The Penguin Brief

I am always looking for opportunities and projects which allow me to explore my work and style within a commercial, “industry-appealing” perspective. That said, I thought the Penguin Brief was more suitable for me.

From the options available in this brief, I selected “A Brief History of Time”, by Stephen Hawking, as my book of choice. Though I usually prefer to work with Fiction books, I thought it could be more interesting and challenging to illustrate a Non-Fiction work this time.

I have never actually read “A Brief History of Time”, but I am familiar with it and I saw this brief as an opportunity to learn more about a fascinating subject.

The Brief

In “A Brief History of Time”, Stephen Hawking attempts to explain a range of subjects in cosmology, including the Big Bang, black holes and light cones, to the non-specialist reader. The book became a bestseller and sold more than 10 million copies.  It was also on the London ‘Sunday Times’ bestseller list for more than five years and was translated into more than 35 languages.

We are looking for a cover design that breaks boundaries in the way that the book did when it was published 30 years ago, in 1988. It should not look like a textbook you read at school! This is a revolutionary science book with popular appeal. If you can get your hands on a copy of the book in order to get a sense of the narrative and concepts this will only help to inspire your design. The cover should feel timeless, confident and appeal to a whole new generation of readers.

We are looking for a striking cover design that is well executed, has an imaginative concept and clearly places the book for its market. While all elements of the jacket need to work together as a cohesive whole, remember that the front cover must be effective on its own and be eye-catching within a crowded bookshop setting. It also needs to be able to work onscreen for digital retailers such as Amazon.

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 a contemporary readership
  • show a good understanding of the marketplace
  • have a point of difference from the other book covers it is competing against

Aware that I would not have time to read “A Brief History of Time” in time for this brief, I looked up a few summaries, videos and documentaries that could help me grasp a sense of what theories are discussed in this book:

I then thought it best to quickly search what kind of covers had already been done for this specific book.

Apart from a couple of recent examples, these covers seemed quite boring, to be honest. Being a Non-Fiction book, I suppose it is less likely to be illustrated which, to me, makes it less appealing. The most common colours used here are black and blue, and the title is usually printed in big or bold letters. Images often depict Stephen Hawking himself or circular elements, such as planets or stars, or figures which refer to black holes.

I found the most recent examples (the main featured cover and the one on the lower left corner) very nice. Both depict a circular form which I believe is meant to represent a black hole. They are both simpler and more colourful than the traditional covers of this book, which I found more engaging.


Most covers of “A Brief History of Time” are very bold, dull and dark. Given the fact that this is a book which deals with complex theories, I do not think the existing covers for it are very successful. They contribute to the identification of this book as “heavy”, which does not make it appealing to the public.

This book was not written for academics, but rather for everyone, even those with no understanding of science theories. Thus, I think it is important to make it more appealing to young people, as it could make them interested in following a career in Physics or Cosmology.

Instead of focusing on reflecting its complexity, we should be trying to reflect how interesting it is. Thus, I intend to get away from the style often used in the existing covers and do something which feels lighter and less ‘cramped’.
I propose to create an illustrated cover that is simple – perhaps even minimal, yet interesting. It should be engaging but not contain too much information, and the illustrated style ought to appeal to a younger audience.


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