Practical Project – Penguin Design Award 2015


According to Graphic Competition (2015), the Penguin Design Award is an opportunity for all the students on an Art or Design course in the UK to engage in design for publishing during their studies and to experience real cover and page layout design briefs first-hand. To make the process even more similar to the way Penguin’s designers work, once the judges have selected the shortlist, the Art Directors will give the shortlisted entrants feedback and further art direction on their submissions. Shortlisted entrants will then be invited to resubmit their work, taking all the comments on board, before the final round of judging.

As a Kingston student in a graduate diploma course in creative practice, I and my class had a chance to step forward to make practical projects on second term (Micklethwaite, 2015) and I finally have followed doing the Penguin Design Award 2015. We had a team around 30 people and students may enter one design in three categories: Adult Fiction Cover Award, Adult Non-Fiction Cover Award, Children’s Cover Award.

I love children and that’s why I decided to make the cover for “Carrie’s war” – the topic for Children’s Cover Award this year.

As can be seen as below, here is my final cover design for “Carrie’s war” followed the advice of my tutors at Kingston University:


Before explaining the concept behind the design above, let’s take a look for the whole process from beginning of this project at first.

1) —————————————————————————————————————————–

According to Penguin Design Award (2015a), it could not be denied that the key of making a successful design for this project was to completely understand the Brief as following.

Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden

‘I did a dreadful thing . . . or I feel that I did, and nothing can change it . . .’

It’s wartime, and Carrie and her little brother, Nick, have been evacuated to Wales to live with grumpy old Mr Evans and his timid mouse of a sister. Their friend Albert is luckier, living in Druid’s Bottom with the strange Mister Johnny and Hepzibah Green, who tells wonderful stories. Gradually they begin to settle into their new surroundings, but then Carrie does the worst thing she ever did in her life . . .

Full of unforgettable characters, and based on her own childhood, Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War has delighted children for over 40 years.

The Brief

Students are invited to design a whole new cover look for Carrie’s Warto bring this classic to a new generation of readers. The design should ensure that this original and heartwarming story remains a must-read for every child.

Your cover design needs to include all the cover copy as supplied and be designed to the specified design template (B format, 198mm high x 129mm wide, spine width 18mm), incorporating the A PUFFIN BOOK branding.

What the judges are looking for:

We are looking for a striking cover design that is well executed, has an imaginative concept and clearly places the book for its market. The cover should encourage children to pick the book up and buy it for themselves and should also engage adults to want to buy it for them.

While all elements of the cover (front, back and spine) need to work together as a cohesive whole, remember that the front cover has to be able to work on its own, and to be eye-catching within a crowded bookshop setting as well as on screen at a reduced size for digital retailers.

The winning design will need to:

  • have an imaginative concept and original interpretation of the brief
  • be competently executed with strong use of typography
  • appeal to the broadest possible audience for the book
  • show a good understanding of the marketplace
  • have a point of difference from the many other book covers it is competing against
  • be able to sit on the shelves of a supermarket or ebook store as easily as it sits on those of more traditional bookshops

Based on all the information, data and research the tutors have given in the class, I and another student started working on the moodboards to show our own research. It was a good experience when I never made any moodboard in the past. However, I got illness at that time and could not be able to bring them to class to get feedback from my tutors and students.

2) —————————————————————————————————————————–

Mood Board 1 – Judges

As has been stated in Penguin Design Award (2015b), there were 4 judges for the book-cover design in 2015.

Francesca Dow 1Francesca Dow – Managing Director, Penguin Random House UK Children’s

Francesca Dow runs Penguin Random House UK Children’s, which comprises Ladybird and Puffin, and the Random House Children’s publishing division. Penguin Random House UK Children’s is home to popular children’s authors such as Roald Dahl, Jeff Kinney, Jacqueline Wilson, John Green, Terry Pratchett, Malorie Blackman and Shirley Hughes as well as hugely successful children’s brands – Peter Rabbit, Peppa Pig, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Snowman, Dr Who, Artemis Fowl and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

‘Excellent design and illustration are absolutely crucial to the success of children’s books,’ says Francesca Dow. ‘As the leading children’s publisher, we have always promoted great design and supported new illustrators and the Penguin Random House Children’s Design Award continues that tradition. We love working with talented new designers. New ideas, new skills are vital to our business.’

It was not easy for me to collect visual images to make a moodboard about Francesca; however, I have found something more valuable as below:


Theinternbook (2012a)

Anna2Anna Billson – Art Director, Penguin Random House UK Children’s

Anna graduated in Graphic Design from Middlesex Polytechnic, where she spent most of her time printmaking and producing hand-made books. After working at ITN for a couple of years she moved into publishing, where she was able to turn her love of design and her love of books into her dream career. Anna joined Puffin in 2002 from Orchard Books, where, along with Francesca Dow, she helped create Lauren Child’s original Clarice Bean and Charlie and Lola titles. 

Anna was made Art Director of Puffin in 2003 and in 2011 took on the role of Art Director for Penguin Children’s. Following the creation of the Penguin Random House UK Children’s division, she is now responsible for the art direction and design of all titles published by Ladybird, Puffin and Random House Children’s.

Anna leads a fabulously talented team who work with a dazzling array of illustrators, designing for some of the best authors and the biggest brands in children’s publishing. Her team currently includes two junior designers who were recruited following their success in the Children’s Cover Award.

As similar to Francesca, I found only her Youtube clip when she spoke about the guidance for making the book for the contest.

Theinternbook (2012b)

Cathy1                cathymood2

Guest Judges

Cathy Cassidy

Cathy Cassidy wrote her first picture book for her little brother when she was eight or nine and has been writing fabulous stories ever since. Her books have sold over one million copies in the UK alone. She is the bestselling author of The Chocolate Box Girls series. Cathy went to Art College in Liverpool then got a job as fiction editor on Jackie magazine. She taught art in a Coventry secondary school for a few years before moving to Scotland with her husband to start a family. She continued to be an art teacher in the wilds of west Scotland for several years until she became a full-time writer. Cathy and her husband Liam have two grown-up children and a whole bunch of unruly animals, and now live in Merseyside.


Moodboard for Cathy Cassidy

Penguin Books Australia (2009)

From her website as also her works, it was quite clear about her taste for book cover design as cute, colorful, girly and so forth.


Ed Vere

Ed Vere writes and illustrates picture books, and his books are published all over the world. His first book, The Getaway, won the Highland Children’s Book Award in 2007. The following year, Banana was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Prize. In 2009, Mr Big was Booktrust’s official Booktime book, reaching 750,000 British schoolchildren – the largest single print run for a picture book! In the same year, pop-up book Chick won the Booktrust Early Years Award for best baby book. His latest book is Max the Brave, to be followed by Max at Night in spring 2015.

Bedtime for Monsters was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2011 and the next year Ed had the honour of being one of the four Roald Dahl Funny Prize judges, along with Michael Rosen. Ed also works on many projects related to his books…from speaking at festivals in Rio and Kerala and curating festivals in the UK, to appearing onstage with the Britten Sinfonia and the Neil Cowley Trio to bring Mr Big to life with music and live drawing. Recently Ed worked with Tiger Aspect to develop an animated TV series and is currently working with the Little Angel Theatre on a production of Mr Big.


Moodboard for Ed Vere

3) —————————————————————————————————————————–

Mood Board 2 – Market Research

(What genre is the book? Where is it displayed? What other titles are similar? What do other covers in this genre look like?)


Mood Board 3 – Customer ID
(Who is the book aimed at? What other books will your customer be reading? What do you they look like? What other interests do they have? How old are they?)


Mood Board – Themes
(What three themes are strongest in your book? What initial visual ideas do you associate with these themes?)


Following the storyline, I picked up 3 main themes which brought the most significant impact to me after reading the book: evacuation – the train, skull – the curse, burning house – unforgettable memory.

4) —————————————————————————————————————————–

3 x 1 Theme – exploring sub-themes
Selecting one theme that you feel has the most potential, explore the theme from varying perspectives. This will help you to identify sub-themes and to build upon your existing visual research enabling you to discard content that distracts rather than enhances your theme. It may help to create mind maps before you identify the strongest theme. This could help you to clarify your thought process and to re-evaluate the theme that you wish to explore.

evacuation - theme1


skull - theme1

Skull – The Curse

burning house - theme3

Burning house – Carrie’s unforgettable memory

1 x Typography
What makes good book cover typography? What are the current typographic trends? What typography is used on book covers of the same/similar genre? What impact does colour play in typography and legibility and, finally, how important is the relationship between the title and the author’s name? What else should you consider?


1 x Author 
Both books are described as semi-autobiographical. What will an exploration of the author’s life reveal? Will it provide additional context to the book? What are/were the author’s influences? What other work have they done? What do other books of a semi-autobiographical nature look like?


1 x Historical Context. Scene setting.
Explore the historical context of the book. What era is it set in? What do the characters look like? How will they dress? What does their environment look like? How do they interact? Who are the central figures? Start to set the scene by researching time, place and situations that impact on their behaviour.

5) —————————————————————————————————————————–

For the week after assessing all the moodboards above, I needed to come prepared to bring with 12 interpretations of covers demonstrating how I have visually communicated my chosen theme/concept with type, image and materials. These should be completed using the Penguin/Puffin template and using all the required text for front, spine and back cover. Each cover interpretation should be on an A3 sheet, so therefore I need to bring 12 x A3 sheets with me. However, I could only come up with 8 different ideas in total. I knew after this day, I would pick up only one or two design to keep working on for the final outcome. Hence, I focused on showing the concept and idea with simple illustration, clear typography.

All of my designs were followed a long the 3 main themes of the book which I mentioned above and I realized one interesting point was that customers could only see the spine of the book in the bookshelf at the bookstore. Therefore, I made a small icon on the spine for every design of mine to represent the front cover of the book. This idea has been appreciated by the tutor and other students as next week, some of them decided to follow me to make the same technique on their design.

Below here were my book-cover designs before coming to the final one:

childrens_award_design_template2-1f childrens_award_design_template2-2f childrens_award_design_template3f childrens_award_design_template4-4-4f childrens_award_design_template5f childrens_award_design_template6f childrens_award_design_template7-7f childrens_award_design_template7f childrens_award_design_template4-4-af childrens_award_design_template8f


Even though I brought all the designs, everyone instantly picked up the one above and suggested me to work on this design till the end. Therefore, I didn’t need to speak about other designs here.

As can be seen clearly from the front cover, the train was quite a strong image for the whole story. Carrie’s war started with a train and also ended with a train. I chose to make the text “Carrie’s war” look like the railway but everyone advised me to remove it and made the smoke from the train’s locomotives become bigger to cover the text from behind. Of course, I totally agreed with everything when I was quite uncritical about this project. Frankly, I have missed the first two sessions for the moodboards and tried to catch up everyone and finish everything in an appropriate way.

6) —————————————————————————————————————————-

Some improvement before final design



My tutor suggested me last time to change the type of train into a proper one from Britain because my train was an American train and the blue and red color also illustrated in his mind about US flag. He told me that I should use green and red as the mainstream color of Wales.

Hence, I came up with my final design as been shown from top of everything:


And that’s all about this practical project. Although I was not really critical about it, I have learnt a lot from my tutors and other students as also did a dozen of research till the final outcome as above. Because I have not been a good graphic designer yet, I could only do as far as much as above.


BBC Radio 4 (2015) ‘ The Art of Book Cover Design ‘ [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 4th February 2015]

Graphic Competitions (2015) ‘ Penguin Design Award 2015 ‘ [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 1st February 2015]

Micklethwaite, P. (2015) ‘ Practical Project Briefs ‘ [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 19th January 2015]

Penguin Books Australia (2009) ‘ Cathy Cassidy in Australia ‘, [Online] Aug 17th, 2009. Available at: [Accessed: 09 February 2015]

Penguin Design Award (2015a) ‘ Children’s Cover Award – The Brief ‘ [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 3rd February 2015]

Penguin Design Award (2015b) ‘ Children’s Cover Award – The Judges ‘ [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 3rd February 2015]

Theinternbook (2012a) ‘ HOW TO MAKE IT (HTMI) – Children’s Publishing (Top 5 Tips – FRANCESCA DOW, Penguin) ‘, [Online] Mar 8th, 2012. Available at: [Accessed: 09 February 2015]

Theinternbook (2012b) ‘ HOW TO MAKE IT (HTMI) – Art Director (Top 5 Tips – ANNA BILLSON, Penguin Books) ‘, [Online] May 7th, 2012. Available at: [Accessed: 09 February 2015]


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