Designing Sudamericana

by Max Rompo

As a designer in Penguin Random House Argentina, I’m running a project which aims to take advantage in terms of visual identity of the popular status of our strongest local imprint, Sudamericana. Setting a round of brief interviews with some colleagues is crucial for me to document those different experiences on the implementation of similar brands in other company’s branches. So I will be glad if you could give me a little of your time for a short meeting at the NYC offices on October 31 or November 1.

Let me also put some things in context for you to understand why it is so urgent to us to give Sudamericana the importance that it deserves.

Probably because of being the first publishers of Gabriel García Márquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, Julio Cortázar’s ‘Bestiary’ (his first short stories book ever), Hesse, Greene, Hemingway, Capote, Faulkner and Melville’s first translators into Spanish (the last two of them by Jorge Luis Borges himself) Sudamericana is one of the most renowed publishers in Latin America and one of Penguin Random House’s strongest imprints in the region.

Original "Editorial Sudamericana" ex-libris ca. 1948
Original ‘Editorial Sudamericana’ ex-libris ca. 1948

Founded in 1939 we can tell for sure that most of its reputation belongs to its founding members: Victoria Ocampo, Antonio López Llausás, Oliverio Girondo and Carlos Mayer. A decade before it was Victoria herself who founded the Sur literary journal that quickly became one of the most prestigious and emblematic publications in the world featuring several of the most important authors of its time that are closely linked to Sudamericana since then: Walter Gropius, Pablo Neruda, Ernesto Sábato, Federico García Lorca, Vladimir Nabokov, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jack Kerouac, Jorge Luis Borges, Albert Camus and Aldous Huxley among many others. Two decades later the Latin American Boom ended up by consolidating its influence in our region.

Portrait of Victoria Ocampo with a copy of ‘Sur’ by Gisèle Freund. Another edition featuring writings by Jorge Luis Borges and the British edition of ‘The Perpetual Race of Achilles and the Tortoise’ in the Penguin Great Ideas Series (Designed by We Made This and David Pearson).

Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aires, has the highest rate of bookshops in the world. And though it has also been the home of many well respected publishers since the beginning of the 20th century, it was specially Sudamericana which emerged as one of the biggest players in the industry. In such a strong way it did that being published by this imprint still remains the common desire of most authors.

Several books from our catalogue all through the past 80 years and those we’ve recently published since 2015.

Its symbolic capital continues to be very influential to a diverse range of audiences in the shape of a surprisingly heterogeneous catalog that includes politics, cooking, memories, biographies, all fiction and nonfiction universal classics, scientific dissemination and essays, artist books, comics and graphics novels too. All of them under three different divisions: adult (Sudamericana), young (Sudamericana Joven) and early readers (Primera Sudamericana).

Acquisition of Sudamericana in our company’s history timeline

As it’s a well known strategy from Penguin Random House to encourage the autonomy of each one of our local imprints in order to get its performance at its best. Therefore it’s necessary for us to make an improvement in terms of branding and design standards regarding our major one in Latin America, particularly on the scope of three facts:

1. Although its name was written in a variety of typefaces on each different cover all through its lifetime there’s never been a certain logotype that identifies Sudamericana. In the beginning, once you opened any of those earlier editions, there was just an illustrated ex-libris with the figures of the “Southern Cross” constellation, a ship and a plume penetrating the continent’s map. Then it was the turn for a wooden initial monogram printed at the bottom of every book spine which was redesigned during the nineties and remains today as the only identifying element among modern editions: the ‘S’ logo.

Spine identifier over different periods.

2. Over the last years our company has been expanding through the acquisition of other Spanish publishers like Santillana, Ediciones B and, recently, Salamandra. Some of the new books that come with those acquisitions are moved into Sudamericana’s catalogue in order to enhance its commercial potential.

3. On the other hand, all of the interior design guidelines that we use in Latin America were designed in Spain but just for those European imprints like Lumen or Random House that get published in both regions. So there is an absence of design direction for those books that our editors decide to publish under Sudamericana in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Miami, Perú or Uruguay.

Penguin Random House Spanish imprints.

This functioning clearly impacts in the lack of a uniform visual identity strategy among our different locations in Latin America. It certainly becomes a major need specially in 2020 when Sudamericana is celebrating its 80th anniversary in publishing and it concerns also a necessity in the field of this brand’s communication resources and capabilities.

Sudamericana’s 80th anniversary in 2020

In conclusion, developing a general design plan for Sudamericana as a brand, in pursuing of an upgrade of it’s communications and production standards takes on fundamental importance in order to take advantage of the strong signature that represents to our readers. And also the reason why I would really appreciate if you could give me the chance of a brief meeting at the NYC offices from October 31 to November 1, that can help us developing this project.

Thank you.

Max ‘Rompo’ is a graphic designer for Penguin Random House’s Art Department since 2015 . A brief interview on his work as a book designer can be read in spanish on this link. Selected design for books →
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