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It’s a cover up – students’ book designs for anti-establishment exposé put them in the running for national award

Date 24.05.2019

The cover of a bestselling book which exposes the power of the UK establishment has been redesigned by two University of Northampton students – and their work has seen them shortlisted for a prestigious prize.

Graphic Communication undergraduates Toby Clarke and Femke Smits have reached the finals of the Penguin Random House Design Award 2019 after coming up with inspired new cover designs for Owen Jones’ bestseller, The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

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The book from the left-wing political activist lifts the lid on a network of people who wield massive power and reap huge profits in the process, and sees Jones argue that they are the biggest threat to democracy in the UK.

The subject matter caught the imagination of both Toby and Femke, whose book covers found favour with the award judges.

Toby, who comes from Wolverton, Milton Keynes, produced a cover in the style of an official 10 Downing Street letter, with heavy blocks of redacted text. He’s also doctored a coat of arms at the top of the cover to include the words ‘Money’, ‘Greed’ and ‘Power’.

He said: “My design is inspired by the censorship Jones talks about in his book, and I deliberately made the redacted text resemble a brick wall, to signify the barriers the establishment put up to protect their interests. The coat of arms is pretty self-explanatory.”

He added: “This was the first idea that came into my head as I read the book, and the one I rolled with. I’m pleased to be shortlisted for the prize, but it’s not really sunk in yet – I’m sure it will become more real at the awards ceremony.”

Femke, who comes from Zeeland in the Netherlands, created a cover which features a finger pressing down on a small figure.

She said: “The subject matter of the book was completely new to me, as I wasn’t familiar with the UK government and forces above it – it’s a real eye-opener.

“In the Netherlands, I think we have a more open government that seems more in touch with the people – we have a prime minister who rides a bicycle to work like everybody else.

“My concept came to me pretty quickly and the final design is actually the first concept I made – it looks a little messy, and I really like the effect it has, it stands out.”

Trevor Brown, Programme Leader for Graphic Communication at the University, said: “Both our shortlisted students chose the hardest title, which is a dense and challenging read that deals with the complex and often clandestine power structures that exist in the UK.

“Both Toby and Femke have created powerful and intelligent cover designs that utilise subtle allegory to convey the Establishment’s control. Alexis Taylor [Subject Leader – Photography and Design] and I are very much looking forward to accompanying them to the awards ceremony and are hopeful one of them will pick up the top prize.”

Toby Clarke with his design.

Toby’s cover.

Toby’s cover features a doctored coat of arms.

Femke Smits with her book cover design.

Femke’s book cover.

The original cover of The Establishment.

The winners of the Penguin Random House Design Award 2019 will be announced at a special ceremony in London, on Wednesday 19 June.

The winner of each category will win a work placement within the Penguin Random House Design Studios as well as £1,000 in prize money. The winners of the second prize in each category will receive a £500 cash prize and the winners of the third prize in each category will receive a £350.