Exhibitions – Poster Girls, London Transport Museum

The London transport museum are currently showing an exhibition of posters that have been displayed on the London underground since 1906 to the present day. What is particularly interesting about this exhibition is that all the posters on display were designed by women.

In the early 20th century, poster design started to be considered as a new form of art with designers, illustrators and painters all being commissioned by printers, railway companies, theatres, public bodies etc. to create posters.

This new medium was used extensively by the London Underground’s Traffic & Publicity Manager, Francis Pick who saw the potential in using posters to advertise the new underground network to the public in 1906. Rather than sticking with a single ‘house style’, Pick deliberately commissioned work from a wide spectrum of artistic styles so that the variety in style would continuously attract the viewer’s attention and in so doing brought many modernerist art styles to the attention of the general public.

Prior to 1906, poster design had typically been a very male dominated field but Pick commissioned artists based on talent not gender and as a result, many of the posters were designed by women. Many of the posters designed by women show modern, independent women and encouraged female emancipation.

This large exhibition shows an extensive array of posters designed by women, giving these often unsung artists of the 20th century the credit they deserve.

The posters in this exhibition are displayed chronologically and I found it particularly interesting to be able to track how artistic styles changed through the century.

The posters are bright, colourful, entertaining, witty and a joy to look at. I really enjoyed the entire exhibition. It is fascinating to see how wonderful and clever designs are typically created with very limited colour palettes.

I like the exhibition so much that I bought the book, and there were so many posters that I really liked that it is difficult to pick out some hightlights, but a few things that did stand out for me were:

Pair Posters

Effectively, two posters that would be displayed side-by-side or near to each other, such as on either side of a wall mounted tube map. The aim was to give the artist plenty of creative freedom with the poster design and the copy writer plenty of space for the text. Having wrestled with trying to fit text and images around each other when designing posters, I can certainly see the benefits of this style!

Insight into the Design Process

Jennie Tuffs, ‘Marigolds Grow Wild on the Platforms’ book jacket design 1995.

It was fascinating to see the development stages of the design work for this book on railway poems.


Assignment 5 – Tutor Feedback

My tutor made the following comments on the book designs:

“I like the clean and simple but friendly layout of the books and believe these would appeal for the audience ; I think communicating an idea that these books are educational, interactive learning books could be reinforced further on your cover. How do children’s books and magazines draw people in?

This could be analysed further (often through stickers, eye-catching subtitling etc but also through sympathetic or tactile elements..). How about introducing a secondary visual that interacts to your lovely illustrations? For instance – the pencils could have colourful scribbles – doodled fireworks exploding from the pencils, the cameras could have hands or tiny people interacting with different elements of their mechanics/use or just simple flashes and clicks added to the image in a contrasting form. The type book could be a mixture of notes, diagrammatic elements hand drawn or characters responding to the shapes of the letters as if they were playground climbing frames etc.. The key thing is to ignite curiosity and play and the idea of the audience looking to question and explore.” 

In response to this feedback, I reworked the book covers to add some additional playful elements that give a sense on ‘interaction’ with the original designs on the covers:

I think this approach kept the ‘graphic’ style of the original covers but gave the book covers a more playful and child-like feel.  This more playful and interactive design may better attract the attention of children and young people and give an overall impression that the books are fun.


Assignment 5 – Thoughts on this Assignment

Pragmatic Me probably would have chosen brief 3 for this assignment – with a background in software design, website design and writing technical specification documents and reports, this would have been reasonably familiar territory for me. Creative Me, however, wanted to take  on the the Penguin book design. I have enjoyed the earlier book design tasks on this course and relished the creative freedom of being able to design the covers, so I knew straight away when I saw this assignment that I wanted to take the opportunity to design the books.

I was a bit nervous of taking on design for children’s books as I don’t have children and am not very familiar with what might appeal to young people. However, I am finding that through this course, I am developing a real fondness for children’s books, partly because they are often so beautifully illustrated (and I don’t see why kids are the only ones who get to enjoy looking at pictures!) but also because I really appreciate the way that they deliver information in clear and easy-to-understand terms. I think I have quite a logical brain and I find too much florid language or unnecessary guff just adds confusion. While doing some research for this assignment in the Children’s section of my local library, I really enjoyed reading some of the children’s books, particularly ‘Her Story – 50 Women and Girls Who Shook The World, Katherine Halligan and Sarah Walsh’ – I learnt a lot from reading that book!  I am also particularly interested in more complex adult topics that are delivered in ‘child-like’ terms, such as Dr Sarah Clifford’d Medical Notes.

Designing the Covers

Based on previous experience on this course of designing book covers, where I had focused on the ‘hard bit’, i.e. the main image on the front book, and then struggled to fit the rest of the cover elements around the chosen image, this time, I made a point of designing the whole cover (front and back), also taking the text on the cover into consideration, as well as the aspect ratio of the cover. I also designed the three covers together, for each idea I had, to make sure the idea worked for all covers.

This approached worked well as I had a much clearer idea from the thumbnail how the final design would work. However, I did find this more ‘precise’ approach to drawing thumbnail sketches was a bit limiting in terms of generating ideas. In hindsight, it would have been better to have a much freer, initial ‘idea brain-storm’ to think of ideas for the cover and then take some of those ideas forward into the more precise thumbnail sketches.

I was pleased with my final cover designs. I think that they work well together as a set and I think the bright colours and hand-drawn illustrations would appeal to children.  I didn’t want to introduce illustrations of cartoon characters or animals just for the sake of appealing to children but was keen that I wanted the designs to remain quite contemporary and ‘graphical’, which I think I achieved.

I do think that blocks of colour at the top and bottom of the book are a bit of an obvious choice for a Penguin book and I was a little disappointed in myself that I couldn’t come up with something more original. I did also experiment with introducing more colours into the design but felt that the overall look was becoming too ‘busy’ so I decided in the end to keep to one colour and a black and white illustration.

Designing the Content

I found that I did have to give consideration to what the content of the entire typography book might be, in order to decide what needed to be included in the introduction. Once I had done that, drafting the content for the introduction was quite straight forward. However, styling it and laying it out was another matter all together and was a task I found quite difficult.

The main issue I had was knowing the best order in which to do things. I felt I wanted to do a ‘mood board’ first to establish some styling, text hierarchies etc. that would fit with the chosen cover of the book but I needed to see the layout of the pages to decide on the styling. As it was, the styling and layout of the introduction were done in tandem and mostly through trial and error!

In Conclusion

When I first saw the brief options for Assignment 5, I thought they all looked like a repeat of exercises I had done in the course but I realise now that this assignment was much more complex.

Designing three book covers and content for one of the books, was a gargantuan task, which at times I felt quite overwhelmed by. This assignment has given me a real insight into what is involved in simply being able to manage a large quantity of design work with different elements, doing things in a logical order and keeping all parts of the design cohesive, meaningful and aligned to the brief.

It has also been very useful to be able to repeat some of the activities from the course and apply some of the learnings from earlier exercises. Certainly after previous experiences of trying to shoe-horn content onto a book cover because I had left it to the last minute to design, I found that thinking more holistically about the design really make the process much smoother and more successful.


Assignment 5 – Design Structure of Book Content

Having established the look and feel for the cover of the book, I then thought about how the content of the book would be designed and structured so that it tied with with the cover design.

I started by working out the ‘rules’ for the structure of the various types of text in the book and created a ‘mood board’ to define the text hierarchies and general ‘look and feel of the styling. In reality I did this in conjunction with trying out the styling and layout on an actual page of the book, as I needed a bit of trial and error to see how the styling would actually work.

My aim was to create a layout which had neatly spaced content with a generous amount of white space being used to give a clean, contemporary and uncluttered feel. However, I did not want to the book pages to be too ’empty’. From my research on other children’s books I felt the layouts that worked best had a generous amount of content delivered in small paragraphs which were neatly spread out over the page. I also wanted to use occasional hand-drawn illustrations and arrows to add visual interest and to make the book more appealing to young people. For a modern and contemporary look, I also kept the colours to black, white and the colour used on the book cover.

When I had worked out my ‘layout rules’, I then used the draft content I had created previously, as the basis for the layout of the introductory chapter of the book. It took a considerable amount of reworking to get the text I wanted to include, to fit neatly across the pages of the introduction.

The Introductory Chapter of the Typography Book is below (Note that the faint grey lines denote page divider and bleed area):


Assignment 5 – Design Book Covers

I created the book covers by hand-drawing the illustrations for the cover of each book:




I then put together the book covers. For the coloured panels on each cover, I chose a single bright and light-toned colour for each. The chosen colour had to allow the black writing to show up clearly and also had to have some contrast with the orange ‘Penguin’ logo as I wanted this to stand out as well.

I did think quite hard about colouring the hand-drawn illustrations but in the end decided to leave then in black and white. I felt that they stood out better that way and looked more like pen drawings when they were left black and white.

The only exception was for the pencils on the cover of the book on colour. I coloured the tips of the pencils as I felt a book on colour needed a little more colour on the front cover.

The final covers are below (note that the faint grey lines represent the fold lines and bleed area):


Assignment 5 – Design Ideas

Following on from my research about the penguin ‘house style’, I expanded my list of key words for the book cover designs to be:

  • House Style
  • Books on design
  • Children / young people
  • Recognised as a series
  • Individual merits
  • visually interesting
  • Entice young people
  • Look ‘designed’
  • Illustrative
  • Graphical
  • Contemporary
  • Stylish
  • Clean and Simple
  • Intelligent
  • Witty

I decided that my book covers would use bright colours and hand-drawn illustrations as a means of appealing to young people but I wanted to keep the illustrations on the cover quite graphical and relevant to the book’s subject rather than introducing illustrations of animals or cartoon characters as a means to attract a child’s attention.

I began with some mind maps for ideas of what my illustrations on the book covers could show:

I also thought about typical images that would be associated with typography, photography and colour

I then drafted up some thumbnail sketches with ideas for the book covers. From my experience of having done a similar task in an earlier exercise, this time I made a point of thinking about both the front and back covers of the book together. I also tried to consider where the text on the book covers would go and I also designed ideas for all three book covers simultaneously to make sure that the idea I had for one cover (e.g. typography) would also work for the other two titles.

The thumbnail designs are below:

I reviewed the designs with my husband and together we selected two potential designs to take forward.

For these two designs, I drafted up a full-sized prototype using Adobe Illustrator:

Option 1

Option 2

After another review of these prototypes, it was decided to develop Option 2 as the design for the three books.


Assignment 5 – Establish Typography Book Content

In order to design the introductory chapter for the Typography book, I felt I needed to think about the structure of the book as a whole and what was going to be in it. I decided that the general theme of the typography book was looking at the ways in which typography influenced the way you interpreted and felt about the words being read.

I started by drafting what I thought the chapters of the book would be:

Then I thought about the main points that I wanted to make in the book’s introduction:

I then roughly drafted out how I thought the introduction could be laid out to get a feel of how much text I needed and how it might be structured on the pages.

Sample – Typography Book Text

Assignment 5: Book Design – Research

I started this assignment by carrying out some research around the typical styling of Penguin Books, how to pitch and structure an information book for children as well as collecting some examples of cover and content design for children’s information books in general and books on design for children and adults.

Penguin Books House Style

Do Penguin Books follow a particular style? What are their values? Should my designs be in keeping with an already established house design style?

Penguin have quite a few series’ of books, a number of which are listed on-line here:


Some examples are below:

Penguin English Library Series

This series includes  fiction from the 18th century to the Second World War. Designed with patterned covers illustrated or commissioned by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Interesting article on the Penguin website about these designs:


Penguin Books for Boys

A series of books whose cover designs were commissioned in 2008 by Coralie Bickford-Smith for Penguin. Illustrators were Neil Gower, Mark Thomas, Mick Brownfield, Despotica.

On her website, Coralie Bickford-Smith says the following about these designs: “The covers, with their action-packed illustrations, hark back to the golden age of adventure books. The controlled use of colour gives the series a strong identity, while each cover individually contains elements – particularly the typography – appropriate to the time it was first published. There is an unashamed nostalgia about them, though they aren’t facsimilies of old books – they are designed to have a freshness and appeal for younger readers encountering these stories for the first time, as well as for their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.”

Penguin Modern Series

Pocket Penguins

Penguin Great Ideas Series

Penguin Classic Horror

Penguin Christmas Classics

Penguin Monarchs

Penguin WWII Collection

Not every Penguin book is associated with a ‘series’, a great number are not and of these, the cover designs vary extensively and can feature photographs, illustrations or simply just text. It would be difficult to pick out one of these more general Penguin books and be able to clearly identify it as having a Penguin ‘style’. However, for books that do belong to series, there is typically a very clear design to the covers of all the books in the series. I would describe these designs as typically quite illustrative and graphical in nature. They are contemporary, stylish and clean and simple. The covers often look quite ‘designed’. They will often feature just two or three colours with different books in the series featuring different colours. The designs are also quite ‘intelligent’ and witty.

Target Audience

Who are the design books aimed at? What is the age range of the young people the books are aimed at?  Are the books gender neutral? How should the book be pitched, i.e. serious, arty, fun etc.

I spent an afternoon in the children’s section of my local library, looking at children’s information books.

Examples of General Children’s Information Book Designs

The Usborne Art Book About Colour – Rosie Dickins

Aimed at ages 7+

This book uses a large font. One topic is covered per double-page spread usually with an introductory paragraph at the beginning and then smaller blocks of information arrange around the pages. Small blocks of information are typically accompanied by an image to illustrate the point. Occasional illustrations and hand drawn curly arrows give a sense of fun.

Snapshots – Graphic Novels – Andy Seed

Aimed at ages 12 – 17

I didn’t like this book at all, mainly because there is very little information in it and I found it poorly structured and quite incoherent. The content of the book is presented in a very typical manga style.

Infographic Top 10 – Record breaking Buildings by Jon Richards and Ed Simkins

Aimed at ages 8 – 12

This was one of my favourite books that I reviewed. The book has a very clear objective and purpose. Each double page spread addresses a different ‘record breaking building’ topic. The layout and design is consistent across each spread giving the book design a very clear identity. Information on a spread is presented in a clear hierarchy with a title, introductory paragraph, small blocks of information with graphic illustrations and a ‘top 10’ chart. The illustrator – Ed Simkins is described on Amazon as “an award-winning graphic designer and illustrator whose work focuses on data visualization such as graphic organizers and innovative data maps.” ..it definitely shows. I thought this was a fun, visually very interesting and well structured book.

Tell Me a Picture – Adventures in Looking at Art by Quentin Blake

Aimed at ages 5 – 8 years

This book encourages children to look at artworks by hinting at the ‘stories’ contained within them. There is not much instruction in the book about the artwork, instead illustrated characters suggest things to look at. There are further notes on the painting at the back of the book.

The Usborne Book of Famous Paintings – Rosie Dickins

Aimed at ages 7+

There is more text in this book than in the previous Usborne book above but the style is similar. One spread is dedicated to a painting. Information is broken up into short paragraphs with a number of small points written in a ‘hand-written’ style font. Occasional hand-drawn illustrations and curly arrows add a sense of playfulness and fun.

Hands-On History: Ancient Rome by Philip Steele

Aimed at ages 8 – 12

This book has a very typical ‘encyclopedia’ style layout. An introductory paragraph is followed by a series of smaller blocks of information accompanied by photographs or illustrations. A roman mosiac style border is included in the header and footer of each page and a number of spreads include a ‘things to make’ project presented on a scroll graphic. In this sense the layout design is consistent and does have a ‘Roman’ feel but I felt the layout was a bit too cluttered and rather obvious and therefore a bit dull. To me it looked like a travel guide and I wasn’t very inspired by it.

Shackleton’s Journey – William Grill (Flying Eye Books)

No official age group identified but reviews on Amazon suggest ~7 – 12 yrs.

This was intriguing book. It tells the history of Shackleton’s antartic expedition but it is illustrated like a story book. The author of the book is a freelance illustrator. The book is a mix of quite long pieces of text, broken up into short paragraphs, and short blocks of information. The illustrations serve more to add visual interest to the book rather than specifically illustrate points made by the text.

Her Story – 50 Women and Girls Who Shook The World written by Katherine Halligan and illustrated by Sarah Walsh

Aimed at ages 8 – 12 yrs

There was much more text in this book than in others I had reviewed, so a longer read. Each spread featured one person. Each spread had an illustration of the featured person with a small number of additional illustrations or photographs. The illustrations are a consistent style and flowers and pastel colours feature a lot giving the book a feminine feel. The fonts used have a hand-written feel.

Get Into Photography – Take Brilliant Pictures in a Flash! by Suzie Hubbard

Aimed at ages 6 – 11 yrs

This book dedicates one spread per topic. Each spread has a title and introduction in a series of short paragraphs, and then a number of small blocks of text with headings and typically an associated image to illustrate the point. There are also ‘highlighted’ points in coloured circles. The typeface is quite large. The styling of the book is quite consistent throughout.

Examples of Design Book Covers

The book covers below re predominantly for adults but some children’s book covers are also included.




Examples of Graphic Design Books for Children

There are plenty of children’s books about colour and photography but I struggled to find any books specifically on graphic design or typography. I did manage to purchase a copy of ‘A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design’ by Chip Kidd whic I thought was a good, comprehensive and simple summary of graphic design concepts but it didn’t have any exercises for the reader to try things out for themselves, which I think would have been a nice addition for a children’s book.

Structure of a Children’s Information Book

How should the content of an ‘information-based’ book be structured for young people?

From my research looking at both the children’s informational books and adult graphic design books , I decided that each chapter of the books should have the following components:

  • Main Heading
  • Introductory Paragraph
  • Section Heading
  • Section Text
  • Illustrations / Images with short text annotations
  • ‘Fun Facts’ or ‘Did you know’ bullet points
  • Try it Yourself – exercises for people to try

Typically, the younger the age group the book was aimed at, the less text there was. Within the 8 – 12 age range, the amount of text varied a lot with some books, such as ‘Her Story – 50 Women and Girls Who Shook The World’ having a lot of text. I felt that I wanted my book not to be too light on text and content (as it was with ‘Snapshots – Graphic Novels’ by Andy Seed) but also not too wordy so that young people would get bored reading it.

Assignment 5: Book Design – Analysing the Brief

Penguin Books have asked you to design a new house style for a collection of books on design for children and young people. They are starting with three titles: Colour, Typography and Photographs. You will need to produce three covers (front, back and spine). The designs will need to be recognised by readers as a series and at the same time be appreciated on their individual merits. The book dimensions are 190mm wide by 225mm high.

In addition they have asked you to produce the one on typography called A is for… It doesn’t have to be a conventional text book. Create an introductory chapter of at least 4 pages that is visually interesting and will entice young people into wanting to buy the book and read more about the fascinating world of typography.


To create a new house style for a series of design books for children and young people. The style should be in keeping with the general design style and ethos of Penguin Books  and should convey Penguin Book’s values and personality.

The new house style should be reflected in three covers for books on Colour, Typography and Photographs. The designs should be recognisable as a series but also each book design should stand out individually. It should also be possible to extend the design to additional design book titles in future.

The cover design should also be cohesive with the general styling and presentation of content inside the book. The book does not have to be a conventional text book.

Both the cover designs and the styling inside the book should be:

  • Visually interesting
  • Appealing to young people
  • Encourage people to buy and read the books

The three book cover designs and introductory chapter should be presented as print-ready artwork.

Key Words

  • Penguin Books – New House Style
  • Books on Design
  • Children and Young People
  • Recognised as a Series
  • Individual Merits
  • Visually Interesting
  • Entice Young People


Steps Required to Complete This Brief

In order to complete this exercise, I identified the following steps that I would need to work through:


Do Penguin Books follow a particular style? What are their values? Should my designs be in keeping with an already established house design style?

Who are the design books aimed at? What is the age range of the young people the books are aimed at?  Are the books gender neutral? How should the book be pitched, i.e. serious, arty, fun etc.

How should the content of an ‘information-based’ book be structured for young people?

Review Examples

Review examples of information books for young people, particularly other design books. Also review examples of design books for adults and how the information is presented.

Establish Typography Book Content

Draft up the outline content for the Typography book ‘A is for ..’ and the content for the introductory chapter.

Design Ideas

Draw up ideas for the cover and content design style for the three design books. Establish how the content of the book should be presented and aim to make the design of the cover and the content cohesive.

Create ‘mood boards’ defining the styling and layout of the book content.


Get feedback for the design ideas and select one to develop.

Present Final Design

Create the final designs as print-ready artwork.