Penguin publicizes the winners of its 2022 Cowl Design Awards

By Lilja Cardew

Penguin is of course renowned for its cover designs, meaning that competition for its awards is fierce. This year there are three categories: Adult Fiction, Adult Non-Fiction and Children’s, with participants invited to reimagine the covers for titles by Bernardine Evaristo, Dara McAnulty, and Robin Stevens.

Over 1,500 entries were received this year, with the publisher opening up the award to anyone interested in becoming a designer, regardless of their higher education status (previously those entering were required to be studying on a further education or higher education course).

This change was introduced as Penguin does not require degrees for any of its roles, so wanted to remove that criteria to offer more people the opportunity to experience a real-life book cover design brief and be mentored by one of their designers. Around 20% of the shortlist were able to submit this year because of the eligibility change.


For this award, participants were asked to created a new design for Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other which “explores identity, race, womanhood, and what it is to be British through the lives of 12 very different people”, according to the publisher.

The novel defies traditional genres and entrants were asked to reflect this in their designs. The overall winner was Karla Aryee, with Isabelle Poulson and Mollie Boardman coming in second and third places respectively.

Karla_Aryee_full_cover no BleedBy Karla Aryee
Isabelle_Poulson_Full Cover Design Without Bleed and Crop MarksBy Isabelle Poulson
Mollie Boardman_Girl, Woman, Other full spreadBy Mollie Boardman

“My cover design was hand-made using the paper-weaving technique, which involves strips of paper being interwoven to create a grid consisting of one or more pictures,” says Aryee. “Interweaving pictures of multiple women enhances the book’s theme of interconnectivity between the 12 characters. I integrated adinkra symbols into the cover design as well as they have been used throughout the book to symbolise each character’s story and create a strong sense of identity. Pairing the adinkra symbols with a vibrant dashiki pattern helped bring life to the cover design by introducing vivid, contrasting colours that make it stand out.”


Entrants in this category were asked to create new designs for Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty, which “explores the natural world through the eyes of McAnulty, an autistic teenager coping with the uprooting of home, school, and his mental health, while pursuing his life as a conservationist and environmental activist”. The brief asked entrants to design a beautiful cover that does justice to McAnulty’s intimate and personal memoir, and to the natural world he immerses himself in.

The first prize in this category went to Lilja Cardew, with Nancy Jackson and Zofia Chamienia receiving second and third places respectively.

Lilja Cardew_Full cover design wo bleed & cropBy Lilja Cardew
Nancy Jackson_Full Cover Design_Without bleed and crop marksBy Nancy Jackson
Zofia Chamienia coverBy Zofia Chamienia

“I kept coming back to the way the natural world around Dara was a grounding force for his anxiety,” says Lilja Cardew of the concept behind her winning design. “Lying in deep grass is soothing, at least to me. All the senses are heightened. The smell of the earth and grass. The rustling and crackling of the insects, yet intense silence rises from the soil. I relate to Dara’s attachment to nature, and the more I drew, the narrower the view became, until green grass represented the nuances, all too often overlooked, that Dara writes about so beautifully.”


Entries in the children’s section saw a redesign of the cover for Murder Most Unladylike, the first mystery in the bestselling, award-winning series by Robin Stevens. Entrants were tasked with designing a fresh and inventive cover for this fun book, with an audience of children aged 9 to 11 in mind.

The winning cover was designed by Cassia Samson, with work by Charlotte Jones and Rebecca Sheerin in second and third place.

Cassia_Samson_Full_cover_NO MARKS 2 jpegBy Cassia Samson
Charlotte_Jones_Full_Cover_no_bleedBy Charlotte_Jones
Rebecca Sheerin - Full Spread No BleedBy Rebecca Sheerin

“Whilst reading the book, one of my favourite parts were Hazel’s notes, it brought a sense of fun,” says Cassia Samson of the ideas behind her design. “As it is written in Hazel’s perspective, her note-taking role is an integral part of the story and narrative, so my concept stemmed from that. The focus of the cover concept is the note and paper. With the papers falling from her briefcase, it sets up Hazel’s role, indulging in the sense of mystery with her ‘Private’ book.

“I wanted the illustration to reflect the 1930s when it is set, inspired by covers of Enid Blyton’s books. The colour palette was important to make bold and complimentary, and I also wanted the girls to be dressed in 1930s English boarding school clothes to help visualise the characters but leave a sense of mystery by not revealing their faces until you turn to the back.”

The winning designs were chosen by a panel of judges including managing directors and art directors from across Penguin Random House UK, as well as artist Anna-Maria Nabirye; designers Clare Skeats and Nathan Burton; author and illustrator Harry Woodgate; author Robin Stevens; and creative Nina Tara.

The designers achieving first place in each category will be given the opportunity of being paired with a designer from Penguin for a six-month mentorship. In addition all the winners and runners up receive a package of prizes, including a one year subscription to Creative Review.