Nearly 120 years ago, Beatrix Potter’s universally loved tale of a mischievous rabbit - based on her own pet - Peter Piper, was published for children. Resplendent on the cover in his blue jacket, the hero of the ‘Bunny Book’ had no idea of his future icon status.
Famously, Beatrix Potter illustrated all of her books and characters herself, with Peter Rabbit starting life as a black and white illustration made to cheer up a friend’s son, who was recovering from illness. Since then, Peter has taken on many illustrated forms alongside his family and friends, with two international blockbuster films, a television series and illustrators such as Ellie Taylor and Nicola Kinnear continuing his stories of adventure and mischief-making.
But it’s the beautifully delicate, original watercolours that have made Peter Rabbit a household name and globally recognised brand. How does that brand keep a feeling of warmth and familiarity, while progressing Peter’s look into 2021?
Izzy Richardson, Global Owned Brands Director at Penguin Random House Children’s, oversaw Peter’s refreshed look, “We’ve seen the Peter Rabbit brand evolve through various creative iterations and touchpoints over the course of its 120-year history, and ahead of the birthday milestone in 2022, it was important for us to refine and refresh the brand for a new generation.”
The team behind Peter Rabbit’s refresh
Penguin Random House Children’s enlisted design agency, CreateFuture, to lead the project alongside illustrator Chris Mitchell. Drawing on early source material to ensure the updated look continued to reflect the legacy of the brand, Chris says he was always drawn to Beatrix Potter’s work: "I have been captivated by works that have stood the test of time, that retain their relevance and importance despite the ages. Beatrix Potter was one individual who accomplished this in her beautiful story telling illustrations of Peter Rabbit and his friends. They continue to touch the hearts of children and adults to this very day."
Working with Penguin Random House Children’s teams from brand, editorial, design, legal and licensing, they reimagined what Peter Rabbit means today, and what it will mean for its next 120 years. At its core, this meant building on the brand’s values of fun, adventure, family and friendship.
Chris explains: “The brief was to create a more contemporary iconic version of the Peter Rabbit character. It had to be created in a solid line vector style to feature across multiple platforms, with clarity at all reproduction sizes. Retaining the charm, mischief and character associated with the original illustrations was paramount.”
Evolving the ‘running rabbit’
A key part of this was evolving the ‘running rabbit’ into a Peter that had more impact and versatility. The Penguin Owned Brands team worked closely with CreateFuture and Chris throughout the process, feeding back on crucial details such as which sides of the ear would be on show, and the shape and placement of the paws. Every part of the evolution was scrutinised; for example, the fourth image was thought to be a little too fierce, so solid black lines were altered into white highlights that kept Peter light and bouncy.
The blue jacket
Peter Rabbit is always seen in his blue jacket, which never changes colour. So, the correct shade of blue was crucial – refined again and again, and referring back to Beatrix Potter’s colours, the ‘jacket blue’ now has a specific pantone. A pocket and buttons were also added, as is seen in the original illustrations within the books. The iconic jacket lives on as a recognisable symbol of the brand: a mark of quality, and a seal of authenticity.
A refreshed logo built around heritage
The refreshed logo showcases the ‘running rabbit’ Peter pose, hopping to frame the title font from the first pressing of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Combined with Beatrix Potter’s signature, these elements act as instant signifiers of the Peter Rabbit brand, anchoring the updated look with heritage and its creator.
Supporting design from Peter's garden
As well as a refreshed logo for Peter, a new design system was also developed offering three distinct treatments for use in different applications. Taking inspiration from Beatrix Potter’s animal and insect illustrations, a series of graphic trails have been created to add energy and narrative to imagery. ‘Hop’ uses the trails with a soft and muted colour palette for babies, whilst at the other end of the spectrum, ‘Jump’ uses primary colours on clean backgrounds for a high energy, contemporary use.
Peter's own trails are filled with liveliness, conveying speed, adventure and mischief in every bounce. There are other characters in the garden he lives in too – joined by butterflies, birds, a bee, ladybird and snail, they cement the brand’s roots in sustainability and the natural world. "They were individually crafted to represent the natural movement of each creature", says Chris.
The future of Peter Rabbit
As a brand that has touched so many lives, there was a lot of love for Peter Rabbit from the people working on the refresh. “We felt a duty of care to Beatrix Potter’s legacy,” says Dave Ward, Creative Director at CreateFuture. “We wanted to ensure that Peter Rabbit remains relevant and loved by the next generation and embraced by new audiences. Striking the balance between heritage and modernity was always going to be challenging, we are very proud of the result and hope the fans are too.”
“I felt a great sense of responsibility in retaining the heartfelt personality of Peter and his creature friends,” agrees Chris, “I approached the work with a genuine sense of care and attention-to-detail that the ‘World of Peter Rabbit’ cannot help but demand. This was to ensure the running rabbit in the blue jacket remains the icon of love, trust and friendship that we will continue to know and love, long into the future.”
Peter Rabbit will celebrate his 120th birthday in 2022. You can find out more about the brand on peterrabbit.com.
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