Orwell, covered up

Brand new covers for five of George Orwell’s works feature in a new series published today by Penguin and designed by David Pearson. The set includes a remarkable take on Orwell’s most well known novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four

orwell1984388_0.jpg - Orwell, covered up - 4995

Brand new covers for five of George Orwell’s works feature in a new series published today by Penguin and designed by David Pearson. The set includes a remarkable take on Orwell’s most well known novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four…

Animal Farm, Down and Out in Paris and London, Homage to Catalonia, and Politics and the English Language are also republished today in new ‘Great Orwell’ editions.

Pearson’s adept use of type – as demonstrated in his work on Penguin’s Great Ideas series of short, influential texts – is once again at the fore of each of the designs. And that includes what is perhaps one of Penguin’s most radical covers of recent years, for Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the title and author’s name are almost completely obscured by black foiling.

This brilliant, censorial approach to Orwell’s dystopian classic – referencing the rewriting of history carried out by the novel’s Ministry of Truth – wasn’t easy to achieve.

“It’s obviously the risk-taker of the series,” says Pearson, “and I can be very grateful to Jim Stoddart, Penguin Press’ art director, for safeguarding its progress in-house. It takes a fair bit of confidence to push something like this through and I can only assume that Jim had to deal with the odd wobble.”

Pearson says that the design went through numerous iterations “to establish just the right amount of print obliteration. Eventually we settled on printing and debossing, as per the Great Ideas series [Why I Write shown, above], with the difference being that the title and author name were then blocked out using matt black foil. This had the effect of partially flattening the debossed letters, leaving just enough of a dent for the title to be determined – though I can’t vouch for it’s success on Amazon.”

For the other books in the series, Pearson and his collaborators explored a range of different typefaces and design approaches. The deep foreboding red of the Animal Farm cover evokes the political charge of Orwell’s allegorical novel of 1945 – the type treatment managing to look jauntily cinematic and cartoon-like, and wholly unnerving at the same time.

For the cover of Orwell’s first book (1933), Down and Out in Paris and London, Pearson commissioned printmaker Paul Catherall to create a Vorticist interpretation of the two cities that the author submerged himself in. The final design incorporates Catherall’s screenprint into a Germano Facetti-era cover grid.

The manifesto-like appearance of Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language, gave Pearson the opportunity to use an as-yet unreleased typeface front and centre in the design. “I’m extremely lucky in that I get to road test Commercial Type’s latest creations ahead of their release,” he says. “Caslon Great Primer Rounded is one of several forthcoming designs produced in collaboration with the St Bride Print Library and it proved enough to give us ‘Blast‘ off.” (The type is based on the work of Caslon & Catherwood, creators of the ornamental typeface, Italian, in 1821.)

Finally, for Orwell’s account of his experiences in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, Pearson used a repeating line-drawn image of a marching soldier to create an ominous design, complete with shadowed typography.

The Great Orwell series is out today, penguin.co.uk. More of Pearson’s work is at typeasimage.com.

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  • Wow!

  • Love them ….

  • pixelfibre

    Best bit of work I’ve seen this year.

  • Excellent work again from David Pearson

  • Abbie Vickress

    They’re lovely, but not controversial enough for George Orwell.

  • graham

    [comment deleted by moderator] I hate designers that get so keen to impress that they just do something completely impractical like block out all the type. Bottom line: Its a tossy response to a decent brief. The sort of idea a first year graphics student does before realising that they’ve made something pathetic instead of clever.

    We can all come up with witty rational for impractical design. The clever thing is when the man on the street can understand the concept and it connects in a genius way. If I was Penguin I’d want my money back.

    Bollocks to ‘covered up’. Start again.

  • Rich

    The 1984 one is actually my favorite and I’d hope that most people would be able to get the fact that it’s censored and the link to the themes explored in the book. Aside from that, it’s still going to compel the viewer to take a closer look And is legible as seen in the second image. Maybe I just haven’t progressed from my 1st year though. Most ‘men on the street’ I know would understand this. I’m sick of things being dumbed down because the viewer is more intelligent than we give them credit for. especially some one seeking out Orwell.
    The Animal Farm one is fantastic too.

  • Graham


    That’s the classic response – “Its groovy so the viewer will take a closer look and get it” – trouble is, 9/10 they don’t take a closer look and they don’t get it. I’ve been a concept ad agency creative for 20 years and now I’m client side with my own small business. I’ll take risks with the next guy but I just find it annoying these days when a ‘playful’ but completely useless idea is applauded as witty.

    Designers have to be creative AND learn to take responsibility for their work and be accountable in a business sense. At the end of the day you’re selling something for someone else, ideally in a direct and intelligent way.

    Foiling on a black matt block is REALLY risky. How is it supposed to work at a glance online? Or in a bookshop? There is a pretty good chance it could be mistaken as deleted stock in such a fast paced environment, wouldn’t you say? It will probably sell anyway – bought by graphic designers – because its so ridiculous but as a design cue to younger designers I personally think it is unhelpful.

    Put it another way: Its trying to be a ‘Smile In The Mind’ case study and it just isn’t good enough.

    Bah humbug.

  • Wow. It’s day 3 of 2013 and Graham is frustrated. [comment deleted by moderator]

  • Emily

    “It’s a tossy response to a decent brief.”
    Graham, I happen to think that is a rather tossy reponse to a very decent piece of design. But then I haven’t been in the business 20 years, so what do I know?

    Well done David – lovely work!

  • Ryan


    Seems to me that the “business sense” folks were willing to take the risk, no?

    I think that the criticisms/concerns you raise are mitigated by the fact that this is a book cover, rather than a print ad or a poster, so that its function is to be eye-catching in an environment where people are, in fact looking, and are predisposed to take that second look (a bookshop). If this were a new book, looking to lure in potential purchasers through its cover art/title/author, then I’d agree that this concept just wouldn’t fly, but given that it IS, after all, one of the towering classics of 20th Century English literature, I’d can see how having a somewhat obtuse, self-referential, (and yes, SHINY) cover might induce buyers to add this edition to their collection.

    As far as online sales go, I don’t think they are as much of a concern — I doubt anyone who purchases ‘1984’ will stumble across it while browsing cover artwork. As long as its price point is basically the same as other comparable editions, people won’t care. Plus, all those students who find it on their required reading lists will probably think it’s cool and edgy, and teachers will have another focal point for classroom discussion about the themes and messaging!

    OR… the argument could be made that the key factor determining the design’s success is the extent to which it drives business and/or raises brand awareness, either through the design itself or through the discussion/controversy/”buzz” (hate that word, but oh well). I myself wandered over to this posting via a repost at one of the Gawker media sites in the U.S. In that case, “Mission Accomplished” (and not in the Bush/Iraq way!)

  • 1984 is pretty brave of Penguin, which has to be applauded. I have to say that designing for the ‘man in the street’ is not always the right consideration. For a set of reissues of George Orwell there’s no great risk in being a bit different. Not to mention the fact that the average Orwell reader is unlikely to be confused by a little design ‘trick’.

    I also agree that the blacked-out text would gain an extra look on a bookshelf by playing with such a recognisable design template as the classic penguin format.

    Having said that, the design might fall down a bit on Amazon, although I suppose it’s helped online by having a title description alongside it.

    All in all, really nice work. It’s always nice to see designers getting a chance to break away from too many commercial considerations.

  • rukidnao

    Love these except unsure about Animal Farm. Especially love ‘Down and Out’. I can’t put my finger on what artistic theme he’s trying to evoke with the Animal Farm cover. Any ideas?

  • graham

    Hey guys

    Action Man – This is a creative blog where creatives can question ideas and air opinions, isn’t it? I’m not frustrated at all, I’m just opinionated. I’ve yet to meet a senior creative who isn’t.

    Emily – Get used to it. Your clients will take tossy comments to a whole new level.

    Ryan – Para 1 – I suspect the business sense of that particular brand are pretty desperate in the face of Amazon and Kindle. Para 2 – How would a punter know they were looking at a classic? There’s no reference of any sort. Para 3 – I think you’ll find online sales are a major concern. Where have you been for 10 years? ‘stumbling’ or surfing as it is more commonly known leads to a huge proportion of sales online in any market. Para 4 – I’m sure this is ALL about the hype. Sadly it has been achieved through a fairly naff treatment. Honestly, do you really rate this work – especially in the context of a brand with such an amazing heritage for type and illustration?

    Chris – Para 1 – Brave. Or short-sighted. Sales and brand image results will decide. Not CR. The man on the street IS the market! Adoring designers are a fraction of the market. How will Orwell fans even find it? There’s no reference on the cover!! Para 2 – OR be mistaken as a misprint, recalled stock or missed completely. Para 3 – You think! How pathetic to rely on the descriptor below the book, online! Para 4 – Design minus commercial considerations equals art. Go be an artist and stop playing with other people’s marketing budget.

    To be clear. I’m not against risk, I’m against a trashy, over-simplified, under-baked idea being held up as a masterpiece. From the tone of the text above, even Pearson was amazed that it got through. Bob Gill was knocking out designs that used the blocked out ‘censored’ graphic 40+ years ago. Its hardly original or brilliant.

    Anyway. Wishing you all a creative AND successful new year!

  • Daniel Ensor

    I’ve been in the advertising agency for an extremely long time and I can honestly say I disagree with everything Graham is saying. My opinion lies in the direct opposite of his and it amazes me that someone with so much apparent experience can oppose this.

  • graham

    Daniel – There’s nothing apparent about my experience. I could brand Weetabix with a W. Call it radical. Get standout for a short period. And win the affection of the design community. Doesn’t mean its a good idea or strategy.

    But like me, you’re entitled to your opinion.

  • Daniel Ensor

    Graham – I just pitched the W idea and everyone loves it. Maybe I didn’t give you enough credit to begin with, you are an advertising genius.

  • graham

    Daniel – Well, you never can tell with clients. Have that one on me. Genius is a bit strong – don’t you want to save that for Pearson?

  • Graham. The CR blog is indeed a forum for discussion. Albeit inefficiently constructed and monitored.
    Rashly commenting on someone else’s work as ‘naff’ or bollocks’ isn’t really the intellectual response you would expect from a creative with ‘years and years’ of experience. Like it or not, many of your comments are actually misled, as quite rightly picked up upon by other readers of this story.

    It would be nice to see the users of the blog think twice before making not so nice remarks or ill based comments on another persons hard work. Not all the work featured by CR will be to our liking and there’s nothing to stop us airing our opinions either. But we don’t have to use unnecessary language here.

    I can’t say that all of David Pearson’s designs will be successful answers to the briefs at hand. Even if you are at odds with some of his conclusions – what we can see is that David is an accomplished and a strong designer. He clearly produces his work to a high standard and tries his best to experiment and ask questions within the perimeters within which he is constrained. To that fact, we owe him some hard earned respect.

    I’d be interested to know if David also manages the text setting inside the books? and in what kind of time frame is this kind of project produced?

  • James

    Oh Graham… it would appear that you-sir, may have come across as [comment deleted by moderator].

  • graham

    Action Man – I couldn’t help smiling as I noticed that your previous comment was partly ‘deleted by monitor’.

    For the record, I’ve been writing about one specific piece of work – not his whole portfolio. Many of his book covers are fantastic. To be fair I have justified my remarks. These views have been challenged with – like it or not – subjective opinions and conjectures. In a design-biased environment like this my views are bound to be unpopular. Doesn’t mean they are wrong.

    As to being ill-informed. I was involved in establishing one of the first independent e-book publishing groups (client side). So I have some understanding of how this sector works.

    There’s little doubt that Pearson challenged the convention, I’ve challenged the result, now you’re challenging my remarks… I don’t object or take offense in the slightest to your comments. So please take mine on board with a similar open mind.

  • Bex

    Yes it is simple but it is incredibly clever. The design captures the essence and spirit of the book without all the bells and whistles one usually sees on cover designs these days. I commend the bravery of the designer and to Jim for championing the design to see it published.

  • bob the builder


  • Emily

    Never mind this Graham fella.. Is that THE Action Man?

  • Winston

    Doubleplus good!

  • Patrick

    Brilliant. Are we going to get these in the States?

  • Peter

    The front cover of 1984 hardly matters. It’s not a frontlist title, it’s a backlist workhorse that trickles out the door and spends its life spine out in the fiction section purchased by a stream of students picking it up for some required reading.

    I like the initial concept, but the design on its own is a loser in a crowded bookstore. That thing will disappear into the background; it would take a truly large display for that cover to draw any attention. Is it part of a standup like the rest of the Great Ideas books?

  • Well, since the question was raised “How is it going to work online?”

    Answer: The title and author of the book are usually typed out somewhere near the cover. Plus, how often do you buy a book “by the cover” online? I’m guessing here, but maybe 1% of the people buying this specific title might stumble upon it. The rest are looking for it specifically. By typing “1984, Orwell” in a search box. And then they have a choice of covers for the book they are looking for and if the above pictured is an option, damn sure they will buy. And if they don’t buy this one, they grab another Penguin edition.

    And then in a bookshop, last time I’ve been in one, 99,9% of the books are tucked in a shelf with only the spines showing. So what is on the spine of this edition? Does anyone know? And if they present it in the window, most bookstores will have a nice sign right next to it with the author’s name and the title of the book on it.

    Ergo: I absolutely challenge the notion that this is a risky cover. It isn’t. If this would be the cover for the first edition to come out, OK. But I don’t think Penguin really needs the sales of yet another edition of “1984”. This is a very nicely designed PR stunt. And I do think they like very much how it played out.

    Oh and yes, I love the design.

  • 1984 simply brilliant !

  • Ryan

    Graham – Responses to your responses:

    >Para 1 – I suspect the business sense of that particular brand are pretty desperate in the face of Amazon and Kindle.

    Yes, and? Although to be honest, I’m not following how Penguin (a publisher) is in competition with Amazon (a retailer) or Kindle (a distribution platform for which, at least in the UK [the relevant market for this particular discussion], Penguin owns the license for this property).

    >Para 2 – How would a punter know they were looking at a classic? There’s no reference of any sort.

    If by a “punter” you mean a “The DaVinci Code reader” then I suppose you’re right. Although I’m not sure how this hypothetical person might surmise that ANY book was a classic, absent a frayed leather cover or the words, “A CLASSIC BOOK” in fairly large, solemn letters (Trajan Pro!)

    > Para 3 – I think you’ll find online sales are a major concern. Where have you been for 10 years? ‘stumbling’ or surfing as it is more commonly known leads to a huge proportion of sales online in any market.

    Of course online sales are a major concern; that was clearly not what I was implying. I was suggesting in the world of online sales, a book’s cover art is less relevant than other factors. As far as where have I been for 10 years, I’m pretty sure I’ve been at my computer for a good bit of that time. I’d ask you, where have you been for the last 3-5 years? Directed search and factors driving searches (social media referrals, online/offline reviews & “buzz”, etc.) are far more important as sales drivers. That, plus hardly anyone working in online marketing/sales says “surfing” anymore.

    > Para 4 – I’m sure this is ALL about the hype. Sadly it has been achieved through a fairly naff treatment. Honestly, do you really rate this work – especially in the context of a brand with such an amazing heritage for type and illustration?

    Yes, but probably for the reasons that you don’t. The 1984 concept works for me for several reasons. The fact that under normal circumstances it would probably be a really bad idea (see Exhibit A: Tap, Spinal), but in this case, it attracts attention BECAUSE it’s somewhat foolhardy. But I feel that it pulls it off. Also, I think it’s also clever that a brand with “such an amazing heritage for type and illustration” has itself been “censored.” I like how it marries concept, content, and context (nice alliteration, no?). Is it earth-shakingly original? No. But it’s still pretty cool.

    Just my subjective opinion.

  • A

    I think the 1984 idea is brilliant [deleted by moderator]. I mean most small books you cant read the title from a distance, anyway. A glance would warrant closer inspection and on sites like Amazon etc, the title of the book is written down by the site anyway.

  • In regards to the 1984 cover, It’s lovely to see a design make such a stir of the pot.
    This is a high concept piece of work and so it won’t be to everyone’s liking.
    Some people clearly don’t like a book jacket designer who has the raw nerve to think more
    like some kind of conceptual artist.
    Or is it the Emperor with no clothes as Graham seems to suggest? Perhaps only time will tell.

  • I’d like to point out for the record, that my deleted comments contained no swearing or derogatory language.

    Nice to see CR with print related pieces by the way. I do enjoy reading Jeremys column in the mag. And the record covers of the month online.
    Maybe you could do something with books too?

  • Jake

    the cover is clearly controversial, it seems to me that it must be a good cover then?

  • Mark

    Just saw these in Waterstones. For me underwhelming in the flesh to be honest.

  • Charlie

    Nowhere near as strong or attractive as David’s previous work for Penguin – in my opinion.

  • Tony

    I like the covers, but are we really getting excited over fonts?

  • The cover for 1984 is quite simply brilliant, especially up close and personal.

    Having picked it up at waterstones I had to buy it, why I need two copies I’m not exactly sure – but regardless of whether you like it or not – I am confident that it will have raised the sales of the classic far above the norm!

  • Lilmfinfony

    . . . .

  • Cartridge Save

    Oooh, the genius of George Orwell. I read Down and Out in Paris and London when I was 17 and it remains one of my favourite books. Keep the Aspidistra Flying is one of his underrated books, of course, as everyone focuses on 1984 and Animal Farm. Great designs, by the way. Particularly like the 1984 one.

  • MS

    To be honest I think the 1984 design misses the point of Orwell’s message. It’s not about redacting information – it’s about rewriting it so that the reader doesn’t even know that something has changed. Nice idea but for the wrong book.

  • Dan

    But the activities of the Party go a lot deeper than even that. But as well as rewriting the past, and making sure people don’t think of the past the way the Party want them to, there is an element of pure censorship too. All the history books have been rooted out and destroyed for example – so I do think it’s a bit unfair to say it’s the wrong book.

    The cover works for me. It was obvious straight away what the book was . This would probably only work with this book, a stone cold book with the classic Penguin design. (Though I would have bought it with the Penguin design without the censorship strips.) It’s like proclamation of how culturally pervasive it is.

    And the spine says “George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four”.

  • Chris

    Where can I order this edition of 1984? I’m having a hard time finding it.