Penguin unveils Student Design Award winners

Penguin Random House has announced the winners of its annual Student Design Award, who dreamt up unique revamps of iconic books by Haruki Murakami, Owen Jones, and R.J. Palacio

The winning work from this year’s Student Design Award

Penguin’s annual competition invites student designers to re-imagine iconic book covers. This year‘s titles are Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood for the Adult Fiction Cover Award, The Establishment by political commentator Owen Jones for the Adult Non-Fiction Cover Award and Wonder by R.J. Palacio for the Children’s Cover Award. Students were asked to envisage the well-known book from a fresh angle and make it more appealing for contemporary readers.

Now in its thirteenth year, the competition aims to give students – regardless of their degree or university – the chance to respond to a real-life brief. A panel of judges made up of Penguin Random House art directors and guest judges including Laura Ellen Anderson were tasked with whittling down the record-breaking 2,310 entries down to a shortlist of 30 and selecting three overall winners. The first-place winners of each category will each receive a work placement at Penguin Random House UK’s design studio and a £1,000 cash prize, while the second-place winners will receive £500 and the third-place winners, £350.

The winning cover designs include visual jokes involving pig-headed businessmen, ducks sent to space, leaves puckered for a kiss, punk-esque defaced newspapers, and Japanese typography.


The winning re-design of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood was penned by Bethany Rush, one of the four students shortlisted from Falmouth University. Her re-imagining uses a letter-writing allegory with Japanese stamp symbols. Guest Judge Noma Bar said “realising that each stamp resembles the characters was a great surprise that took the cover storytelling to the next level”.

The runner-up designs harness autumnal woodland imagery to convey a melancholy mood of death and regeneration. Third place, awarded to Louis Gabaldoni, of Norwich University of the Arts, played on the romance theme with a cover fronted by a lip-shaped leaf.


Toby Clarke, from the University of Northampton, impressed judges with his blacked-out redaction of official-looking government letter text for the cover of The Establishment. Owen Jones said the design “really gets the sense of what I was trying to do with The Establishment, which was to convey that sense that those with power wish to hide from us the truth, the reality about what’s happening in our society.”

Second place winner Lewis Bowness’s cover features an acetate illustration of a cigar-smoking businessman superimposed over a pig to represent ignorance and greed. The Nottingham Trent student’s design plays on the notion of seeing ‘the establishment’ from a different point of view depending on your personal ‘lens’. Third place winner Samuel Ayres, from Solent University, drew on feelings of anger with Britain’s current political climate, defacing a newspaper to create an image with a rebellious, punk aesthetic.


The top entries for the Children’s Cover Award’s for R.J. Palacio’s novel Wonder, about a ten-year-old boy born with a facial anomaly, drew on the book’s theme of embracing being unique and standing out from the crowd. 

The winning design, in which a duck wearing an astronaut helmet showed the protagonists’ perspective of the world as a little boy, was penned by Sian McKeever, from University of the Arts London. Anna Billson, Art Director of Penguin Random House UK Children’s, saidwe all unanimously fell in love with the duck! It hits just the right note of intrigue, joy and hope in such a simple but powerful way.” Runners-up Sam Prentice and Beatrice Simpkiss (both from Arts University Bournemouth) used a “vivid colour palette to make the overall cover design really stand out – just like Auggie himself”, said guest judge Jude Laura Ellen Anderson.