Art of Album Cover Design

branding, design, design inspiration, inspirational people, music, poster

I love love love album cover art on CDs and records and even tapes. I had a really hard time getting into iTunes and MP3s because I just really love album art. I love having something tangible to go along with the story an album is telling. I do love the convenience factor of not leaving my house to buy an album and, of course, the instant gratification factor. But I feel like I’m missing out on a whole world of new album art. Last night, I was thinking about how long it had been since I bought an album with truly unique packaging and design. It’s been awhile. I did notice that a lot of my newer albums come in greener cardboard packaging, some touting soy ink, which seems to be an industry trend not just reserved for hippie bluegrass bands anymore – and I can pretty much get on board with that.

So with that being said, some of my all time (more modern) favorites are:

Vaughan Oliver’s Doolittle cover for the Pixies and 4AD records.

JDK Design for Phish’s Hampton Comes Alive (say what you will about my hippie past, this is a classic piece of design!). JDK may be more widely recognized for work on the Burton brand and XBOX360.

Doyle Partners continues to create simple, clean design that still manages to reflect the wide variety of music on Nonesuch records. As far as I can tell, Nonesuch tries to make unique and hard to find music accessible to the average human. I’m a sucker for a world music compilation album.

I listened to The Postal Service relentlessly in college, but also love the retro vibe of the really sparse, yet almost gritty album art. Design by Jeff Kleinsmith for Sub Pop Records.

In the eco-friendly, well-designed category we have the work of Lively and Motch for Jack Johnson, among other neuvo-hippie bands. I think it’s a nice showcase of color and photography without being overwhelming (although I managed to take a photo with no real color..).

Also in the lower-impact packaging category is the Pearl Jam greatist hits Rear View Mirror featuring the work of Brad Klausen. I like that it’s not glossy, for a change of pace. And I think it delivers what any great fan of a band wants – lots of pictures laid out really well and not too small (tough to do on a CD format).

And this last one I’m going to highlight was an impulse purchase a few years ago, based solely on the album cover. I’m not a huge Counting Crows fan, but there were enough songs on this “best of” for me to warrant purchasing based on looks. I hear it’s okay to buy music and wine based on label alone. Or I made that up, maybe. But regardless, I love the attention to detail on this basically two-color piece. Had a hard time finding info on the designer, but here’s the little bit I found on J. Gnewikow.

I’ve crossed paths with some newer art that I think is definitely worth mentioning. I’ve really enjoyed the Distant Station works for The National. And I’m truly enjoying some of the newer artists and albums (and newer albums of older artists) designed by Decoder Ring.

So now that I’ve overwhelmed y’all with excessive links, here’s my take on all of this album design: What continues to draw me in to designing for musicians is the opportunity to visually interpret the message that the musician is audibly creating. A fancy way of saying that it’s like a really fun collaboration of ideas built on ideas. I would venture to say that it’s maybe the most creative form of graphic design. Hopefully one day young designers will be admiring my album art. Hopefully one day my husband will finish an album I can design! Album below, printer’s proof for Kristin Ford, singer/songwriter/guitarist (Photos by Shaleigh Comerford). Super fun project to work on!

(ONE more thing, I promise! In finding the links for this post, I happened on an interesting article about expressive type as cultural storytelling. Find it here.)

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