I love Penguin Books. I love their impeccable design. I love the way they can make you feel. I love that they can take you to a different time; a different place. I love that they’re part of our heritage. And I love the story of how they came to be.

Tell me your head's not at 90 degrees?

I’ll bet your head’s now at 90 degrees

I love that they started out as a challenger brand – they shook up the way books were sold in the UK.

“In 1935, if you wanted to read a good book, you needed either a lot of money or a library card. Cheap paperbacks were available, but their poor quality production generally tended to mirror the quality between the covers.

Penguin paperbacks were the brainchild of Allen Lane, then a director of The Bodley Head. After a weekend visiting Agatha Christie in Devon, he found himself on a platform at Exeter station searching its bookstall for something to read on his journey back to London, but discovered only popular magazines and reprints of Victorian novels.

Appalled by the selection on offer, Lane decided that good quality contemporary fiction should be made available at an attractive price and sold not just in traditional bookshops, but also in railway stations, tobacconists and chain stores.

He also wanted a ‘dignified but flippant’ symbol for his new business. His secretary suggested a Penguin and another employee was sent to London Zoo to make some sketches. Seventy years later Penguin is still one of the most recognizable brands in the world.”
Penguin Press Office

They’ve never done things conventionally. They were, initially, viewed with suspicion by the rest of the publishing world and also by retailers. Only Woolworths stocked the books initially. They were sold at a flat price – sixpence. (The same price as a packet of cigarettes.)

This, now seemingly simple business decision, made reading available to a huge number of people.
Within 12 months they had sold 3 million books.
They continued to innovate and look for new ways to bring books to people. In 1937 they launched a book-dispensing machine on Charing Cross Road, called the Penguincubator.

The original Penguincubator in use

The original Penguincubator in use

In 1940 they launched Puffin, a range of books for children. And, in 1946, they launched Penguin Classics.
They continued to push the boundaries and fight for artistic freedom for their authors. In 1988 they published the controversial book, The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie. It caused a major global issue, as conservative Muslims accused it of blasphemy and mocking their faith. It resulted in a now infamous fatwa being placed on the author, Salman Rushdie.
In 2002 they published Stupid White Men by Michael Moore in the UK, after attempts to ban it in the US.
They celebrated their 75th birthday in 2010.
I hope they keep on doing what they’ve been doing. They’ve been responsible for some of the most memorable book-jacket designs ever.

And here are some beautiful examples.

Experimental layouts (1948)

Experimental layouts (1948)

Great Ideas Volume IV (2010) Thomas More Utopia

Great Ideas Volume IV (2010)
Thomas More Utopia

Great Ideas Vol IV Arthur Schopenhauer The Horrors and Absurdities of Religion

Great Ideas Vol IV
Arthur Schopenhauer The Horrors and Absurdities of Religion

Great Ideas Vol V Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens

Great Ideas Vol V
Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens

Penguin symbols

Penguin symbols

These images all come from a beautiful Flickr feed, curated by David Pearson.

And you can now get your favourite Penguin book as a bag. Or a mug. Or a notebook. Or a deck chair.

I guess it all goes to show that a beautifully simple design from 1936 can still be relevant, admired and loved almost 80 years later.

Scotrail was one of the official travel partners of the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. To help build on their sponsorship they changed a few station signs across their network in Scotland. They tweaked the names to reflect a particular sport that was part of the Games. And they’ve come up with a few nice little ideas.

Cambus langjump (at Cambuslang)

Cambus langjump (at Cambuslang)

Ding-Ding! wall (at Dingwall)

Ding-Ding! wall (at Dingwall)

Falkirk Higher (at Falkirk High)

Falkirk Higher (at Falkirk High)

Longerniddry (at Longniddry)

Longerniddry (at Longniddry)

Muscleburgh (at Musselburgh)

Muscleburgh (at Musselburgh)

Pole vault (at Polmont)

Pole vault (at Polmont)

Sprintburn (at Springburn)

Sprintburn (at Springburn)

I think it’s a lovely little touch to strengthen their sponsorship. They didn’t change every sign at the station, just one. So people could still easily know where they are. And the signs would have cost a very small amount of money (compared to all the free column-inches they generated in the worldwide press).

And it shows that whoever is doing the creative work for Scotrail is paying attention and looking for opportunities. They’re building the brand and engaging with people using a little bit of the famed Scottish humour.

While looking for the images to illustrate this idea I came across a Facebook page referring to the signs. And it reminded me why I don’t do Facebook. It’s a bunch of moaning–faced people with nothing better to do than expose their own ignorance. They moan about “councils wasting money” – thus demonstrating they have no idea how our transport network operates (and is funded).
There’s even one saying “That’s the wrong spelling! Why?”

How mental do you have to be to comment on something when you’ve clearly not bothered actually reading the story? And these people post under their own names. I’m used to anonymised idiocy on forums, but to see people using their real identities to do it is pretty special. It’s like running down the street with a dunces cap on, screaming about how hard of thinking you are.

Someone should do a book showing the craziness of Facebook and how a few strong opinions can cause a whole message thread to turn into a witch-hunt. Chill out or find something worthwhile to get indignant about. Like the middle east. Or children dying in their thousands across Africa every day. Or even spend the time volunteering in your local area and actually make a difference with your energy.

There’s the occasional voice of sanity pointing out that the signs are a little bit of fun to help bring the Games to people across Scotland. But these are soon shouted down by the nut-job brigade.

I know it’s not Facebook’s fault, but it’s a scary place once the loons stick their heads up. Pretty soon a critical mass of stupidity takes over.

As for Scotrail – nice work. I travelled to and from the Games on the train and they were great. Pretty busy, but on time. And as we passed through ‘Falkirk Higher’ lots of people were noticing the signs and pointing them out to their travelling companions. Not one single person complained about them. People enjoyed a wee smile. Some even took pictures.

These were the friendly games – pity some of our fellow Scots forgot.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has launched a new advertising campaign.
Like most things that banks create, there appears to have been very little thought put into this.

"We used to be rubbish but we're better now"

“We used to be rubbish but we’re better now”

Their line is “We’re putting the brakes on unfair credit card deals”.
Sorry, but that just sounds like they’ve been happily peddling unfair deals in the past but have now cleaned up their act.
I realise it’s a bus side, but surely they could have written a better line?
Do they think the line is ‘clever’ as it uses ‘brakes’ in it? I really do hope not.

Off the top of my head, they could have tried:
Looking for a fair credit card? Look no further.
Looking for fairer credit card? Get off here.
Looking for a fairer credit card deal? This is your stop.
Looking for a fair credit card deal? This is your stop.

There are literally hundreds of better lines out there.
So why settle for one that makes RBoS look like they are every bit as bad as the popular consensus of them is?

It appears, to me, that the team who created this haven’t spent enough time writing lines to find the best one. It’s, generally, a process of writing a huge number of different ways to answer the brief. And then picking the best one (or ones).

Did no one at the client/agency/research group think that this makes the bank look bad? If they didn’t, then that’s truly frightening. It means that the process has overtaken the importance of what is said. And that’s a sure-fire way to make your brand meaningless.

And while I’m at it, what’s with slamming the word yes into their press headlines?
Do they not remember the award-winning (and long running) campaign for TSB? TSB used TYesB for years and years. (And also, very, very famously ‘The Bank that likes to say yes’).
Either someone’s being very, very lazy or they genuinely don’t care any more.