A Clockwork Orange – Penguin Book Cover

Penguin Random House hold a book cover design competition every year for students, and their 2016 brief for the Adult Fiction Award was Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.

Sadly, I got caught up in other things and missed the deadline for the competition this year, but I designed a cover I’m quite proud of anyhow. 

Discovering that this was the book to design for was joyous news to me, because, by either great coincidence or act of God(s), I’d read A Clockwork Orange during the summer a few months before (which is especially incredible because of my level of unculture and unreading.) That was the first task of the project out of the way. Next was to watch the film.

The film was great! I’m a big fan of Kubrick’s cinematographic style (2001 is one of my all-time favourite films) and watching it gave me lots of inspiration for visuals and themes on which to focus which I hadn’t got from the book itself.

After that, we had Cath Davies come into the class to talk with us about the story and its themes, messages, concepts, motifs, etc.; and that, too, was very helpful in understanding it in a different way.

Then came research. The story being a classic, there were lots of different existing designs from which to take inspiration/heed — in fact, it quickly dawned on me that it wasn’t necessarily a good thing that it was so popular.

The brief specified that it should be designed for a new generation of readers, communicate the themes of the book’s narrative, and avoid clichés, so I chose to ruthlessly narrow down my ideas by culling the most popular clichés and trying to think of different ways to go about approaching the key themes of the story. The danger in doing so, however, is diluting or over-complicating those themes into meaninglessness.

Right after some research, I actually already had an idea in my head that I really liked, so I went straight to photoshop for a mockup.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 23.01.52

After staring at it a while and going away and coming back and staring at it some more, I decided to stick with and develop this early attempt. I think it avoids most of the clichés, while still being engaging, and it ties in with key concepts of the story.

The idea of the design was to directly reference the character, F. Alexander, who [SPOILERS] is beaten by the main character, and whose own book (which also gets destroyed by the lead) is called ‘A Clockwork Orange‘.

The red stain is intentionally ambiguous. It can either be seen as blood, as if the book has been plucked from the story itself and given to the reader, or it can be viewed as red wine — a reference to the main character’s love for culture and sophistication.

After a few reiterations, I finally had a design I was very happy with. It all happened to fast!


A Clockwork Orange9

This was a very very fun project, despite not actually being able to enter the competition and see what the professionals thought of my design. In fact, being in Venice while working on it, I didn’t really have access to as much constructive feedback as I was used to, so I’m looking forward to being back in Cardiff and entering next year’s competition!

Moreover, I’m looking forward to designing lots more book covers in general! Who knows, maybe it’ll encourage me to read more.

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