but I love this book. It’s a collection of transcribed lectures by art directors and designers who have worked at Penguin throughout the publisher’s history. The lectures took place at the V&A in 2005, and the Penguin Collectors Society published this illustrated book a couple of years afterwards.
I’d been looking for a copy of this for a long time, when I came across it on a pulp-shelf (which is a bookcase of unwanted books at Penguin that are either taken by other employees or recycled) I couldn’t believe my luck. 
People like David Pelham, Romek Marber and Derek Birdsall are my design heroes, so it’s pretty amazing to be able to read about the time David Pelham commissioned Eduardo Paolozzi, or how Romek Marber used to turn his kitchen into a darkroom to create the photographic imagery for the Penguin Crime series.

Every time I flick through Penguin by Designers it makes me pull my finger out. I’m fortunate to work for a company with an incredible design heritage, but I feel the pressure sometimes to live up to it.

Andre Krayewski: Moje Okładki (My Covers)

Found in a gallery shop while on holiday in Kraków, 2017, Andre Krayewski is without a doubt my favourite book cover designer. He is most well known for his film posters, and was part of the legendary Polish School of Posters movement. But alongside designing posters for films, he also designed a huge variety of book covers for Polish publishers, from classics for Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (the State Publishing Institute) to handbooks on poultry nutrition for Państwowe Wydawnictwo Rolnicze i Leśne (the State Publishing House for Agriculture and Forestry).
As well as being distinctly of the Polish School of Posters movement, Krayewski’s work also draws influences from Jazz, Psychedelia, Pop Art, Art Deco and Americana; he also claimed to be the first person in Poland to wear cowboy boots. Krayewski’s work still looks very contemporary to me: the simpler abstract graphics could be a Mark Farrow record cover, the more pop-inspired work reminds me of illustrators like Andy Rementer. I love how even a book as dry as Corn Production or Influence of Soil Quality on Revenue Production can look beautiful when designed by Krayewski. 
After a successful career as a poster designer, Krayewski moved to New York in the 80s and became a painter. Later in life, he reinvented himself as a comic book artist. His work as a book cover designer is probably the least well-known, and he himself only regarded it as a means to make a living. But I think his book covers are stunning, and due a reappraisal. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited by a book as I was the first time I looked through Moje Okładki.

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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