Penguin announces Student Design Award winners for 2021

The annual competition invites students to redesign the cover of three well-known books across adult fiction, adult non-fiction and children’s literature.

Penguin Random House UK has revealed the winners of this year’s Student Design Award, which sees students redesign the covers of well-known books.

Now in its 15th year, the Student Design Award aims to find “the next generation of book cover designers”, according to the publishing house. This is done by giving students experience of “real cover design briefs” first-hand.

As with previous years, students were offered three different books to redesign across adult fiction, adult non-fiction and children’s books. The titles this year were Life Isn’t All HA Ha Hee Hee, by Meera Syal; The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future, by David Wallace-Wells; and Talking Turkeys, by Benjamin Zephaniah.

Ella Garrett’s winning cover design

Adult fiction winner “celebrates shared heritage”

Liverpool John Moores University student Ella Garrett has won the top prize for the adult fiction cover, with a design that reflects the Meeral Syal’s female protagonists and “celebrates their shared heritage”.

She says the design takes inspiration from Indian matchbox art, in a bid to “elevate a mundane household object into something beautiful”. Garrett explains this mirrors the development of the story itself, which focuses on the beauty that can be found in the “ordinary and domestic”.

Second and third prize winning covers from Joo Ann Loong (left) and Anna Podlipentseva (right)

Also awarded in the category were University of West England student Joo Ann Loong, and the University of Hertfordshire’s Anna Podlipentseva. Loong’s submission features a car on fire, mirroring a scene in the book, while Podlipentseva uses a domestic British street for the backdrop of her cover. The two students were awarded second and third place respectively.


Megan Kerr’s winning cover design

Finger-print featured on non-fiction winner

First place for the adult non-fiction category went to Edinburgh Napier University student Megan Kerr. Kerr’s design was inspired by the feelings she felt while reading David Wallace-Wells’ book: “I pictured a scorched earth being stripped of its resources at the hands of the people it provides for,” she says.

To showcase this on her cover, Kerr used photographic film. The fragility of the material mirrors the “delicate state of the world today”, she says. As the earth shape is burned away on film, the process reveals bursts of colour which she explains hints at the effects of global warming. The whole effect is “smudged down” to mimic a fingerprint, to remind us “how uniquely we each can impact the state of the world today”.

Second and third prize winning covers from Gretchen Altenberger (left) and Thomas Ive (right)

College for Creative Studies, USA, student Gretchen Altenberger took second prize in the non-fiction category with a typographic-led design that turns the title of the book into towering office blocks. Meanwhile Thomas Ive, a student of the Glasgow School of Art, took third place, with a photographic cover. It features a close-up of a sweating person.


Aphra Blunt’s winning cover design

Children’s winner uses “powerful” turkey

Finally for the children’s category, the top prize has gone to University of Dundee student Aphra Blunt. Blunt’s cover of Zephaniah’s poetry book takes inspiration from superhero posters. It features a turkey bursting through a doorway, illuminated from behind.

The turkey is “powerful and ready to challenge the reader, but with a playful twist”, Blunt says. As a hidden message, and one that mirrors the themes of the book, Blunt has extended the shadow of the turkey. She says this is a nod to the idea that a person’s potential is “bigger than they know”.

Second and third prize winning covers from Sebastiano Fossali (left) and Mason Latter (right)

Second and third place in the children’s category have been awarded to University of Dundee student Sebastiano Fossali and Coventry University student Mason Latter. Fossali’s entry features a tower of celebrating turkeys, while Latter’s uses a school setting with a turkey as the teacher.

Chosen from 2,000 entries

Winners of this year’s competition were selected from more than 2,000 entries according to Penguin.

Each winner will receive a cash prize – first place students will be awarded £1,000, while second and third earn £500 and £350 respectively.

Which of this year’s winners are your favourite? Let us know in the comments below…

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