Penguin's Online Redesign

Written by Tim Lane


While Penguin produces some of the most inspiring and creative book covers in the world, when I joined it was clear that the brand’s online output felt tired, and lacked confidence, consistency, and direction. There was a tendency to revert to a nostalgic design approach which made the brand look dated and didn’t capture the exciting spirit of the books Penguin publish.

After joining as Creative Director in 2019, I built a new in-house multidisciplinary team called Penguin Creative. With this new team, we worked on re-designing the Penguin brand's visual direction online.

Click here to read the interview I did with Creative Review on this redesign.

↓ The slider below shoes some examples of the what of the Penguin branding looked like before the re-design.

The re-design: A new visual style guide

The iconic design principles of the first Penguin books had distinctive qualities; bold geometric shapes, a very limited colour palette, black sans typography and generous white space. These confident design principles were not being represented in the current online content.

Inspired by what was on display at the amazing Penguin Archive in Bristol, a new visual style guide was created. These guidelines would inform the Penguin redesign across the multiple areas covered by our digital and video output.

The Penguin Creative and Brand team created a new colour pallet, inspired by the one we found at the archive, dividing them into primary and secondary colours. We also created a suite of shapes and design flourishes, informed by our discoveries in the archive.

No longer would we:

  • Use curved corners
  • Use more than one colour in an asset/design
  • Use tints, gradients or vignettes
  • Use colour for type (other than orange or white)
  • Use nostalgic images of old Penguin books

↑ Just some of the inspirations we found at the Penguin Archive in Bristol UX re-design

Alongside a new editorial direction, me and UX Designer Natasha Savicheva redesigned to make the site feel less marketing and sales-led. These UX and UI improvements were preferred to the old site design by 66% of users when tested.

↑ The redesign (homepage and feature page)

Author Photography

With the launch of the new Penguin Creative team, I also created a new role of Staff Photographer. This enabled a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of author portraits, which proved a huge benefit to our marketing and editorial content on Many author portraits have also appeared on numerous book jackets.

Having this resource in-house has meant huge savings have been made by the publishing divisions, but more importantly, has meant there is a distinct ‘house style’ unique to Penguin. We always tried to capture the essence of the author, their story and their message through these portraits.

Authors are often enthralled by their portraits, with Bernardine Evaristo and Owen Jones describing our shots as their ‘favourite ever.’

↑ Portraits of authors Bernardine Evaristo, Sathnam Sanghera, James O'Brien and Paris Lees by Stuart Simpson

↑ Portraits of authors Caleb Femi and William Gibson

YouTube Channel Relaunch

When relaunching the Penguin Books UK YouTube channel, I decided to change the way Penguin produced the video content, with a new effort to add quality, consistency, and tone of voice to the videos. We also invested in improving the lighting equipment and editing standards and worked hard to make our thumbnails and video titles the most attractive and appealing they could be. All videos thus had an elevated quality, both visually and editorially, which has resonated with the growing YouTube audience.

Since relaunching in November 2019, the Penguin Books UK YouTube channel has seen record breaking growth. Subscribers have grown from 30K to 300K and the monthly views have increased from 175K to 2.5m.

↑ The key to the huge growth on YouTube was the creation of many formats, tailored to the expertise of Penguin's many authors

Instagram Relaunch

As well as author photography, Penguin Creative’s Staff Photographer, Stuart Simpson, also applied a new book photography style for social media. All books are now shot in a consistent way, on grey and on one Penguin colour.

This fresh approach resonated with our social audience, particularly on Instagram. The number of image likes in this period were higher than ever, and the follower growth exponential too: growing from 300K to 500K in the space of a year.

Editorial Illustration

The in-house Penguin Creative design team also began to produce illustrations based with the same design principles used to influence all the other areas in this online brand refresh. We also commissioned some of the best editorial illustrators in the world. These illustrations were received incredibly well by the audience, breaking numerous records for Instagram likes and helping increase the traffic to by 13%.

↑ Just four of the hundreds of original illustrations created or commissioned by the Penguin Creative team

Bringing It All Together

Inspired by Penguin's design heritage but refreshed for current needs, the Penguin online redesign looks fresh, confident and is adaptable for every purpose online and beyond. Despite this versatility, there is now a design consistency in all the visual output online. The new principles capture the vibrant and confident spirit of the first Penguin books and much better represents the values of the most loved book brand in the world: high quality, exciting, bold and accessible.

These design principles have also been applied to the campaigns the Penguin Creative team have completed since 2019. Examples would be Happy Listening, Christmas Begins with a Book and It Begins with a Book.

The redesign was also applied to Penguin Live (events), the Penguin Newsletter, Penguin's social banners and various other Penguin websites.

In our first year, the Penguin Creative team won the Design Week Award for Best In-house Design Team. The judges said: "This application shows a humble and respectful recognition of the members of the Penguin Creative team. The team is constantly high-achieving, and its work is always beautifully considered and executed"

↑ Penguin's new online visual direction took the Penguin Creative team just over six months to achieve

↓ View more of our work