Romek Marber

In 1962, Herbert Spencer published a sixteen-page article in Typographica magazine charting the history and evolution of Penguin’s cover designs. In this article, he credited Penguin’s then head of Design, Germano Facetti, with modernizing their look. Although it was Facetti’s  vision to modernize and unify the Penguin series, it was a lesser known designer, Romek Marber, who was, in fact, responsible for the creation of a new and archetypal template that would come to define Penguin covers throughout the 1960s, and even into the 1970s. At Facetti’s behest, Spencer later published a two-page correction, giving Marber his rightful recognition.

Romek Marber(1925) was a Polish freelance designer who first came to Britain in 1946. On the strength of his work for the Economist, Facetti first commissioned him to design covers for Simeon Potter’s Our Language and Language in the Modern World. Soon after, Marber fought off competition from other designers to be given the chance to revamp the Penguin Crime series. For this, Marber devised a grid pattern (now referred to as the ‘Marber Grid’) where, essentially, the typography occupied one third of the cover and the illustration the remaining two thirds. Initially, applied to just the Crime Series, this layout was later adopted and applied to the majority of Penguin’s other lines.

Whilst Marber’s influence on Penguin’s cover designs was comprehensive, taken in isolation, the Crime Series can be regarded as iconic in its own right. To create these highly stylized and distinctive images he employed various techniques, such as: photographic distortion, collage, geometric patterns, and, at times, even the use of his own face. Marber designed at least 71 covers for the series and read each of the books, as for him: “doing a cover was the excitement of trying to get across what I had just read in a single image.”

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