‘I was bowled over by the quality of the entries this year, we had a very diverse array of designs which showed how deeply everyone had thought about the brief and how competently they mastered their art and their styles’

- Richard Bravery, Art Director, Penguin General Books


1st Place, Megan Kerr – Edinburgh Napier University

Megan Kerr's cover design of 'The Uninhabitable Earth'

The Uninhabitable Earth inspired my design through the feeling it gave me while reading, I pictured a scorched earth being stripped of its resources at the hands of the people it provides for. 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. The ‘Earth’ is burned away to reveal bursts of colour to hint at the effects of global warming, such as red representing the burning forests and blue to represent the rising sea levels. The image is smudged downwards to mimic a fingerprint to remind us how uniquely we each can impact the state of the world today and for the future.

Comments from the judges:

‘A fantastic entry, this really stood out and there was a lot of consensus on how brilliant it is. I love it, I thought it was really well considered, the fingerprint took on an abyss-like quality that I kept on falling into – very accomplished’ Richard Bravery – Art Director, Penguin General Books

‘I absolutely loved this design – I thought it was powerful, simple and effective. What I liked most about it was it was like staring into a black hole and having the feeling that it was widening and expanding – an amazing piece of design’ Joy Yamusangie

‘It stood out from the first – amongst the hundreds of entries no one else had done anything quite like this. Very striking’ Jim Stoddart – Art Director, Penguin Press

‘I loved the cover – the black dot draws you in and it hammers home an unsettling feeling of something that you can’t quite distinguish’ Clive Russell

‘A clear winner – the image represented the book perfectly’ Lee Motley – Art Director, Penguin Michael Joseph

2nd Place, Gretchen Altenberger – College for Creative Studies, USA

Gretchen Altenberger's cover design of 'The Uninhabitable Earth'

The jarring truth delineated by Wallace-Wells evokes imagery akin to dystopian movies and novels. The inhospitable landscapes that come to mind are not, however, the distant worlds of fiction, but rather reality. The imagery of the world submerged underwater, scorched by heat, burned by flames, and melted away provokes an urgency for change. It was this grim projection of what I might view through my window in the near future that informed my design. I aimed to illustrate a desolate world we may no longer be contemplating in works of fiction, but rather attempting to live in ourselves.

Comments from the judges:

‘A really fantastic design – it’s such a rewarding image, the more you stare at it the more you see. Really beautifully composed – it bowled us over how the title was integrated and how much was communicated in such a small space’ Richard Bravery – Art Director, Penguin General Books

‘I love the way the title is integrated into the illustration – it’s a dark and beautiful cover’ Joy Yamusangie

‘There’s a really filmic quality to the image and a lot of thought in it’ Jim Stoddart – Art Director, Penguin Press

‘A lovely way of integrating the title into the cover – a brilliant design’ Clive Russell

‘A beautiful design – I love the way it goes from the back to the spine to the front. It gets the message of the book across perfectly’ Lee Motley – Art Director, Penguin Michael Joseph

3rd Place, Thomas Ive – The Glasgow School of Art

Thomas Ive's cover design of 'The Uninhabitable Earth'

My approach focuses on the synecdoche of sweat: a visual depiction of a bodily reaction to the climate crisis experienced by every human on earth. The cover presents a close-up of the human response, whilst the back reveals a wider perspective of the harm we’re placing on the natural world.

Comments from the judges:

‘I loved the instantaneous nature of this – it really stood out amongst the hundreds of entries. The simple, clever use of photography cuts to the heart of what it is to be human in this story and our responsibilities therein’ Richard Bravery – Art Director, Penguin General Books

‘A great design, it has a really intense feel to it – Thomas properly understood the brief and communicated it very creatively’ Joy Yamusangie

 ‘A very gutsy cover – one of the few photographic entries’ Jim Stoddart – Art Director, Penguin Press

‘A very unusual, very brave design choice (although I’d like to have seen more of a scared eye!)’ Clive Russell

‘Very impactful and bold – we loved this cover’ Lee Motley – Art Director, Penguin Michael Joseph


Lauren Avery – University of Northampton

Lauren Avery's cover design of 'The Uninhabitable Earth'

My concept plays on the idea of the book being an urgent warning to humanity about our future in regards to the disregarded danger of climate change and the ecological destruction it brings. The book is a call to action, so I aimed to bring that to life by emulating the cover as a real-life warning sign, using realistic textures and imagery to attach a sense of realism and demand attention with its bright warning colours. Warning signs often use iconography to visually inform, and I used this idea to visually communicate the negative consequences of climate change. 

Susana Barbosa – Escola Superior de Artes e Design de Matosinhos, Portugal

Susana Barbosa's cover design of 'The Uninhabitable Earth'

For this project, one of the main concerns was to make the compositions almost tangible, as if it were possible to feel the texture and plasticity created. There was a need to attract the viewer's attention, the theme asked for voice, affirmation and impact. And for that reason, the nature of the work was the same, to intrigue anyone who observed it. Through the textures I wanted to create expression and a certain brutality. In conclusion, I tried to transmit a message, to reinforce the power and impact that this book has.

Rebecca Bull – Leeds Arts University

Rebecca Bull's cover design of 'The Uninhabitable Earth'

Due to the nature of the contents, I wanted the book to be seen as approachable while still communicating the harsh reality that the book discloses. Drawn towards two key elements I use a burnt orange background and a faded blue plant with a decaying leaf to suggest the earth becoming uninhabitable also insinuating the warming and destruction of the planet. The design was created by hand, creating more of an intimate connection between the book and the reader. 

Rowan Jolliffe – Coventry University

Rowan Jolliffe's cover design of 'The Uninhabitable Earth'

I knew that I wanted to capture the message of the book in a simple and dramatic design. A lot of the book uses scientific proof, which is commonly connected to graphs, implementing this into my design was important to reflect the research put into the book.  While the back cover is busy, I wanted the front cover to contrast this with emptiness showing the loss of life while not overwhelming the reader.

Kata Kocsispeter – Cambridge School of Art, Anglia Ruskin University

Kata Kocsispeter's cover design of 'The Uninhabitable Earth'

Starting the design I wanted to use a material that is deeply connected to global warming. Coal can be associated with the start of climate change, and charcoal is a metaphor of our possible end that the title reveals. Using pieces of coal, charcoal, and coal dust my aim was to create a cover that approaches the theme in a subtle and thought-provoking way. Keeping the design black and white intents to emphasize the seriousness of the content. The logo on the front was turned into an organic element of the concept. By removing the penguin the message ‘uninhabitable’ was amplified.

Abby Mundell – Falmouth University

Abby Mundell's cover design of 'The Uninhabitable Earth'

My intention with this design was to create a sense urgency about the climate emergency whilst retaining visual appeal and avoiding being offputtingly bleak. The montage of a very habitable world is full of lush detail designed to draw in the observer, but a violent rip on the page with a hastily scribbled ‘A Story of the Future’ reveals the dark reality of what might be in the very near future.


William Rogers – Cardiff Metropolitan University

William Rogers's cover design of 'The Uninhabitable Earth'

The idea for the cover design was to focus on one of the consequences of global warming that Wallace-Wells outlines in his book - the melting of the ice caps and subsequent rise in sea levels. To show the ice caps melting, I have applied a variable typeface to the title of the book. This is coupled with a water bubble effect, which has been implemented in order to convey the impact of rising sea levels. 

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