Design Studies

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Design Studies


How music and Graphic Design come together and the impact in the arts, culture, community and freedom.






CONTENT Turns out Graphic Design Should Be Heard as Much as Seen Acid House + Swiss Modernism: the Legacy of Clubbing on Graphics How Design and DJing are Actually Quite Similar The Cultural Capital of Designing For Musicians Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: How Punk is Still Impacting Graphic Design 7 15 19 21 29
Sound of Graphic Design: Amsterdam’s Lyanne Tonk and her Synaesthesia Thinking A Lesson in Record Sleeve Design from the Inimitable Hipgnosis This Swiss Magazine is the Print Equivalent of a Techno Album The Writers 31 35 39 41 43 45 JEREMY ALLEN MADELEINE MORLEY THE EDITORS EMILY GOSLING THE EDITORS
From Blue Note to Afrofuturism, Herbie Hancock’s Sleeve Designs Are as Adventurous as His Sounds Truly Radical: The Electrifying Graphics of

Turns out Graphic Design Should Be Heard as Much as Seen

We talk to long list of designers who work at the intersection of sound and design about how and why the two worlds so often meet.


Typography is often described in musical terms: we speak about its rhythm, pacing, and the relationships between positive and negative space. That may be because the technicalities and mathematics of type design and music are very similar: When we learn to read, after all, we “sound out” letters in order to form words. Typography is imbued with its own sense of semiotics we likely “hear” (at least internally) certain forms in different ways depending on the slopes, curvatures, connectivity, and spacing of letters. In simple terms, a script might “sound” gentle and flowing, like a piece of swanky restaurant background classical music; a jagged, erratically spaced display font, on the other hand, is shouty, wild, veering into white noise.


It’s little surprise, then, that so many designers working with typography also have an ear for music or sound, and recently we’ve seen a flurry of projects that unite the two; both in explicit ways such as designers who mostly work with traditional processes now releasing records and more abstract ones, such as exploring the meaning of the spaces between lettering and how that relates to the human voice. A designer firmly fitting into the first of those categories is Anthony Burrill. Known for his bold, striking letterpress pieces, his process is for the most part defiantly analog, but his past is colorfully electronic. In the late ’80s (at the height of the legendary Hacienda club) as a student in Manchester, he and some friends ran the short-lived rave in Oldham called Heck Ta Sea in a “stinky events room,” with Burrill designing the flyers. Its debut outing was a wild success that peaked with everyone going “absolutely mental” and a “binbag of money” for the organizers, according to Burrill (not bad considering its £2 entry fee). Its success was its downfall, however, with a policeman showing up at one of the organizer’s mom’s house, and soon putting an end to all that.

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His process is for the most part defiantly analog, but his past is colorfully electronic.

“I think it’s probably a similar part of the brain that links into music and visuals, as well as type,” Burrill says. “Thinking about the structure of music especially electronic music and how that’s built up from little pieces that all fit together, there’s something puzzle-like with the whole thing.” His own fascination with those layers and puzzle pieces is obvious from his letterpress printing works, and he points out that the alignment of rudimentary technology and future-facing experimentation can be traced directly back to the likes of Kraftwerk.

“It’s the machine and man together,” he says. “Working with a machine, but keeping a soul within it.” Bjork is a musician who puts this beautifully: “I find it so amazing when people tell me that electric music has not got soul, and they blame the computers… if there’s no soul in the music that’s because nobody put it there.” The same, of course, can be said for computer generated design: it’s up to the creator to add the magic.

Design and music, likewise, are about communication and intention. The tools used for both can be dull in the hands of one person, and utterly thrilling in those of another. Burrill was keenly aware of this when he ventured into his first formal music production in 2018, with the release of The Future is Now, a collaboration with DJ/producer Andrew Claristidge (of Acid Washed) that sits at the intersection of Chicago house and the east Sussex countryside. There are two tracks on the record: one, according to Burrill, is the archetypal “club banger,” while the other is a slightly more languid, lysergic lower tempo version. Both pay homage to those archetypal ’80s and ’90s club tracks that play with vocal samples (like this).

“Taking those methods and skills and applying it to a different medium unleashes a different part of your creative mind.”

“The idea was to make an acid record but not just a slavish recreation, something a little bit different,” says Burrill. “A lot of my role was jigging about in the background saying ‘that sounds brilliant, turn it up.’ It was almost like art direction in a way, setting a vibe and giving a brief. With any creative process, you have a rough idea of what you want and then while you’re working on it, it develops organically. Taking those methods and skills and applying it to a different medium unleashes a different part of your creative mind.”

Burrill, of course, designed the sleeve; with each of the limited-edition releases bearing a slightly different cover. “I like the idea of variety and seeing patterns in repetition,” he says. The titular phrase The Future is Now directly informed the simple geometric letterpress typeface; and the bright but pared back color palette, naturally, hints at the acid house vibes.


The relationship between sound and design can also be exploited as a canny move to promote a new typeface. When Fontsmith launched its FS Benjamin typeface, it collaborated with the agency DixonBaxi on a campaign entitled “Sounds of London,” releasing a record along with the font that used field recordings of London’s sounds and conversational snippets. Working with Zelig Sound, the team created a limited-edition vinyl record; its A side presents a melange of conversation, looped noises, and sound design that together creates an “immersive soundscape that captures the essence of city life.” The B side, according to Fontsmith, is just “10 minutes of raw field recordings.” For DixonBaxi, it was a chance to truly express what London is as with any city, a vital component of what makes London London is its sound.

“The great thing about sound is that it adds narrative, emotion, and rhythm, which design alone can’t capture,” says Dixon. “Sound is incredibly emotive.”

This isn’t the agency’s only adventure on wax. In summer 2018, the studio launched its first album, Ventricular Beats. Composed by Dean Valentine, and co-produced by DixonBaxi cofounder Simon Dixon, the record was inspired by DixonBaxi’s first feature film Tiger Raid, and is billed as a “haunting and bold foray into foreboding electronica on a grand scale.”

Today, much of DixonBaxi’s work is with television clients, and Dixon says that the link between sound and visual is the critical underpinning to making such projects successful. “We do a lot of brand experience, developing design systems that work across every platform, and that’s often driven by emotion or design theory which is driven by sound,” he says. “The more you understand the audible aspect of the design experience the better they interplay.” One example is the agency’s work with the Premier League: the team not only created a visual experience, but an anthem. “The great thing about sound is that it adds narrative, emotion, and rhythm, which design alone can’t capture,” says Dixon. “Sound is incredibly emotive.”


Dixon is right of course: it’s a cliche for a reason that a particular song, or even voice, can trigger something utterly visceral in us. (Just the menacing first few notes of Nirvana’s Aneurysm, for instance, take me back to the sheer devastation of my blotchy faced 16-year old self, post first heartbreak.) This highly personal, emotional, and place-connected resonance of sound is something Ran Zheng honed in on in her Look/Hear project, which she describes as “a system of aural and visual signals” in which typographic forms are generated, with the aim to trigger associations with certain people and certain environments in the viewer.

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The designer describes architecture as “frozen music” and type as “frozen sound.” She designed a visual system based on sound data from five places: a park, a street, a cafe, a subway, and an office. She then placed the letters from the words “look” and “hear” onto a 2D grid, then used 3D software to place them in a 3D space. Each letter was repeated into nine layers, and she then input the different 3D letter shapes into the grid. When the sounds played, this would modify the size and forms of the letters in realtime, and visualize the emotional differences between, say, the tranquility of a park and the fist-clenching horror of a rush-hour subway.

What this ultimately boils down to is a sense that just as we each interpret visual communication on a personal level, to an extent, we interpret sound individually, too. When we break down an image or a sound to its most basic components, they become abstract meaningless, even but together, as a cohesive whole created ultimately to tell us something, they become signifiers of a certain space, a certain time happiness, sadness, weddings, funerals.


Digital artist Fabien Zocco took this idea to its ultimate conclusion in his 2012 installation Aleph Relative. The piece used a net-connected program that captured messages such as emails and Google searches (again, these could be either banal or incredibly meaningful) and projected them continuously in their encoded form, leaving nothing but indecipherable symbols that are then recited by a vocal synthesizer to create equally incoherent noise.

Zocco’s project is vaguely menacing, though it’s not as out-and-out terrifying as Palimpsest, the collaboration between Japanese Fluxus veteran artist Yasunao Tone and musician Florian Hecker. The record attempts to find the “hidden meanings” in an anthology of 8th century Man’yōshū prints of Japanese poems. Tone scanned the characters into a computer, then played back the audible verses. The result is a barrage of noise and static, yet with a certain sense of rhythm that hints at the text’s original format somehow. Hecker magnified each piece of data from the scanned ink and fibers by 10,000; then divided the sound into two “voices,” placing one into each stereo channel. It’s not one for the faint of heart.

The notion of interrogating the abstract resonances of written text is one familiar to Austrian graphic designer Astrid Seme, who works across graphic design and sound, incorporating both seamlessly into much of her practice. For her, working with typography and the implication that these letterforms are created to be spoken means design and sound are inextricably linked. Her interest in combining the two in her work stems from a love of minimalist composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, who used graphical notation over traditional musical scores. “Where artists or composers established their own notation through the use of forms, today it stands alone as a visual work of art,” says Seme.

The designer played the flute as a child (“though I wouldn’t say that was crucial in my interest in sound,” she says), and feels that her design background and lack of formal musical training gives her a curious and open stance when it comes to working with sound. Underpinning all of her work is the connection between graphic letterforms and vocalized sound. “If you take a very simple glyph in a typeface, you don’t see as a blank space it has a certain length in speech,” says Seme. “It’s ephemeral, so you don’t notice it while you’re speaking. For me, it’s a super interesting connection.”

“Where artists or composers established their own notation through the use of forms, today it stands alone as a visual work of art”

Seme cites an example a project of hers that revolves around the words “Wien Mitte” (a rail and U-Bahn station in Vienna); she asked a speaker to consider the blank space between the two words, then she then “zoomed in” on that space, “like you’d zoom into a photo in Photoshop.” She explains: “I was interested in how you hear this blank space in speech. It was stretched; in the end, the longest one was 30 minutes, but in the beginning there was nothing.” The result is a sound work just shy of six minutes that begins by sounding like a YouTube pronunciation tool and veers rapidly into a disquieting piece that’s somewhere between noise art and utter terror.

Her explorations are similar to those of Dutch type designer Just Van Rossum; who acknowledges that the parallels between the sounds we “hear” when we read letters are highly subjective (consider dyslexia, for instance, in which a neurological processing difference makes it harder to decode a word into separate sounds than those without the condition.) Van Rossum has undertaken a number of examinations into the process of taking letters and transforming them into sound waves. These examinations look at the potential for a letter to “sound” different when typed in, say, Gotham compared to Garamond. When the letter shapes become sound waves, their change in shape and dimension naturally alters the pitch and volume.

His work is by no means unusual. Sonotype is a long-running collaborative project by Amy Papaelias and Jaanika Peerna that began in 2005 and uses sonogram interpretations of letters to create experimental typefaces that “make visible the differences and similarities of spoken and written language.” Similarly, in 2014 Norwegian designer Håkon Stensholt and programmer Paulo Barcelos created the tool Sound Meets Type, which allowed users to create new 3D typefaces from sound (a song, a voice, a piece of foley) which can then be modified to alter its weight, color, or elasticity. Stensholt describes sound as a “form-giver” a simple phrase that neatly encapsulates the notion of both design and sound-generation.

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Seme’s work draws on a number of traditions: the graphical notation of 20th century composers, of course; the formal and structural experimentation in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy; as well as Modernist works that combine poetry, sound, and typography, such as Kurt Schwitters’ 1927 experiments with a phonetic alphabet, which were largely inspired by Jan Tschichold’s Die neue Typographie. That Dadaist standpoint was crucial in Seme’s work with an ornithologist for Urbirds Singing The Sonata, a piece that uses birdsong to create a work that becomes a haunting and, at times, rather funny melange of the natural and the nonsensical.

That theme is one that was often employed by the Dadaist poets, who played with “visual features which do not apparently align with linguistic meaning,” as visual communication lecturer Dr. Barbara Brownie puts it in her essay Semiotics of Typography. She points to the “defiance of words” as being used by the likes of Dadaist poet Francis Picabia, who created poetry that used typographic symbols as graphic forms to destabilize meaning: when the visual and verbal don’t match up, the reader is more keenly aware of “both their identity and incongruity.”


Like many other designers, Simon Dixon of DixonBaxi got into the industry by designing record covers and rave flyers. “My first design studio was in the back of a record shop, so we’d trade design work for space,” he says. “I’ve a natural affinity to that. “When I started, the scene was very much a big overlap between graphic design and music.” For him, the reasons that so many design and type aficionados are also music and sound nuts are manifold: “It works on several levels. There’s a technical aspect to making music and design using a series of elements to build a narrative but both are very intuitive and emotive. Communication is very personal: design is not pure art, but there’s an artistic sensibility, and there are similarities with how you’d do that audibly.

“Finding the right note or sequence or a field recording is like a designer trying to find the right typeface or color. Artistic people care about details and telling stories or developing a narrative taking loose elements and turning them into something cohesive.”

So many designers we speak to (not least for our Design + Music strand) point toward a love of music as their first taste of design and its power. So many people we interview discuss drawing band logos or record label identities in their school books before they had ever even hear the phrase “graphic design.” For Burrill, the constructivist typeface on Kraftwerk’s iconic Man Machine cover, designed by Karl Klefisch (the back cover design is a straight copy of an El Lissitzky work, fact fans), proved incredibly inspiring: “It’s so styl-

ized–they’ve all got that slicked back hair… they could be a design studio as much as a music group,” he says.

“Finding the right note or sequence or a field recording is like a designer trying to find the right typeface or color”

Peruvian-born designer Jonathan Castro attributes black metal and punk graphics as his initiation into what graphic design is, and describes his love of music as “the inspiration for my whole life.” Today, his work is directly informed by experimental music: “When I started making graphic design I wanted the same sort of freedom you have in experimental music,” he says.

Castro also makes his own music. Meanwhile, Irish producer Iglooghost (a.k.a. Seamus Malliagh) creates an entire visual world and series of character designs around his sounds. This is nothing new, of course: graphic designer Niklaus Troxler founded the Willisau Jazz Festival in the ’70s, and ever since has been behind the event’s iconic annual posters. The characteristics of jazz its “sense of improvisation, individualism, sound, and rhythm” directly inform his design work.

“As a fledging designer you’re probably in your bedroom surrounded by posters and listening to tapes and records, so you create your own little environment,” says Burrill. “Basically I’m doing the same thing in the studio now. [Design can often be] just an extension of constantly playing music, and that music informing the work you do. You want to be in a band, you’re on the edges of all that stuff but you can still be involved somehow even if its just making flyers and posters just wanting to be part of the culture, and have your own little bit of it.”

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Acid House + Swiss Modernism: the Legacy of Clubbing on Graphics


It’s not often that acid house music and Swiss Modernism are discussed in the same breath. But for designer Rick Banks, founder of agency Face37, it was the logo for a now defunct Liverpool club called Cream that sparked an interest in the slick minimalism of the mid-20th century.

It makes sense, when you think about it; the much-lauded Factory Records and Manchester club Haçienda graphics by Peter Saville extol a sense of gridded calm in their promotion of jerky sonic chaos. Of course, the links between clubbing and graphic design are many, but it’s wonderful to see them celebrated and laid out so clearly in a new book from Banks, entitled Clubbed.

The much-lauded Factory Records and Manchester club Haçienda graphics by Peter Saville extol a sense of gridded calm in their promotion of jerky sonic chaos.

“Dance music was one of the biggest reasons I got into graphic design,” writes Banks in the introduction to the book. “I would obsess over the logos and try to redraw them in my school books.” While most students were busy perfecting the omnipresent interlinking ‘Cool S,’ Banks was poring over his Gatecrasher compilations, memorizing who designed what, and studying the grid systems of sleeves and flyers. “I would count how many columns compilations and club posters showed,” he says. Dance music was his roundabout education in the nuances of good design and what it meant to build a brand. As such, it also laid the foundations for his career.

“Clubs like Cream were my first experience of a typical ‘branding system,’ something I specialize in now,” he says. “The Haçienda, in a somewhat subversive, ‘questioning the system,’ ironic way, began acting like a quasi-powerful company with modern logos, bespoke fonts, and playful copy.” Indeed, the iconic club was in many ways defined by its graphics from Saville a “branding blueprint for the future,” as Banks puts it and one reflected and aped by clubs ever since (to varying degrees of success).

The beautifully tactile Clubbed documents this trajectory of UK clubbased graphics through 35 years of record, flyer, poster, and identity designs from the Haçienda days to the present. With such a wealth and breadth of

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imagery, the design of the book itself it kept pared back: type is set is Neue Haas Unica and Replica Mono throughout. Banks says the starry-night-like “diamond dust” fabric jacket was inspired by “when you’re in a nightclub and the light just sparkles,” and he was also influenced by artist Nick Walker’s book Vandalism.

Sure, 35 years isn’t a vast swathe of history, but thanks to the ephemeral nature of print like flyers and posters, it was no mean feat to gather the materials. Through a good year of online trawling and making connections between various designers and clubs, Banks found himself in a few sticky spots in terms of actually finding workable files: some images by Mark Farrow (who created work for the likes of Cream) were on negatives, which could only be scanned by one place in London with the right equipment.

“I wanted the book to be an archive and record of the fantastic design of this era,” says Banks, “but it’s so hard to get those designs as it was before people used the internet like they do now.” Other files were created using a program called Freehand (the precursor to Adobe Illustrator), which the vast majority of systems will no longer read. But thankfully designer Phil Sims (previously of the studio Dolphin, featured heavily in the book) happened to have a very old Mac with the operating system that ran the program. “They’d be lost forever if we didn’t do the book,” says Banks.

In other cases, the files only existed as physical printed ephemera; one Cream flyer was scanned in and painstakingly restored, while one Haçienda flyer was recreated letter for letter. Banks digitized the entire font on the latter flyer and released it as F51 (a nod to the Factory Records numbering system for its releases).

While many graphic design and dance music nerds are aware of the big guns of this whole scene studios like The Designers Republic, Farrow, and Trevor Jackson, which all figure heavily in the book what’s brilliant about Clubbed is its exhaustive documentation of lesser-known and very up to date practitioners. The comprehensiveness of the history means that, of course, that we see work that hasn’t stood the test of time as well as others. Certain ’90s illustration styles, for example, are particularly cringey and, depending on your taste, many graphic systems now feel entirely dated. But it was important for Banks not to let his own taste obscure the full picture, which is that minimalism, naturally, ages well and more maximal, punkish designs perhaps less so.

“Now that a graphic is likely just a throwaway square on Spotify, most record companies don’t give a shit, and get any 15-year-old with a laptop to bang it out.”

As Banks points out, a club or label’s graphics are only going to be as good as the commissioning, and the book delineates a point a few decades back where budgets were whopping compared to today. “They really put their money where their mouth is, and that’s quite rare nowadays,” says Banks. “Now

that a graphic is likely just a throwaway square on Spotify, most record companies don’t give a shit, and get any 15-year-old with a laptop to bang it out.”

Alongside the obvious stuff, one of the biggest highlights of the book is a comprehensive look at the graphics from Fabric, which stand out for their use of photography and clever art direction over purely typographic or illustrative approaches. As Clubbed’s writer Bill Brewster points out, there’s a “quiet confidence” in Fabric’s output “no DayGlo colors or lurid typography… there’s no shouting, because there’s no need.” The standouts are the 2007 “masks” series of posters, designed by Tom Darracott and art directed by Jonathon Cooke. They take a chilling rural folk-horror vibe with strange paganish characters and small, straightforward text. It’s little surprise these images were awarded Best in Book in the Creative Review Annual, and were featured as Images of the Year in the British Journal of Photography.

Among the (many other) graphics of note are the Letraset and Clip art-based lettering and designs by Ali Augur for Plastic People, which opened centrally in 1998 and later moved to Shoreditch to host the hugely influential FWD>> dubstep and grime night. There are some superb stories uncovered, too, such as that behind Boiler Room’s logo (a simple circle with the name set in Univers 93 Extra Black Extended) by designer Adam Tickle. “We literally ripped the sign off the old 1930s heating room of the warehouse we were in, put it through a scanner, and that became our logo for the first six months,” says CEO Blaise Belville in the book. Tickle then finessed the logo in an equally pilfering mode, borrowing from the Technics slipmat graphic and the Pure Garage logo, though he (probably quite rightly) surmises that “I don’t think people made that connection.”

Some of the most exciting designs for clubs in recent times are those for Numbers, the Glasgow-born club night and record label founded in 2003. The ever-evolving aesthetic and founders’ keen eye for exciting new graphics talent has seen them work with the likes of Adam Rodgers, Non-Porous, and Unfun.

“Clubbing” in its 90s and 00s sense feels spectral to the point of faded.

Approaching the end of the book, I feel a twinge of sadness; so many of these flyers and posters I’d previously used as a visual aide-mémoire. They sum up a nostalgia for long-gone good-times, and club environment wheezing its last breaths as London and other UK cities are being transformed beyond recognition. It’s a good and bad thing of course there are always exciting things emerging in the wake of older institutions but “clubbing” in its 90s and 00s sense feels spectral to the point of faded.

The majority of the clubs Clubbed documents have closed, and of the remainders (in London at least) it’s telling that the graphics for the Bethnal Green multi-use Oval Space have a very nice, but somewhat safe aesthetic.

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Story after story in this book tells of clubs leveled to make way for luxury apartments, councils too scared to renew licenses, and cities formalized into uniformity.

The city as a playground for sonic creativity and debauchery seems to be bulldozed for the most part to make way for a playgrounds for the rich. That is far from being news of course, and story after story in this book tells of clubs leveled to make way for luxury apartments, councils too scared to renew licenses, and cities formalized into uniformity. The shaky economy, too, has visibly pushed people back into their homes and in doing so, help gently push club doors shut.

“That’s another reason I did the book,” Banks says. “I do think clubbing is dying. It’s such a shame, as I think that we’re going to kill this culture. London specifically is obsessed with greed: flats and corporate culture have taken over. So the book is tinged with that sadness.”

How Design and DJing are Actually Quite Similar

Meet Shrimp Chung: product designer, graphic designer, DJ, feminist


The Korean graphic designer who works under the pseudonym Shrimp Chung manages to make poster design into something performative. Take her image of thick, red velvet curtains that part ways to reveal heavy eyelashes and full lips. Purple shadows drape the scene, exuding luxury the image draws you in like a piece of theater, but remains simply a two-dimensional graphic.

“From the age of five, I always thought shrimp were delicious,” says Chung with a shrug when asked about her new name. In many ways, she is always playing many roles: Chung is a product and UI designer for a tech company in Berlin by day, a graphic designer for friends and personal projects in the early evening, and a DJ by night.

“Design and DJing are actually quite similar,” she says. “They give me joy, they make me curious, and they force me to confront new challenges all the time.”

Often, Chung uses her design skills for the parties that she performs at, creating not just the music and atmosphere but also the poster and identity for a night. And because the posters live predominantly online, on Facebook pages and as Instagram posts, Chung’s poster art is often animated and GIFbased. “Designing for my sets means I get to control all of the creativity, and without a client,” says Chung. “It allows me to think and express myself without any barriers or limitations.”

The aforementioned red and purple poster is for an exhibition held last year called Japchinda (Korean for “mess up”), an event put on by Chung, Hyemi Yu, and Vakki Park, that explored the notion of gender performativity through graphic design and music. Drawing from the visuals of female drag and the symbolic connotations of curtains, Chung communicates the show’s themes of transformation and exaggeration. The Hidden Woman, a short story by French writer Colette filled with allusions to masks, dance, social performance, and transformation, was a key text for inspiration.

Chung always prioritizes the promotion of feminist causes in her graphic design practice: for last year’s Unlimited Edition (South Korea’s biggest independent publishing fair), she created the poster promoting a union

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of tables called SIS SEOUL, which brought together three Korean feminist groups. “The slogan for the event was ‘The more connected we get, the stronger we get’,” says Chung.

“I focused on the number of groups (three) and participating people (six), and created a design of triangles and hexagons that come together like a solid metal chain. I wanted to express robustness, strength, and solidarity with the design.”

The Cultural Capital of Designing For Musicians

Bráulio Amado, Isha Dipika Walia, and Timothy Luke unpack the long and symbiotic relationship between graphic design and music


Album art and gig posters have evolved beyond simple pieces of graphic design into an integral part of popular culture and design consciousness. Today, when you think of your favorite album, you’re just as likely to think of its cover or the Instagram post announcing it or the t-shirt you picked up on tour. But what does it take to give visual form to a totally non-visual medium? And what does the designer’s role look like when working for a client who is also a creator?

To find out, I sat down with Bráulio Amado, Isha Dipika Walia and Timothy Luke, all designers who have worked deeply with various musicians. During our conversation we explore the tensions that can arise between personal expression and label demands, the practical matters of designing for musicians, and why a musician client still remains such a “dream project” for so many designers.

How did you start working with musicians?

Timothy Luke: About six years ago A.G. Cook emailed me after seeing my work on Tumblr. Almost all of my work at that time was for magazines. He saw something in what I was doing that seemed relevant to work he was doing with Charli XCX. Working with him was a real revelatory moment for me, where I understood that there was a terrain of work in which I could explore my interests and motivations more directly. Since then, I’ve worked closely with PC music, and a small group of related artists.

The notion that we as designers often really love, really care about music really seems to speak to the fact that we experience a lot of belief around it. And the opportunity for us as designers is to participate in that belief, to shape, engender and leverage it. Artists with a lot of cultural capital are particularly motivating to work for because there’s so much of that belief to take advantage of; it’s an incredible affordance to work with. On the flip side, new artists present a different kind of opportunity to work with potential belief, and that brings its own energy.

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Bráulio Amado: When I was 13, I started doing crazy fan sites for bands that I liked. It was in the nu-metal music scene. I learned Photoshop and basic web-design. I had some friends who used to play in bands in Portugal, and I just started designing their record covers. I started getting more involved with the punk DIY scene. I started making more posters for shows my friends or I were playing in or organizing. When I was in Portugal, I’d just email bands and say, “I love your music. I’d love to design something for you.” A lot of times no one would reply, but sometimes they would get back to me and we would end up working together.

“The opportunity for us as designers is to participate in that belief, to shape, engender and leverage it.”

Once I moved to New York City, I started designing for clients who weren’t just my friends. I was working at Businessweek. The magazine happens almost in three days, and then there’d be two days where I had nothing to do. My friend was working at Good Room, and she was like, “I need these posters. I’ll let you do whatever you want. Just have fun with it.” So I was doing all these posters on those days when there was not much work to do at Bloomberg.

Isha Dipika Walia: I was online from a pretty young age being a music nerd. The first time I worked with a musician was through my first “internship” for a new streetwear brand that I got connected with because I recognized a music photographer I had been following on Tumblr at a concert when I was 18. The photographer didn’t have work for me but connected me with her friend who was starting the streetwear brand. So I was helping design T-shirts and making videos for this brand that was frequently working with other rappers in the NYC scene at the time.

Later I really got into the music design world when I met Bryan Rivera, in college. Bryan introduced me to his frequent collaborator, Travis Brothers. They were both working with other musicians at the time, as well. Bryan was working for Donda (Kanye West’s design studio) and later put me up for a very brief internship there. We were all just getting started in our professional practices when we first met and meeting them early on was definitely a turning point for me in what I understood of the relationship between music and design at the time. When you meet like-minded people, it shows you there are so many other ways for you to do the things you love. Working in music has shaped the value I have for collaboration and word of mouth so much it’s how you build creative communities.

What is the process of translating sound into something visual?

Amado: It’s unlike visualizing an article into an illustration; it’s way more abstract. There are some musicians, who have a very clear idea of what they

want. They know all the references and you just have to take all of that and piece it together to make sense. Contrary to that, if it’s a group of people trying to decide on stuff, they rely more on you to come up with ideas. Often when the brief is more open, the feedback can also be vague. I like both ways of working. It’s pretty rare when you send something and you nail it first try. It ends up being a fun process because you feel like you’re figuring everything out together with the artist. In some other instances, you’re just helping translate what they have in their head into something real.

Luke: Like Bráulio said, some people come with a lot of material that they want expressed or referenced. Others can be much more open or abstract. In my work, the relationship with the formal sonic qualities of the music is often really important. I’m interested in the connection between visuality and musicality, their related phenomenologies, and the shared motivations we as designers can share with musicians beyond cultural practice by communicating spatially, gesturally, physically, etcetera.

“Working in music has shaped the value I have for collaboration and word of mouth so much — it’s how you build creative communities.”

Dipika Walia: The process is definitely relative to the project and collaborators. In my experience, oftentimes it isn’t so linear. In many instances, I have had to begin working on visuals before the music has been completed. The sound can help guide and refine the sketches or loose ideas that may have already been brewing by way of the musician and designer’s intentions or personal interest or taste. For example, certain qualities of sound may evoke particular textures or palettes and so much symbolic imagery or graphics may be imagined from just one or two words in a single lyric.

How have you seen your relationship with musicians evolve over time as the music industry changes? figuring out how graphic designers’ jobs have changed as they navigate this industry is really interesting…

Luke: Music projects are increasingly visually ambitious, and, of course, more iterated assets are required now to flesh out a campaign across the obvious social arenas. In the relationships that I have, there’s certainly a motivation to achieve more ambitious or compelling experiences. There’s also a weariness around the formats and products we receive these experiences through, and I think it’s important to imagine more compelling platforms and vehicles for our relationship to music.

Amado: I never really worked on a big major label artwork until I worked for Rex Orange County. I had been working on that release for almost a year and

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there were five (or more?) different versions of the cover. We had to send the record to the vinyl factories really early to be pressed because it takes forever to press vinyl these days. That meant that there were several months where the label and us had all this time to do cool stuff to promote the record to develop social media stuff, videos, merchandise, special editions, etc.

Dipika Walia: The music industry is always in flux and there are constantly new outlets to design for. It feels like every time I meet a new musician they are having a newfound “aha moment” for each deliverable beyond the album artwork. There are so many other deliverables with increased visibility, so there’s a lot more demand that requires a range of skills. Art and creative direction have become more valuable in the industry and in my own practice because of the flux of outlets. It’s hard to determine which deliverable may end up sticking out the most from a campaign.

If working in the music industry is a spectrum [as a visual artist], the neutral middle point for me would be a small-to-medium-sized artist where there’s a single release, a package, and then maybe a t-shirt. Generally you have some some assurance over how it will exist in the world, but maybe their label or team will intervene here and there with the visuals. Then you get into the other ends of the spectrum: When you’re working with someone underground or a huge artist you really start to assess your relationship to the work as a creative. I ask myself whether I’m going to put in a huge amount of labor and effort into this because of my personal interest, or if I’m putting in a huge amount of my labor and interest because I will finally have a larger budget to push my own craft like run five Pantones on spread. With small artists the freedom comes in flexibility of constraints and less needs to get “approved,” and with big artists, bigger budgets and outlets to just do more.

“It’s pretty rare when you send something and you nail it first try.”

How do you balance between the label’s commercial interests and the designer’s creative interests?

Dipika Walia: This will sound really corny, but it’s true it actually is really about the fans; the people who are consuming the music. Sometimes it is an exception where it becomes more of a personal collaboration, when it’s with smaller artists.

Amado: Sometimes the labels are the ones who are in control of everything. Other times the musician has a bigger presence in the process. Sometimes, you want to please the audience more than the musician. Some musicians are in a position where they don’t care about the label at all and they do whatever they want. Sometimes they don’t even release vinyl. When it’s a small independent artist and they’re just doing everything themselves, and you really like the

music, you connect with them. It becomes a way for you to do work that you want to do, that you wouldn’t do otherwise. I just say we’ll figure it out in the end.

“Certain qualities of sound may evoke particular textures or palettes…”

Luke: I’ve had a few experiences where a label is intervening in frustrating ways, but for most of the work I do, if there’s a struggle, its in satisfying the expressive interests of the artist themselves.

Dipika Walia: Like Bráulio mentioned, with major label artists, there are all those little releases. I lost count of the amount of different packages we (Studio Pending) had to make for Chromatica. There’s an international version and a US version. There was a box set for the international version, but there wasn’t a box set for the US market. With someone like Lady Gaga, her fan base expects a lot. So sometimes, you’re not sure if it’s really about label commercial interests [or the fan’s expectations]. Basically, for me, the pillar in a lot of these different situations has always been “Okay, who is this going to?” The general public or the hyper-invested fan… From there, I’m able to assess which needs are important. For instance, the label might want the most straightforward version of something with the artist’s face big and clear for marketing purposes and I would probably want the complete opposite of that but the middle ground for me is prioritizing the narrative we create for the audience.

Usually, every genre has a specific aesthetic. How proximate does your work get to that existing visual language?

Amado: Each style has its different history and visuals a lot of it is me researching what’s been done and how I can twist what’s been done and add some of my own touch. Sometimes pure illustration, sometimes more design-y, or more grungy, punky stuff. This means I have to try to figure out what’s been done and how to change that. I did a cover for a punk band called Amyl and The Sniffers. They really wanted cartoon-like artwork. I was like, “I don’t think this matches the sound at all.” They were like, “That’s why we want it. We don’t want it to feel like a punk record.”

I feel like nowadays with the internet, there are so many different references to so many different things. There are rappers referencing punk stuff from like the ’80s, everything is becoming mashed up into something else. I feel like you can definitely do a punk cover and just make it look like a children’s record.

They really wanted cartoon-like artwork. I was like, “I don’t think this matches the sound at all.” They were like, “That’s why we want it. We don’t want it to feel like a punk record.”

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Luke: I try to avoid letting genre limit a given project. Like Bráulio said, we all do our own research and look to understand where a project can operate culturally, but you’re trying to embody the project in a way that brings some kind of new life to its context.

Like Bráulio’s example, I always want to be open to the insane cartoon solution. I don’t want to haphazardly make reference to something that I don’t personally have a strong relationship to or whose history I’m not very familiar with or embedded in, but it’s important to find a relationship to history and context that isn’t crippling. For me, that liberation tends to come from carefully trusting and interrogating my own interests. It’s easy to get tied up in these concerns though, I certainly do, but at the end of the day sometimes our peers are the only ones that can spot the lie.

Amado: There’s the fans too, you know. The fans are like,”This doesn’t look like an electronic music T-shirt!”

Dipika Walia: There’s so much genre-bending that’s happening now. Most artists don’t fit into what we know about archived aesthetics in music. We have certain understandings and expectations from some genres, but that’s not really the case anymore. I mean what does a “bedroom pop” record look like? Our job is to visually communicate at the end of the day and how we push and pull from existing tropes and aesthetics is a very active part of the process. So I don’t know how much I am gauging aesthetic proximity by the genre of the music itself but more so by the genres the artist may be influenced by or is associated with.

When working with musicians how much do you get to stay true to your formal signatures and how do you end up using an aesthetic of a pre-existing musician/label assets and aesthetics?

Dipika Walia: I haven’t had to use pre-existing assets too often. Working on covers that required the Parental Advisory logo was always such a headache. That particular rule made me look at so many different covers that had the Parental Advisory logo and I became interested in how designers had worked with it in the past.

Amado: I did a poster for the Rolling Stones and it’s like, “You have to make the mouth.” I’m like, “Ahhh!” Honestly, it’s so much pressure, especially something that iconic, that I actually hated doing it. I was always doubting myself.

I think aesthetic proximity is really important. Our job is to visually communicate at the end of the day.

Luke: I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked to leverage a certain asset or to continue some kind of clear language, but it seems important to do that if/ when that language has a lot of value and meaning for the audience. I aspire in my work to create the sorts of systems in which that kind of meaning could be leveraged in the future, to have lasting anchor points in the memory of the audience. That said, completely reorienting the language around an artist or project is also very exciting.

Dipika Walia: Sometimes an artist may already have photography to be worked with that they might be keen on using, especially when there isn’t much of a budget for an Album shoot. Those sorts of creative constraints have helped me refine my visual problem-solving skills and consider how direction can be built from loose pieces. Sort of like creating a great meal with what you already have in the kitchen, you probably already have techniques down that add a certain flavor.

The formats of albums or promo-campaigns all present different challenges and possibilities. What do you think about the holistic experience of building a graphic universe for an artist or album?

Luke: Depending on who I’m working with, they will have their own understanding of how that stuff should unfold. For me, it’s always about creating language and devices that act as affordances for the project. You create the base, sort of modular set of assets, even if it’s just like a language or sensibility. Then when you have those things in place, it liberates you to expand on that in a way that creates a much richer terrain.

What I’m doing is always building up the most powerful core or assets and logic so that iterating with those tools becomes the lightest version of that, and not this kind of heavy difficult thing down the line. As long as I have the things that I feel really confident about, iterating becomes much easier. But I will say that there’s a lot of iterating to get to those most useful, most powerful pieces. So there’s this strain of building up that initial set of tools, but then, once that set of tools is there, then the world opens up in a useful way.

Amado: There’s sometimes so much pressure around the record cover or the album cover that when you have to design everything else they’re kind of like, “Alright, do whatever you want.” That becomes my favorite part because you figured out the harder part and now there’s so much more freedom and fun to keep pushing it somewhere new and enrich what you did by developing a whole universe around it.

Dipika Walia: I think that world-making is often the most important role we have. Being that glue in all the various mediums that come up in an album cam-

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paign. Considering how these pieces interconnect and how that theme unfolds is when the design may become art direction and vice versa. It’s insightful when you see other people riff off of the work you’ve made in the past, or you see people make fan art, or you see your work on someone’s particular mood board. I actually love seeing those moments, because I can see exactly which arbitrary internal rules we make for a project end up being successfully communicated or broken.

How do you think self-presentation aids designers in getting more work?

Dipika Walia: Generally, I am pretty bad at putting myself out there. I do feel like I’m actively dodging tokenism by choosing to be elusive as a designer. As a minority in this industry, it’s definitely exciting to discover other women designers of color… But it also makes me uncomfortable when people reach out to work with me because of who I am and not what I create so I haven’t quite figured it out. I personally wanted to make work and for my identity to be removed from it.

Amado: I’m really bad (or just really insecure) at talking about design and work. I’d rather draw something than talk about it. I started having a presence online by posting every single work I was doing, which was a lot because I do a lot of posters for a club that has parties every week. Not all was good, but I saw it has a sketchbook and has a way for me to not overthink what I share online. But I have been doing it for way too long and now I’m getting sick of myself for posting so much all the time, so not sure how I feel about it anymore nor do I know what’s the best way to approach self-presentation. But I do get a lot of work through social media from people that find my work through it, so, I guess I’ll keep doing what I have been doing. I’m really bad at talking about design and work. I’d rather draw something than tell someone what my idea is. I definitely have a big presence online by posting work mostly because in the beginning I was making all these posters. It became a sketchbook and it was a way for me to deal with it and not be depressed about it. The more I do it, the more I get sick of myself.

Luke: I feel the same. I’m not comfortable or motivated to operate in that way. There’s certainly ways of participating or presenting one’s self and work that would garner more attention. I’m often excited to document and share work, only to decide eventually I’ve lost interest, or will find a better context to share later.

Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: How Punk is Still Impacting Graphic Design


Of all subcultures, it’s not a stretch to say that punk boasts the most recognizable aesthetic: snarling, unashamedly DIY, and above all, urgent the sort of thing typified by Jamie Reid’s, ransom-note typography and blustering cutand-paste newsprint. More than 40 years since what many see as the birth of punk, the word has taken on connotations reaching far beyond three chord wonders like The Ramones or clothing held together with nothing but safety pins and a flagrant disregard for “the man.”

The punk look of the 1970s has never really gone away in the design world the most obvious flag-bearer being the world of zines. The devil-maycare collaging of various typographic styles, handwritten additions, and conflation of disparate pieces of found imagery is still rife across poster design and even in more commercially minded publications (it could be argued, for instance, that the likes of Mushpit with its scattergun approach to layout and so on takes the baton from punk.)

When we spoke with him last year, Reid told us that punk isn’t about a look or a label, but what lays at the heart of it all is “ideas and attitude.” And it seems the design world has taken heed: the word has become a signifier for rule breaking as much as it has the sounds of downtown New York or London’s 100 Club in the 1970s. Indeed, trend forecasters for the world of graphic design declared in 2016 that creative output would be “more punk.”

While the word has come to mean a lot of things, it’s always worth looking back at its roots. Which is exactly what a new show at the Museem of Art and Design (MAD) in New York sets out to do in its exhibition Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die. The show focuses on punk graphics created between 1976 and 1986, boasting more than 500 posters, sleeve designs, flyers and more that “challenged the commercial slickness of the mainstream media,” as the museum puts it. Among the works on show, which draw from the collection of Andrew Krivine, are rare designs for bands including Sex Pistols, The Clash, Black Flag, Ramones, The Cramps, Killing Joke, The Slits, Joy Division, Devo, PiL, Buzzcocks, Television, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith Group, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Blondie, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, B-52s, X-Ray Spex, and many others.

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The show is arranged to demonstrate both design work and how it manifested physically, with crates of vinyl visitors are invited to play on turntables. There’s a section devoted to typography, delving into punk’s take on lettering through stencil fonts, Letraset, hand-scrawled lettering, and graffiti. “That’s one interesting aspect, musically, as punk came to occupy the space just before hip-hop. The scene of emerging artists in New York were tied into those milieu,” says Andrew Blauvelt, director of the Cranbrook Art Museum and curator of the show.

For Blauvelt, the impact of punk on today’s visual culture is everywhere. “The direct descendent of DIY culture today is seen in terms of the empowerment of punk: anyone could be a musician, the bar wasn’t set at technical virtuosity, it was enthusiasm and passion. That ethos went into graphic design people making their own graphics. The other big influence we see today is breaking the hegemony of modern typography and reaching what we now call New Wave graphics from the late 1970s and early 1980s. You can see that in things like iD magazine, which was really a zine before it became a publication-proper. New Wave styles ended up converging with ‘professional’ graphic design, and a lot of that emerged in the record industry with people like Barney Bubbles, Peter Saville, Neville Brody, Malcolm Garrett, and Vaughan Oliver.”

The curator acknowledges that to “purists,” the punk era is far shorter than that spanned in the show in fact, it was just ’76 and ’77. “But you can’t talk about post punk and New Wave without talking about punk,” he says. “The 10 year bracket is a little arbitrary, but a lot of influences from a design history standpoint are within that period.”

From Blue Note to Afrofuturism, Herbie Hancock’s Sleeve Designs Are as Adventurous as His Sounds

The jazzmaster’s innovations are reflected in his future-facing sleeve art


Herbert Jeffrey Hancock has been at the cutting edge of technology for many of his 82 years. Like his contemporary Stevie Wonder, he developed a taste for synthesizers and electronics long before they were widespread, and he has fearlessly explored new genres like hip hop, funk, and electronica since leaving the Miles Davis Quintet in 1968 to go solo. Born in Chicago in 1940, he was a child prodigy, performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was just 11. His path as a classical pianist was already mapped out before him, though he chose jazz instead. “I think risk-taking is a great adventure,” he once said, “and life should be full of adventures.” That sense of curiosity became heightened by his meditation practice in the 1970s, and whilst he’s not involved in the graphic design process of his work, the openness with which he approaches each project leaves room for the designers he chooses to surprise him. He also has an uncanny knack for choosing the right people to work with. Herbie Hancock’s discography is anything but a coherent body of work neither visually nor musically. But it’s his unpredictability and adventurousness that make him such an alluring figure, along with his sense of humility (despite winning 17 Grammys). His artwork, similarly, projects that ebullience and sense of fun.


The front cover of Herbie Hancock’s third album was created by the man who was responsible for his first two: Chicago-born graphic designer Reid Miles. Miles needs no introduction to Blue Note aficionados, having worked on more than 500 sleeves for the legendary jazz label between 1955 and 1967. As with his work for Inventions & Dimensions, he usually worked with just two or three colors to give that unmistakable look that has come to define the record company’s aesthetic.

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Some of the label’s greatest hits were his greatest hits too: Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-Tones, Lee Morgan’s Lee-Way, and John Coltrane’s Blue Train. All of Reid’s covers for Herbie Hancock are works of art, though Inventions & Dimensions is interesting for its perspective: taken from the road with a New York City backdrop by Blue Note acolyte Francis Wolff, it was almost certainly a nod to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, a bluesy folk album released the year previous that transcended its categorization to become a cultural milestone. The album cover shot from the lowdown perspective of the road with convergence lines increasing in size as they hove into view has become a genre in itself too, from Kraftwerk’s Autobahn to Bastille’s Bad Blood via the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Stoned and Dethroned.

SEXTANT (1973)

As great as Blue Note’s assertive house style was, once he’d left the jazz label Hancock was able to impose more of his own ideas in collaboration with Robert Springett, an artist who was no doubt enamored with Mati Klarwein’s cover art for Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.

Black consciousness was clearly on Hancock’s mind when he recorded 1969’s The Prisoner with its literal representation of entrapment (the type doubles up as a square cage), though in 1972, Herbie was beginning to think more abstractly, having converted to Nichiren Buddhism and absorbed himself in meditation.

With the rise of space rock from Sun Ra to Hawkwind the sleeve for 1973’s jazz fusion album Sextant depicts dancing warriors in a Drexciya-like utopia with many of the signifiers that came to be known retrospectively as Afrofuturism: a planet, a pyramid, stars, and a rune symbol. Sextant followed 1972’s Crossings, the second album in the Mwandishi trilogy, which depicted refugees traversing a river on the front of the album. Happily one of those displaced itinerants has made it onto the back cover of Sextant, finding a home for himself under the watchful gaze of Buddha, surrounded by protective lotus flowers.


The Spanish-American psychedelic artist Victor Moscoso took charge of Headhunters, Herbie Hancock’s surprise crossover breakthrough from 1973 a record sleeve that has aged well in a world filled with emojis and filters. The traditional band shot has been subverted with a cartoonish kple kple mask, unceremoniously placed over Hancock’s head, though the main man reappears on the flipside. Kple kple masks are worn by child performers who dance at the goli, a Baoulé tribe funeral for elders in the Ivory Coast, with the

kple kple supposedly the least prestigious of the goli masks though how much research went into their significance is unclear. The eagle-eyed will notice the smile on the masked head is created by an upside down VU meter, which used to measure sound levels in recording studios before the advent of digital and LED Electronic Audio Volume Indicators.

FLOOD (1975)

During the 70s, CBS/Sony Japan cornered the domestic market in live jazz fusion albums, putting out a series of Japan-only releases for Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Santana, Herbie Hancock, and other western artists like Bob Dylan. Flood captures the Headhunters band in full swing in Tokyo, but the real star here is illustrator Nobuyuki Nakanishi, painting one of the most exuberantly psychedelic and baffling album covers of all time.

Under the direction of Teruhisa Tajima, who would go on to establish the Thesedays art collective, Nakanishi went to town with Flood, with lava meeting water and an unperturbed Herbie Hancock in full astronaut garb meeting a massive coelacanth. To top it all off, Tajima has chosen the font Stop for the title, a futuristic sans serif that was only a few years old when this record was first released (it was reissued internationally in 2018).


Herbie Hancock is famously an early adopter, and his sense of curiosity means no two albums in his extensive back catalog are the same. Future Shock, with its name borrowed from writer and futurist Alvin Tofler, embraces technology like never before as he explores an emerging artform called hip hop. Hancock has admitted he was perplexed by the Godley & Creme directed video for Future Shock track ‘Rockit’, starring a houseful of robots and a memorable pair of animatronic legs, though he was more than happy to accept the awards it accrued as the song became his biggest worldwide hit. For the album artwork, he employed the services of David Em, a pioneer in computer art who was manipulating digital media before personal computers became widespread. Em was apparently the first artist to produce navigable virtual worlds in 1977, using NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The virtual landscape on 1983’s Future Shock sleeve is a little passé now, though it retains a certain retrofuturist charm.

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Truly Radical: The Electrifying Graphics of 60s and 70s Club Culture

These are some of the graphics that started it all, translating energetic electric sounds and innovative architectural experiments into bold compositions.


Disco balls, pink neon, and fantastic green strobe lights currently adorn the walls of the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein. These unlikely fragments form part of the exhibition, Night Fever: Designing Club Culture 1960-today, which explores the design history of nightclubs around the world. Lucky for those outside Germany, the catalog presents with the show’s collection, with countless photographs of exciting interiors and mind-bending architecture, leaving hardly any club scene undocumented. It also features maps leading you to the historical clubs of London, Johannesburg, New York, and more.

The essays inside examine the cultural contexts nightclubs have emerged from, and the ideologies and sensibilities informing their interior design, architecture, and graphics. You’ll read the design stories of all the classics from Studio 54 to Manchester’s Hacienda to Berlin’s Berghain but also of the underground clubs that were innovative but short-lived, or less mythologized.

We’ve selected four posters from the catalog’s radical club ephemera produced during the 1960s and 1970s: an era when new technological advances in light and sound were being connected with progressive architectural ideas to form fantastical hybrid spaces. Graphic design in the form of posters spilled out from tucked-away clubs and into the city for the first time. These little fragments captured the mood and energy of the nightclubs they emerged from, enticing the young to head underground and join the party. Nowadays, club posters blanket brick and concrete walls across most cities: we’re all too familiar with their language. These are some of the graphics that started it all, and which translated energetic electric sounds and innovative architectural experiments into distinctive, bold compositions.

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When New York’s Electric Circus was ready to open in 1967, club owner Jerry Brandt understood the important role that striking, subversive visuals would play in getting the word out. Day-glo colors splashed across the entrance of the club in the form of a psychedelic mural by artist Louis Delsarte, and electronic composer Morton Subotnick was given the role of the club’s art director. Chermayeff & Geismar designed the club’s energetic logo, font, and a poster promoting the opening. The splintering typeface visualizes the idea of electricity, and was achieved by overlapping positive and negative type in the spirit of the décor of the club. In its magenta on cyan iteration especially, the words seem to shudder and shake like the buzz of an electric shock. As Steven Heller noted recently, the “vibrating typeface was an East Coast alternative to San Francisco psychedelia.”




London’s UFO Club (pronounced ‘You-foe’) was notorious but extremely shortlived, appearing like a puff of smoke during the 1960s. The space, sometimes referred to as a “psychedelic dungeon”, featured light shows, art by Yoko Ono, and acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and Soft Machine in its tiny basement on Tottenham Court Road.

Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, the British graphic design and musical partnership composed of Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, designed reams of vibrant posters advertising the club (the owners had actually introduced the pair to one another). At the time, the prevailing fashion for posters was clashing colors, so the duo strived for balance and harmony as well as colliding combinations. They introduced several innovative ideas to the form, using expensive gold and silver inks for example, the likes of which were extremely rare sights on street posters. Hapshash and the Coloured Coat also used a technique of gradating from one color to another on a single separation making each print a powerful visual shock. The duo’s screen-prints were often given away to the audience (or those still left of it) at the end of the night.

GROUP 9999


In 1969 in an old engine repair shop in Florence, Italy, as well as electronic light shows and audio-visual performances, you’d discover several washing machine drums and refrigerator castings strewn around at random. These, alongside a vegetable garden planted on the dance floor, were the Space Electronic club’s primary furnishings.

The space was designed and owned by the Radical Design collective Group 9999. Two of its members had been on a trip to New York in 1967 and were inspired by the Electric Circus’ use of electronic media, which they coupled with their own utopian belief in the power of technology to form an alternative club. This poster was designed by Group 9999 to advertise the opening: white type against black straightforwardly alludes to light in darkness, as do the white dots composing the shape of an arrow; they seem to shimmer like tiny light bulbs.



During the early 1970s, Italy’s Radical Design groups famously rejected the conventions of modernism with playfully referential designs inspired by pop culture and history. One of the studios to shape and capture the world’s design imagination was Studio65, an architecture and design group that formed in 1965 in a bold response to functionalism.

In 1972, the studio was commissioned by an entrepreneur to create a showroom and club near to the Piedmont town of Cuneo, called Flash Back. It contained a disco beneath three entirely white architectural elements that referred to ancient archetypes. This building consisted of a pyramid, a dome, and a truncated Ionic column; its interior’s staircase, leading to the basement’s disco, was bright red, and the tiled floor below lit up as revellers danced.

Gianni Arnaudo of Studio65 designed this poster to announce the disco’s opening. The composition draws from the building’s architectural forms: the cog-like shape of a column as seen from above crowns the central image. Stars and clouds are peppered whimsically throughout, and a drop shadow type seems to pull backwards, chiming with the club’s own name. The red, tiled pathway leading to the club’s door alludes to the space’s interior, while also playing with the same spatial perspective as the typeface.

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The Sound of Graphic Design: Amsterdam’s Lyanne Tonk and her Synaesthesia Thinking

White, silent space + “composing” with illustration


When describing graphic design we often talk of “silence” when there’s plenty of white space, or we say that something has a “loud” aesthetic. We like to hear colors; we enjoy still graphics that seem to vibrate and pulsate with noise. For the Amsterdam-based graphic designer Lyanne Tonk, who currently balances working part-time at the “young and a bit rebellious” Netherlands publisher Das Mag with freelance projects, a sound or lack thereof not only charges a composition but can spark the process behind making one. For certain (relevant) projects, she begins with what she hears. The rest comes afterwards.

Let’s start with the sound of nothing at all, which is where Tonk’s interest in the visual aesthetics of noise first originated. During the final year of her BA in graphic design at Utrecht’s School of the Arts, HKW, in 2013, Tonk explored the effect and function of silence in society and design for her final project. She was fascinated by that ubiquitous escapist trend for artisan, “back-to-basics” Kinfolkian living, and its roots in a desire for quietude: “The need for silence seems to be important to us,” says the designer. “Where does the need originate, though? How exactly does it influence us? You can gain a lot from understanding these questions.”

As Massimo and Lela Vignelli once wrote, great graphic designers “have used white space as the significant silence to better hear their message loud and clear.” Tonk unpicks this in a loud, 21st century context, saying that to be able to communicate well, white space or visual “silence” of course helps encourage a moment to “reflect and focus.”

“For my research I looked at the inauguration speech of Barack Obama, because he’s such a good public speaker. It appeared that around 30% of it was silence in the shape of a break or a pause between words or sentences.” Her research transformed into a clock installation composed of white noise-inspired graphics and an accompanying booklet. Yet breathing room continues to be an important underlying concept in her work, which she regularly meditates on: “It could be the white space in a book, which gives someone a break and allows them to reflect before reading further. Or on a poster, which you should be able to read quickly, visual pauses create focus.”

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While The Sound of Silence is a peaceful, slow-burning project, Tonk’s identity for an annual Netherland music festival called Le Mini Who?, which she’s designed for three subsequent years, goes to the opposite extreme. It’s loud, brash, ecstatic, confusing, and deliciously overwhelming. 2016’s iteration was formed by visually impersonating the “sound, hosts, locations, and performers” of the festival, so you’ve got fingers flying, fleshy ribs bared, swirling chunks of meaty substances, spiky foliage, bulbous gunk. It must be quite the show.

“The bands that play are not hyped yet, and entrance is free. So it’s one big musical discovery,” says Tonk. “The illustrator I collaborated with didn’t know the festival as well as I do, so we used that to our advantage. She listened to the music and created visual ‘sounds’ simultaneously, echoing how the audience would first experience the music. I then used these ‘sounds’ to ‘compose’ a design: the typography became the notes on a score, while the abstract images were the accents.”

Tonk’s synaesthesia is simply one tool in her box of devices; she’s also the co-founder of a creative co-working space called Kapitaal, where an interest in experimental printing techniques fuels much of her creative output. She identifies as a storyteller first and foremost, and finds sound metaphors just one useful technique to get a viewer into that all-important “contemplative state of mind.”

A Lesson in Record Sleeve Design from the Inimitable Hipgnosis

“Fortunately for me, Pink Floyd were just starting out…”


So many formative design love affairs begin with record sleeves, and no studio has played Cupid over the years more than Hipgnosis. The design collective worked on cover art across genres, from the mega cool T-Rex, Syd Barrett, Throbbing Gristle, to the rock legends XTC, 10cc, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, housewives’ favorites like The Police, and even those defying easy categorization, like Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, and Robert Plant.

Hipgnosis was founded by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey “Po” Powell in 1967 when their proggy pals Pink Floyd approached them to design the artwork for their second album A Saucerful of Secrets. As Powell tells it, “the name Hipgnosis was born out of a chance encounter with a door frame.” Powell and Thorgerson shared a flat in London’s South Kensington with Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, a character known for his charming if peculiar ways, who had scrawled the word HIPGNOSIS on a door. “When asked about it, Syd sheepishly denied he had written anything, but Syd was a clever wordsmith and only he could have made up such a brilliant acronym,” Powell writes. “He is to thank for linking ‘hip’ (pertaining to a cool subculture) with ‘gnostic’ (esoteric knowledge of spiritual matters) and the noun ‘hypnosis’ (an artificially induced trance state resembling sleep characterized by heightened susceptibility to suggestion).”

From these linguistically innovative beginnings, the studio spent the next decade and a half carving a niche for itself as the purveyors of an aesthetic that’s since become utterly synonymous with that particularly ’70s brand of futuristic psychedelia. Among its most famous works were the 1973 cover design for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, which showcased Hipgnosis’ fascinating and surreal photo-collage techniques.

In 1974 Peter Christopherson, who was a member of seminal industrial bands Throbbing Gristle (where he was known as Sleazy) and Coil, joined as an assistant and went on to become a full partner in 1978. Other graphic design luminaries who have worked with Hipgnosis over the years include George Hardie, Neville Brody, Richard Evans, and Humphrey Ocean. Things came to an end for Hipgnosis in the 1980s when prog and its aesthetic gradually began to fall out of favor. The studio briefly worked in art

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direction and design as an ad agency but finally ducked out of all album cover and advertising work in 1982. Instead, it started to work in film, forming the company Green Back Films.

Now, Hipgnosis’ work has been gathered together in a modestly sized yet generously compiled new book Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art, published by Thames & Hudson. The book marks the first time all 373 Hipgnosis covers, all digitally remastered from the original artwork, have been gathered together, and 500 or so illustrations are accompanied with articles by Peter Gabriel, Storm Thorgerson, Marcus Bradbury and Pentagram’s Harry Pearce. In a brilliant turn, there’s also a step-by-step guide written by Thorgerson that delves into the complexities, trials, tribulations, and painstaking print processes that went into creating the designs for 10cc’s 1977 album Deceptive Bends.

His words on the process reveal Hipgnosis’ inimitable interplay of concept and craft; detailing how he arrived at the image of a deep sea diver cradling an ethereal woman in a sheer dress. The name of the record itself was conjured through rather humble beginnings cribbed from road signs in the less-than-inspiring area of Dorking, between London and the south coast of England so Thorgerson “began to free associate and make simple connections and deductions.” He thought of a diver with the bends, “deceived” by his condition.

“He is thrown into a state of self-deception,” Thorgerson writes. “He fantasizes and since the band wanted a positive, uplifting feeling, it had to be a nice fantasy… He had rescued the girl of his dreams from a watery grave. Privately, we see ourselves as heroes, rescuing our sweethearts from fires, earthquakes and any number of terrible fates. It was this mythic quality that appealed to me most.”

Powell’s introduction to the book indicates an equally charming figure, able to explain some of the most iconic sleeve designs of the 20th century in such a matter-of-fact way, it seems as if he’s sat in the pub reminiscing over a pint. In particular I love his tale of being fired from his job as a scenic artist at Cambridge ADC Theatre, before Hipgnosis came into being. “It was a high old time to be around during the Summer of Love and the word ‘hippy’ applied to anyone in velvet flares, a bandanna and a flowery silk shirt,” he writes. “Inevitably after my tour of duty as a scenic artist came to a close I was fired. Not for my incompetence at the job, but for being continuously late. I was just having too much fun. Fortunately for me, Pink Floyd were just starting out…”

This Swiss Magazine is the Print Equivalent of a Techno Album

THE EDITORS Zweikommasieben ruthlessly applies “simple, radical, raw rules” + rejects the “corporate identity” of a logo

What would it look like if a print publication pulsated? What would it feel like if editorial design made words move through you like the gradual swell of a melody, or a hyped-up electronic drum beat? That’s been the MO of Swiss club culture magazine zweikommasieben since it launched five years ago, and its new issue, which visually echoes the experience of the music that it covers, is no exception. In 2011 art directors Raphael Schoen, Kaj Lehmann, and Simon Rüegg of Swiss studio Präsens Büro, approached the design by creating “simple, radical, and raw rules” to apply to the layout not dissimilar from the way a techno producer might work on a new track.

“The outcome might be a steady pattern with variations in pace and frequency, or it could be chaotic noise,” says Schoen. “Each issue gets its own rhythm through long discussions about leading, spacing, font size, and, of course, the arrangement of images and quotes.”

Can every issue, then, be considered a track on the ever-growing album that is zweikommasieben? Maybe, though that’d be one eclectic album. The magazine rejects specific branding: it has no logo and no “corporate identity” of any kind, as its founders Kaj Lehmann and Remo Bitzi have said in the past. That means that the team is continually refreshing the entire design. Issue 10 is a steady beat that oscillates quickly between a large and mid-sized serif and a bold, sans in large and small variations. Issue 11 is filled with a lot more silence small bursts of energy in the form of blocks of text interspersed by the long pauses of white space.

The latest issue alludes to the online existence of dance music, so Präsens Büro has implemented a design that makes use of tags, keywords, and toggled boxes. What’s especially effective about the editorial layout is how images lie right on the edge of text; it reminds me of having multiple windows open on a screen and the awkward and occasionally claustrophobic visual effect of overlapping content.

“Most of the photographs we get are taken by the authors of the interviews themselves, sometimes they’re even taken with a phone,” explains Schoen. “We like it that way. It’s very honest. That’s why we set them smallish and close to the text.”

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Issue 14’s staple binding creates an additional sense of rawness, and the insert of a red flexi disc makes it feel personable and playful. I enjoy the binding’s awkwardness, and the way it impacts the inner margin of the pages, and subtly warps the photographs. The issue has a strong rhythm, but with a sense of fragility underpinning it.

“The publishers organize the events and club nights associated with the magazine with a clear and precise concept, they avoid being arbitrary,” says Schoen. “Like us from the ‘design department’, they have a lot of long discussions about dramaturgy and setting. Sometimes their ideas are so radical that it’s irritating for a random person who enters the club. They totally share the same mindset as us.”


THE EDITORS from AIGA Eye on Design

EMILY GOSLING is a London-based freelance writer and editor specializing in art, design and culture across print and digital. She was previously deputy editor at It’s Nice That and reporter at Design Week.

MADELEINE MORLEY was previously senior editor at Eye on Design. The days, she writes features, essays, profiles, and reviews, and her words have appeared in The New York Times, The Observer, Dazed and Confused Magazine, AnOther, Elephant, Fast Company, and many more. She has MAs in both English and Art History from Cambridge University and the The Courtauld Institute of Art.

JEREMY ALLEN is a culture writer who has appeared in the Guardian, the Independent and the NME, and writes regularly for the Quietus, Record Collector and Electronic Sound.

SOMNATH BHATT is always seeking the new in the old, and the old in the new is his favorite form of making. He has worked with Nicolás Jaar, Hyein Seo, New Yorker, New York Times, The Atlantic, The Creative Independent, Border&Fall, Reebok, BOMB Magazine, Walker Art Center, AI Now Institute, SE SO NEON, and much more.

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Design Studies


Curation and Design: Veridiana Victorelli



How music and Graphic Design come together and the impact in the arts, culture, community and freedom.

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