Mother Design rebrands Penguin imprint Michael Joseph, giving its mermaid mascot a contemporary makeover

The publisher known for its titles by household names from Stephen Fry to Marian Keyes has been given a visual revamp in keeping with its “maverick” personality.

24 August 2020
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2 minute read


Michael Joseph is an imprint of Penguin known for some of the publishing house’s most commercial titles, with household-name authors including Stephen Fry, Dawn French, Marian Keyes, Jojo Moyes, Jamie Oliver and Nadiya Hussain. Founded in 1935 by Joseph and becoming a division of the behemoth in 1985, the publisher has long since maintained a “maverick” personality in the industry, explains Mother Design’s Alec Mezzetti; yet that wasn’t conveyed by its previously traditional, serif-type-led identity. Hence the design studio was enlisted to revamp the imprint’s branding in time for its 85th anniversary.

“Penguin Michael Joseph had always lacked a distinct visual identity,” Mezzetti says, so Mother Design was asked to develop a brand that would “capture its distinct personality and feel at home in the inner circle of the Penguin family”. The mermaid had been part of the original branding, but had fallen out of use when it joined Penguin, so Mother explored multiple routes with and without this historical mascot, “but ultimately both the client and ourselves loved the idea of reviving this part of the company’s heritage.”

The mermaid logo shows the mascot’s scaly tail and a crown poking over the top of an open book, the character’s face obscured, firmly engrossed in the book it is reading, which itself is emblazoned with the imprint’s monogram. The illustrated, characterful logo displays a significant shift in the publisher’s personality compared with its more serious previous identity, as does the choice of colour – a “punchy aquatic jade,” which instantly gives the branding a contemporary and lively feel more fitting of its personality.

The logo is also designed to align neatly with the shape of the Penguin lozenge, and bring Michael Joseph’s original mermaid motif “back to life in a modern way,” explains the imprint’s managing director Louise Moore in a statement. It appears in a range of lock-ups on everything from tote bags to letterheads and stickers, and on every new book spine.

Meanwhile, details of the mermaid, for example the scales of its tail, make their way across to various outlets throughout the brand including patterned end papers in books. This provides “dynamism in editorial applications,” Mezzetti concludes, “and the flexible grid gives a sense of structure, contrasting with the more charming and esoteric illustrated logo”.

GalleryMother Design: Penguin Michael Joseph rebrand (2020)

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny joined the editorial team as It’s Nice That’s first news editor in April 2016. Having studied 3D Design, she has spent the last ten years working in design journalism. Contact her with news stories relating to the creative industries on

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