Album Art Aesthetics

Great album art is incredibly powerful, but I feel as if it’s often overlooked by consumer and producer alike. People take it for granted, thinking of the physical representation as just a means to deliver the real product, the music. However, I would argue that the music is only half of the product, and that the music itself is almost entirely defined by its presentation. I’ve always been fascinated by the wide variety of art styles on album covers, but my passion was recently reignited when I saw the album cover for the new Flume mixtape Hi This Is Flume. It grabbed my attention and didn’t let go; the vivid colors, the straight lines and framing of the picture, and most importantly the beautiful painting on the hood of the car. Even though I knew who Flume was and didn’t mind their music, I never really cared for it much. However, I listened to the entire album right when I saw it, that’s how intrigued I was by the cover. My point: it’s all about first impressions, just like meeting a new person. Sure the music is important, but nobody will listen to it if you can’t get their attention first.

Hi This Is Flume – Flume

Beyond being eye-catching, I think an album cover has the power to enhance the music and add an entirely new element to the project. It sets a certain mood and interpretation for the album; you listen to it differently than if it didn’t have an album cover. For example, when I listened to the Flume album I expected it to be interesting and experimental, just like the album cover. As a result, I interpreted it through that lens and ended up loving it. I honestly don’t think I would have cared for it much if I wasn’t already expecting it to be different and experimental. I’m not saying the music isn’t good, I’m saying that the aesthetic of the cover opens up your mind to the music before you listen, and then continues to contribute to the overall feeling of the album. A lot of great albums use this to their advantage (such as the ones in the header image), and it makes a noticeable difference. It really ties the project together as a whole, and turns the album from a collection of songs into a musical journey. When I think back on an album that I loved, the first thing I remember is its aesthetic; the feeling and tone of the album that makes it entirely unique. It’s the album art that always determines this, because it’s the album art that gave the first impression.

Looking towards the future and the increase in purely digital music raises a lot of concerns with me. There’s something to be said for being able to hold the music as a product, and experience it in more ways that just auditory. If you’ve ever listened to a vinyl record or a cassette tape, or even just looked at one and admired its ingenuity, then you know what I’m getting at. Not only does digital music lack these things, I’m also worried that album covers for purely digital projects will more often be overlooked. It’s no longer a work of art that you can hang on your wall or collect; if you’re lucky it’s a thumbnail size image with good resolution. Obviously physical forms of music will always be around, and I’m sure there will still be artists such as Flume who continue to realize the importance of presentation, but I also think that we should all take a minute to appreciate the unique artistic medium of album covers and realize their importance in the art of music.

A chair versus a skyscraper… how different could they be?

I was at the Start Up Career Fair last Friday, talking with a few representatives of the furniture company Floyd, and my conversation with them struck my interest in the question: how different are architecture and furniture, really?
People say that architecture studies humanities to build spaces for humans to live their lives in. Sounds good. But when it comes to furniture, it’s almost as if nobody really cares about it; we take it for granted.
To me, my conversation with the Floyd team resonated with our beliefs that architecture and furniture design are really basically the same thing- the only difference is their sizing scale. This is our argument, which I’d love for any of you readers to comment on whether or not you agree!
1. Both architecture and furniture deal with societies and their habits.
2. Both architecture and furniture’s goals are for the design and aesthetics to be one and the same thing within itself.
3. Both architecture and furniture have the power to change our lifestyles.
4. Both architecture and furniture require stable engineering and general understanding of physics in order to function.
5. Both architecture and furniture fields have the power to influence one another throughout history.

Let me know what you think! I’d love to hear some thoughts!

Herbert Bayer’s Burning Banknotes

Any good design favors simplicity. Modern design follows the systematic use of only a few options for each visual attribute. There is no reason to use multiple font-families when one will do. There is no reason to use a plethora of colors when a small palette of 3 or 4 will suffice. There is no reason to vary between more than a pair of font-sizes or line widths. Strip away everything that is not essential and you will find the base of good design. There are many individuals responsible for birthing these design principles, either through art or necessity, but one of the most interesting and often underrepresented fathers of modern design is Herbert Bayer.

According to an article on Wikipedia, in an effort to replace the imperialistic government of Germany in 1919, the Weimar Republic was formed as a semi-presidential representative democracy. To afford the costs of World War I, Germany decided to fund the war through borrowing–not allowing an ounce of its currency to be converted to gold. As a result, the government began to buy foreign currency and significantly decreased the value of its Mark. From 1921 to 1924, Germany suffered a three-year period of hyperinflation. During this time, emergency banknotes were issued by Die Landesregierung Thüringen and designed by Bayer.

bayer4

These banknotes embraced a simple and bold style now found in contemporary graphic design. Departing from the traditional bank note standard of serif fonts, swirls, and national symbols, Bayer’s design featured grids, geometry, and sans-serif. This deviation from the norm was one of the first uses of modern design in the realm of politics and economics.

Despite their beauty, the insertion of Bayer’s emergency currency into the economy did little to assuage inflation. Paper money was so worthless that it was burned as fuel. Herbert Bayer’s banknotes provided heat for many.

bayer3

Following the design of this currency, Bayer later created the “Universal” typeface which resonates with the widely-used sans-serif font today. The introduction of this typeface featured no uppercase letters, as Bayer believed people did not speak in upper- and lowercase. The simple beauty of his design allowed for greater innovations in effective communication.

bayer5

Unlike many great artists and designers, Bayer spent the remainder of his career in advertising. The modernism he developed in Europe well served his  innovative marketing in corporate America. The bold simplicity and geometrically balanced style was widely accepted. The principles of good design gave his work a universal appeal. As a result, much of his style permeates design today.