Germano Facetti

Cover art director for Penguin


Germano Facetti, designer: born Milan 5 May 1928; Cover Art Director, Penguin Books 1960-72; married Mary Crittall (one daughter); died Sarzana, Italy 8 April 2006.

Germano Facetti was best known in Britain as Cover Art Director for Penguin Books from 1960 to 1972. His cover designs and those under his directorship epitomise the very best of 1960s graphic design, with clear typography allied to pertinent imagery.

Facetti was born in Milan in 1928 and spent part of the Second World War in the Nazi concentration camp Mauthausen, in Austria. His early career was spent on a variety of design projects and with the architectural practice Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peressutti & Rogers in Milan, where he met and married the English architect Mary Crittall. They came to Britain in 1950.

In London, Facetti attended Edward Wright's evening classes in typography at the Central School of Arts and Craft. He worked with Theo Crosby and Ed Wright in 1956 on the entrance area of the seminal exhibition "This is Tomorrow" at the Whitechapel Art Gallery; he also designed the Poetry Bookshop in Soho. A brief spell in Paris followed, where he worked as an interior designer for the marketing arm of the advertising agency Snip, and helped set up the Snark Picture Library.

On his return to Britain he was brought into Penguin Books by Allen Lane's dynamic new Chief Editor, Tony Godwin, who realised that to meet the challenge of younger, more aggressive publishers Penguin would have to change the way it presented its books.

Facetti found that Penguin had many series of books whose appearance was quite disparate: some were exquisite examples of traditional typography, some uncertain flirtations with contemporary design idioms, and others whose only unifying element was the logo. His job was to transform them into something contemporary to attract new and younger readers, while retaining the loyalty of the existing readership.

While for many series he used the established Penguin colours to re- assert the identity of the company, his fundamental impact was in unifying the entire company's output through a more defined and consistent use of illustration, photography and collage, supported by simple "modern" typography using the newly available typefaces Standard, Helvetica and Univers.

Facetti's first series overhaul was Crime, for which he commissioned a design from the Polish-born designer Romek Marber. This featured a defined area for the publisher's and author's name, title and logo and a clear area below for an illustration. The images were dark but striking, and were printed in black, a brighter "Crime green" than previously used, and occasionally one other colour.

The results appeared in 1962 and Facetti saw the advantages of the new look immediately. He adopted the layout for Fiction (in orange) and Pelican titles (in blue), and later for Modern Classics. The Fiction covers were less successful than Crime, not least because he was often forced to reuse existing artwork, but for the Pelican titles the grid worked well, particularly when used with more diagrammatic, or collage-based illustrations.

His direction of this series was able to build on earlier work by John Curtis, and although the Marber grid was dropped after a couple of years, a clear Pelican identity was retained and continued well into the 1970s under David Pelham.

The horizontal division of space introduced with the Crime titles was also used for Penguin Classics which were redesigned with black covers featuring full-colour reproductions of art contemporary with the period of writing: ". . . it was assumed that the majority of great works of art have been created with a bearing to literature," Facetti later wrote. This approach still underpins the picture research of Penguin Classics today.

The use of images continued ideas Facetti had previously explored as Art Director at Aldus Books in the 1950s. There, working on educational handbooks, Facetti integrated text and images in an almost cinematic, documentary manner, made possible by his wide-ranging, encyclopedic knowledge of art and design history.

In addition to the Classics, other series at Penguin featuring a similar use of artwork included the English Library, Modern Classics, and Reference. Although the Fiction covers were not to Godwin's taste (he appointed a separate Fiction Cover Art Director in 1965) Facetti was able to design arresting covers for books of a topical nature, like the Specials series, which documented the urgent questions of the day - civil unrest, Europe, disarmament. These books were written very quickly and the covers designed accordingly: the restraint of the cover arrangement was relaxed and impact and directness were the order of the day. Other series with more varied cover treatments included Shakespeare (with David Gentleman's woodcuts), Penguin Plays and Cookery.

A key element to Facetti's success was his choice of freelance and staff designers. Derek Birdsall, Alan Fletcher, Colin Forbes, David Gentleman, Richard Hollis, Jock Kinneir, Romek Marber, Bruce Robertson, Alan Spain, Denise Yorke, a Who's Who of the significant designers of the day, are some of those credited on the back covers of books from the time.

Aside from Penguin, Facetti also found time to act as consultant in the late 1960s to Purnell's illustrated History of the 20th Century, published in weekly parts. He also designed Cape Editions and Jonathan Cape's Jackdaw series, was a founder member of D&AD (the Designers and Art Directors Association) and worked as art director for New Society.

In 1972 Facetti left Penguin and returned to Italy where he worked in both publishing and teaching. In a 1967 article describing his work, he said

Not all the covers shown here are thrilling from the point of view of design. It is much more important that Penguin has established a high standard throughout, rather than swinging from very good to very bad, cover to cover, as almost all other publishers do.

Looking at his work in its entirety, it is clear that the "high standard throughout" was very high indeed.

Phil Baines

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