Penguin Random House announces its 2021 Student Design Award winners

Superhero turkeys and paper-cut type were among this year’s winning covers, with the competition challenging students to reimagine books by Meera Syal and Benjamin Zephaniah

Cover by Ella Garrett

Art directors from across the publishing company helped judge the award, which is now in its 15th year. They were joined by author Meera Syal – whose 1999 novel Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee was one of the covers the students worked on – alongside a jury of creative directors, illustrators and graphic designers. The award is free for students to enter, regardless of their degree.

This year’s award included three categories – adult fiction, adult non-fiction and children’s. Ella Garrett, from Liverpool John Moores University, scooped the award for adult fiction, with a burnt orange, handmade cover for Syal’s novel.

She says she took inspiration from Indian matchboxes and truck art for the design – as a way of mirroring the novel’s message that “there’s beauty and value to be found in the ordinary and domestic”. Garrett used paper-cutting to create the shapes and letters, describing the decision as a way of producing a “handcrafted, imperfect cover for a story about imperfect people and their imperfect relationships”.

Cover by Megan Kerr

Megan Kerr, from Edinburgh Napier University, took the top prize in the non-fiction category, redesigning the cover of David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future.

“I pictured a scorched earth being stripped of its resources at the hands of the people it provides,” she says of her minimalist approach. “To achieve this imagery, I took subtle inspiration from the fragility of photographic film when burned to mirror the delicate state of the world today.”

Cover by Aphra Blunt

Last, but not least, University of Dundee student Aphra Blunt won in the children’s category for their illustrated cover of Benjamin Zephaniah’s Talking Turkeys poetry collection. According to Blunt, it takes inspiration from superhero posters, featuring a bold turkey reinforced by a “vibrant, Reggae inspired colour scheme”.

Each category winner takes home £1,000, with second and third places receiving £500 and £350 respectively.

Full winners list:

Adult Fiction Cover Award (Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal)
First place: Ella Garrett, Liverpool John Moores University
Second place: Joo Ann Loong, University of the West of England
Third place: Anna Podlipentseva, University of Hertfordshire (British Higher School of Art and Design, Moscow)

Adult Non-Fiction Cover Award (The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future by David Wallace-Wells)
First place: Megan Kerr, Edinburgh Napier University
Second place: Gretchen Altenberger, College for Creative Studies, USA
Third place: Thomas Ive, The Glasgow School of Art

Children’s Cover Award (Talking Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah)
First place: Aphra Blunt, University of Dundee
Second place: Sebastiano Fossali, University of Dundee
Third place: Mason Latter, Coventry University