Stop, Listen and Design: Album Cover Artwork

Hello, my name is Kevin. I am addicted to packaging.

This addiction began in the 70s when I repeatedly saw a commercial for the Spirograph. In the commercial, after the girls and boys use the 'toy', one of the children repackages all of the contents inside its neat, red plastic-formed encasement inside an equally fascinating bright cardboard game box. 

I have no idea why that image and memory stuck with me all these years and yet the simplicity and clean organization of its boxing and unboxing has affected me since. It's how I pack, fold, and organize things in the real and electronic world. I like simple, minimal. I like super simple boxes and bags, tee-shirt logos. I like less, because it's more. I like shiny, but reserved and neat.

The Spirograph commercial inflicted (not infused or ingrained, but indeed inflicted as an actual sickness) in me a need for calm and organization. It has been in my design genes forever. Even when I was younger and when I was drawing made-up space ships (yes), I fitted them with very little decor, only adding the necessary equipment and decoration that I thought would keep the thing moving, floating. I've even left off parts of plastic models I would build because I didn't like that some parts just appeared to be embellishments; contradictory to my minimalistic goals, perhaps, I would leave off a left or right piece so there wasn't a full visual balance, but balanced to my eye.

I have yet to design any packaging - for fun or for pay. The only boxes I've set up were in a living room as a fort wall where I could shoot Nerf arrows from the taped-together arrowslit at the dog. Or my sister. 

In designing my own album covers for my electronic music (Just Like Humans catalog and Kintner), I found it difficult to contain my minimalism and represent the sounds of the album at the same time. I think this was because the music was too close to me and I knew the meanings, the story, the sweat and tears that went into producing it. Yet it was still a completely exciting challenge, one that I believe I executed best with my first album, Bayswater, and my most recent, NINE (2016).  These two covers, although different in design, represented the musical content best.

Designing album art to fully represent an artist and the content of the current release is super challenging. I cannot imagine the pressures of some agencies and an artist coming to agreements on that representation. (I've also read that some bands - erasure, for example - don't even have a say in the choice of the artwork, and/or leave it up to others to decide.) For the six designs here, I first came up with some ideas on paper, searched out and found the right artwork, if needed, then set aside all the ideas and parts for a week, and came back to them individually at a later time. 

The designs are packaging just as any type of graphic package design; the designer or agency is promising to represent fully the contents and must convey all the legal and other elements somewhere within the artwork (often to detriment - I used to get so mad that barcodes would interfere with a good design or photo on the back of a record album or CD). It's super fun to me to design these when asked, whether they get chosen or not.

I'm up for designing for some real musical people out there, so if you need any graphic design services, hit me up! It would actually be way cool and insane to use an actual Spirograph for the art!

You can find these designs and more, including those for my own electronic music releases, here.)