The Enduring Nature of Great Design: Album Covers


As a young design student in the late seventies and early eighties, music was central to everything I did. Going to gigs, discovering new bands and buying wonderfully innovative new albums en masse was part of everyday student life. Image was also inescapable: your look, your tribe, which fanzines you read and crucially for me the image bands portrayed stylistically and visually. Of course, in those days no one really talked about branding it was all about: cover art, flyers, posters, the music press and of course T-shirts. Yet the best album covers are often part of enduring and carefully curated brand identities which have been co-created by both the band and their designer of choice.

Whilst shopping online the other week I noticed that Universal Works, those exponents of fine British utility clothing, have teamed up with Goodhood and Joy Division to celebrate 40 years since the release of the latter’s seminal debut album ‘Unknown Pleasures’. They have jointly created a capsule range of clothing suitably fashionable but reassuringly reverential. As a proud owner of an original vinyl copy purchased on release day it struck me how influential, original and timeless that album cover has proved to be. It launched one of the seminal bands from cult status to stardom and announced Peter Saville ‘the designer’ to the wider world. The inherent sophistication of the design driven by a simple and powerful idea was an unexpected and significant shift from the directness and edginess of punk, which was by now merging into the new wave scene.

I still love the tactile nature and physical engagement of the old album format, but even the new and shiny world of Spotify proudly features album art as a principle method of recognition and engagement. 

My son proudly displays my original copy in his room, lovingly looked after and still relevant today.