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The Compete Brief

As a module, Compete focuses on zoning in on live industry competition briefs, according to our own personal interests and direction. Recognised organisations publishing briefs include:

D&AD - Penguin Book Cover - RSA - Red Dot Design  - Communication Arts Design Competition - Core77 - Designpreis Halle - YCN Awards - UX Design Award - ISTD - Creative Conscience - Conference 

The compete module highlights that communication design doesn’t exist in a bubble, but rather is hewn with histories and contexts affected by the design industry. The key is to utilise innovative and provocative methodologies to make your work stand out amongst other entries, whilst also appreciating the current cultural, technological, and social landscapes. Alongside the brief, ther is a requirement to develop a personal strategic plan for your future practice and career, that will build insights into your own ambitions and professional interests, potential funding streams, and a strategy to achieve these goals. This should be compiled into a 20-minute verbal and visual presentation.

My Brief Choices

Unfortunately, the yearly Penguin Book Cover competition is not running this year, which was my immediate go-to option as I enjoy cover design and had an opportunity to develop skills in this area during my BA. However, Penguin do accept non-student entries, provided that you have not had a year worth of professional design experience, therefore I will definitely be participating in this brief as a graduate next year. 

Because of this choice, I was then immediately drawn to the Stratford Literary Festival Young Poets Book Cover competition. This brief involves designign the cover for anthology of poets submitted as part of the festival, encouraging young people to develop their own creative writing skills. The poems would all be written by 5-21 year old writers, at various stages of their writing passion. The brief states that the poems do not follow a set theme, meaning that the anthology book cover would be a real design challenge, as I would not have access to the source material. Nonetheless, this would be a great addition both to my CV and illustration portfolio, as it also involves a follow-up commission with Little Toller.

First Week Development

Dissecting the brief and research further, I have decided to take the approach of linking the cover directly to Stratford. As the material will be so varied, the only thematic content left to draw on is the Stratford location, the idea of poetry, and youth. This will form the groundwork of my development, however, media will also play a very large part. As poetry can be such a abstract concept, particularly for an anthology, cover designers often seem to take the route of communicating through media moreso than the subject itself.

Lecture with Alec Dudson

Alec Dudson launched Intern, a platform for young creatives, with the intention of removing the air of gatekeeping and unfair labour within the creative industries. The platform focuses on education and empowerment, because as he said, "exposure doesn't pay the rent". With this in mind, the lecture focused on practical skills involving working as a creative, such as pricing, confidence,a= and negotiation. My key take-aways from this session were:


  • Wherever possible, have the conversations in person

  • Consider your cost of living, with an understanding of what you are aiming for to build your pricing around a measurement of your skill and experience combined with how much you realistically need to live

  • Remember that as a freelancer you’ve got taxes to pay, admin to do and work to win

  • Take your survival cost, and multiply it by 3; one third is income, one third is overheads, and one third is savings

  • You set your rate, nobody else does

  • Big, ugly watermarks are a great way to get paid on time > : )


  • Balance between desired earnings, the timescale, and the size of the project

  • Payment can vary from hourly or daily rates, to flat rates, depending on the nature of the project

  • Value-based pricing should be taken with a pinch of salt, but it involves assessing the business and what the project stands to add in value


  • Contracts are used to protect the client as much as they are used to protect you, and it is important to mention them in the early stages of the conversation. Often, using the term ‘terms agreement’ feels less confrontational than a contract

  • Schedule parameters: work hours or days allocated to the project, as well as the hours in which you are contactable (e.g. 9am-5pm), schedule or timeline of the project, conditions for working over the time allotted (additional payment)

  • Client Responsibilities: communication with only one representative of the company (designated contact), brand assets needed from the client and when, number of client approvals from feedback (client changes), client cancellation fee

  • Samples and credit: stock footage, music, images, typefaces, that the client needs to pay for as resources, as well as you being credited for the work wherever it is published or displayed

  • Payment parameters: delays and termination terms, consequences of non-payment (e.g. a 30-day term, under UK law, an additional accrued fee is added per day, however you can also stipulate your own), coverage of legal fees by client in case of late or non-payment, method of payment

  • Usage (especially important for illustration): definition of media (what is it, how many), duration (e.g. worldwide imperpetuity), location

  • Electronic files: length of storage (who is storing it and where, physical backup means cost for hard drives etc), retrieval fee, file format and amount requirements  

Fourth Week Development

Something that is normally slightly neglected in my process is testing and adjusting, as once I have the final idea, I tend to rush into the making process. For this brief, I really took note of this and decided to dedictate time to media testing, as I had it to spare. Trial and error is especially essential to my chosen medium of lino print, as cutting the plate is very time consuming and you don't entirely know the final product until the printing stage. Because of this, I created two smaller scale samples of elements of the cover to test different mark-making and tone disrtibution. Once I was happy with them, I went on to designing the back cover, and ultimately cutting and printing both plates.


This was a very full-on week production wise, as I spent a total of 16 hours cutting lino. Despite this, this is by far the print I am happiest with so far, and it had led to a lot of skills development as far as mark-making and proofing goes.

Final Week Development

This week was dedicated entirely to the Compete module, with the deadline fast approaching. I spent this week digitally editing the cover, playing with colour, choosing typography, and assembling the whole thing. It was such a massive relief to have this thing done, and I am ultimately proud of the final outcome. 

Second Week Development

At this stage, I am deep into my research, looking into Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as how book covers are professionally produced. This has allowed for a lot of reflection on the next steps after university, as the more I research the publishing industry the more I am swayed away from considering it as a potential goal. The level of collaboration and lack of control working as an in-house designer feels quite overwhelming, particularly for larger publishing houses. 

Third Week Development

After a period of research and idea generation, I have landed on the concept I am choosing, representing a swan's nest full of hatching young writers. The swan is used throughout the festival's identity, but also is a strong symbol of Stratford that has cropped up within the chosen covers over the years. Throughout this process I applied some of the idea generation strategies taught on my BA course, which allowed me to really streamline my process whilst also get a varied amount of thumbnail sketches down. There was a lot of back and forth at this stage, more so than I would usually do, as due to being a live brief I wanted to make sure to get this exactly right.

Consultancy Lecture

“Most see the designer as a set of hands – a supplier – not as a strategic part of business. It can be a clients uninformed, unfocused preferences of prejudices, their likes and dislikes, that too often determine the look of things” – Paul Rand

During the lecture, we were posed with several questions that might help to illuminate our understanding of our own practice, and therefore the competition direction.

What do you dislike about design?

I dislike the philosophy that a designer is a 'blank slate' and simply answers the needs of a brief, rather than having some inherent personal input

What do you like about it?

I like the fact that design, unlike fine art for example, it can often be universally understood and doesn't require being 'clued in'. It feels a lot more accessible, and essential, to the general public.

How would you like to work?

I enjoy a blended work approach. The idea of constantly being around a team, and constantly collaborating, would drive me insane, as I often work at my best when I am left alone and get 'stuck in'. At the same time, I enjoy the debating, negotiation, and feedback that a team can provide. I would like to work on longer projects rather than quick, stressful briefs, and have a lot of input in various areas of the project, rather than being set one specific task.

Is solving a problem enough?

I don't think so, I am not a fan of design (or thinking) which is that linear. I also think not everything needs to aim to solve a problem - sometimes raising an itneresting observation, or letting the viewer ponder, is satisfying enough.

Is there a key philosophy, belief, or objective to your work?

My work always pulls from a wide variety of sources and experiences, in a very left and right brained merging way. A lot of the time starts as a process of intellectualising feelings, or vice versa.

How should your personality be part of your creative output?

I strongly believe that your personality *is* your creative output.

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