Tim O’Reilly’s Exclusive Interview with Book Business Extra on How O’Reilly Media Built Its Computer Technology Book, Web and Conference Brand
O’Reilly Media Inc., a technology publisher, with corporate offices in the heart of the Silicon Valley, utilizes pen and ink woodcut-style drawings of different animals on many of its books. It has been doing so for years, which has helped create greater worldwide recognition for its products.
The company, a driving force behind the commercial Internet, Web 2.0, blogging and online book selling, has also perfected the use of brand identity.
“Like so many things in life, the O’Reilly animal branding was a combination of luck, generosity and unexpected genius,” says Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media. “When we first began publishing small books about the Unix operating system under the brand ‘Nutshell Handbooks,’ all our books had the same image—a simple image of an opened nut—designed to get across the idea that our small books captured the meat of a complex topic. We were very low-budget, and didn’t have money for designers or logos.”
By the time it had seven or eight books out, the company realized it had a problem.
“At trade shows, people would look at a display, and since the books were distinguished only by the title, not by the cover image, they wouldn’t realize that there were different books. So we finally broke down and hired a designer to come up with a cover treatment,” he says. “Unfortunately, it was completely expected—all geometric and high-tech. … I said that they weren’t right—we had to keep looking.”
That happened on a Friday afternoon. According to O’Reilly, one of his writers, Linda Lamb, went home for the weekend and told her housemate, Edie Freedman, a designer at Digital Equipment Corporation, about the problem.
“She had a brainstorm: Unix program names sounded like weird animals to her,” O’Reilly says. “…She designed seven or eight covers for us, including ones for books that hadn’t been developed yet. Among the ‘weird animals’ she chose were the tarsier that graces the cover of ‘Learning the Vi Editor,’ and our Web site at oreilly.com, the slender lorises [a colorful parrot] on the cover of ‘Sed & Awk.’”