The Anti-Brochures

Pentagram’s publishing efforts are entertaining—and memorable.

For almost 30 years Pentagram has produced a series of books and an annual holiday card that are quirky, educational, resolutely uncommercial—and never overtly promotional. These anti-brochures were developed long before that became the preferred method of marketing to media-resistant consumers. “For the holiday card, the brief is simple,” says David Hillman, the partner in the London office who edits them. “We never visually celebrate Christmas. Instead each one should provide people with ten minutes of entertainment during the holidays.” Typically the cards, which are actually booklets, contain a game or activity. 2002’s “Fitting Words” was a quiz where readers were asked to match a famous quote with the often infamous person who said it.

The firm also publishes the Pentagram Papers series, in a slightly larger format. Each book (there have been 31 thus far) is born out of a specific interest of one of the partners, ranging from the esoteric (a tribute to the “doo-wop” architecture of Wildwood, New Jersey; pictured above, center) to the instructive (a 1926 essay on architecture by Lewis Mumford) to the obscure (a celebration of Australian rural mailboxes).

“These cards and books are a different way of talking to clients,” says John McConnell, the partner in the London office who conceived of the book series in the late 1970s and still oversees them. “We’ve been accused of doing vanity publishing, but they’ve been very successful as marketing tools. It’s also a way of doing something that isn’t a brochure of your latest work, which I’ve always found bloody boring.” Number 32, The Rise and Fall of the Slide Rule, is due out later this year.

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