Category: Branding

Top 5 album covers
of the last few years

I’ve always believed that people who are creative can be inspired by nearly anything. Art inspires art, no matter what kind. As designers, where creativity is the definition of our job, we have to be open to inspiration wherever we can find it. For myself, as well as hundreds and thousands of other designers across the globe, music is one of one of those great influences, whether it’s playing it, writing it, listening to it, or in this case, looking at it.

With vinyl making a resurgence as the preferred way to enjoy an album, the focus in the last five years to perfecting the art of the record cover has once again gained momentum and artists are experimenting with form factor, color, photography and in some cases, hidden imagery for fans to find. Here are my top five picks for the best cover art in the last few no particular order.


1. David Bowie’s Blackstar

Designer: Jonathan Barnbrook

Barnbrook’s cover of Bowie’s last record is deceivingly complex. What appears to be a simple diecut of a star with black on black printing of stars cut into many pieces, is actually so much more. Barnbrook’s design, when exposed to light, reveals an image of the galaxy. The stars at the bottom of the cover actually spell out Bowie. When exposed to blacklight, the stars turn bright blue. When reflecting light off of the record onto a different surface, all three sides of the record display different images. The cover displays a star, one side is a bird in flight and the other is a spaceship. Barnbrook has also hinted during many interviews that fans have yet to find multiple additional gems that are hidden within the walls of the album. This art, to me, is the perfect farewell and tribute to one of the greatest artists of all time, Starman. It’s aesthetically simple and classic with its use of black on black, a fitting memorial for Bowie, but has all of the pizazz and depth of character that he possessed. With light being a featured component to revealing the full extent of the art, it’s as though Bowie’s starlight hasn’t gone out and he still remains present in the folds of the record.



2. The Last Shadow Puppets' Everything You’ve Come to Expect

Designer: Matthew Cooper

Super group, The Last Shadow Puppets have only released two records in the last 8 years. Their first has a distinctly 60s feel to it both musically and visually, while their sophomore record, released in 2016, seems to have aged at the same pace, with an edgier 70s vibe. The cover photo is of Tina Turner taken in 1969 by then Vogue photographer Jack Robinson, but the color is all Matthew Cooper. His mastery of warm tones adds movement and heat that make the record undeniably modern while maintaining its roots and inspiration from the 70s. It’s a great example of how simple, iconic photography with an explosive color palette can have just as much of an impact as a record with a more unique design attribute.



3. Rihanna’s ANTI

Designer: Roy Nachum

ANTI’s album cover couldn’t be more ripe with metaphor and meaning. The color palette is stark and ominous featuring a splash of red paint and a haunting black and white photo of a young Robyn Fenty (Rihanna), holding a balloon with a gold crown covering her eyes. As Rihanna skyrocketed to fame at a young age, one can interpret this as the blinders she wears from her success and perhaps her inability to grow into her crown. This theme of being blind is reverberated through a braille poem featured on the cover. The poem is a collaboration between Rihanna, artist Nachum and poet Chloe Mitchell. It touches on the idea of being misunderstood but refusing to conform to society’s norms. When asked why Rihanna chose to feature the poem in braille, her response was, “sometimes those with sight are the blindest”. Wiser words have ne’er been spoke.



4. Lil Yachty’s Teenage Emotion

Designer: Mihailo Andic

Teenage Emotion wins the most needed album art of 2017. In his own words, “I wanted to have all these aspects of teenage I thought about all the things I saw in high school for the first time, that I had never experienced before. I have never seen two guys kissing until high school. I’ve never seen albino kids until high school, I’ve never seen emo kids until high school.” But unlike album covers from years past who have used people’s physical differences to shock and appall fans, this glimpse of high school life is unabashedly normal. It’s as though Lil Yachty plunked himself in the middle of a field trip to the movie theater. And there he is, grinning from ear to ear at the humanity that surrounds him. Although some have criticized him for appropriating different cultures and groups of people for his own benefit, Yachty took to Instagram Live to further explain himself, “If you have vitiligo or if you’re gay or whatever it is, embrace yourself. Love yourself. Be happy, positive.” Preach, Lil Yachty. Preach.



5. Tycho – Awake

Designer: Scott Hansen AKA ISO50 AKA Tycho

As I mentioned above, it seems like a common occurrence for designers to also be musicians and vice/versa. This case is a perfect example of a designer turned musician turned designer. Scott Hansen’s designs, under the pseudonym ISO50, are bright, modern, full of color and unique compositions. One could argue the same of Scott Hansen’s music. Although Hansen designs all of his Tycho album covers, Awake is a particularly effective merging of the two mediums. Hansen says of this piece that he wanted something that could be used in several different settings and still be recognizable. The tour announcement uses the same colors in the same succession but in a polygon instead of a circle. In some executions, the colors are in a triangular shape or a different shape within a shape. You will notice one key factor though. The colors are always in the same order. Why? Because each color band represents a track on the record. And they truly do represent each of these colors. The record flows from warm to cool but still feels like a cohesive singular unit.


-Eliza Young


Be attractive. Dress your brand for success.


When you're creating or recreating your website, smart design is more than decoration. Smart design makes even the hottest brands more attractive and sometimes the key is in keeping it simple. According to econsultancy, 40% of people will abandon a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

That can translate to other areas of your brand. Margin Media reports 48% of users as saying  that if they arrive on a business site that isn't working well on mobile, they take it as an indication of the business simply not caring. (stats pulled from the awesome Hubspot)

Color is key in web design as it is in other areas of marketing, maybe second in importance only to color in packaging. For your website, color can affect positive or negative growth pretty dramatically. Here's a clear and cool little infographic on color from instantshift:


It's important to be aware of trends in consumer reactions. Smart design + strategy is the recipe that helps your brand exert all kinds of gravitational attractiveness. Be the Ryan Gosling of branding and don’t be afraid to channel your inner heartthrob.

Brand Velocity. Fast and steady wins the race.


In the race for brand awareness and ultimately brand loyalty, if you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. The days of undivided attention have all but disappeared. First to market can have a big advantage in customer recognition, and recognition has been shown to markedly increase brand loyalty. So there may be a tendency to rush your launch, your site, your direct mail, get your product on the shelf, your app on the phone before anyone else.

But it’s not just speed that wins brand loyalty. Stumbling at breakneck speed can take you out of the race. The thing about clichés is, they're repeated over and over because they're true. And this one is one of the truest: You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Have a plan that takes into account discovery, design, review and revisions and you won't have to limp back to the starting line because you missed the mark. Here's another cliché that really bugs me but mostly because it's most painfully true at the eleventh hour: There's never enough time to do it right but always time to do it over. Time is a crucial part of brand velocity.

Hire people that know what they're doing and will fuel your content, clarity, relevance, and differentiation—people that get your business and the target you're shooting for and will keep you honest and on schedule, and you will be on the fast track.

High on Branding. why we’ve got a need for weed

Or cannabis. Or pot or grass or bud or hemp or smoke or.... just plain marijuana. Anything but dope which is what we called it in the 1970s and which still elicits snorts of derision from my adult children when I say it. Unless it’s dope as in cool. Dope as shit.

Anyways, Now that recreational use is legal in Washington, I want a cannabis client for Gravity so bad I can taste it. Or smoke it. Whatever, the point is, there has never been a branding opportunity like this in the history of ever.

It’s going to need naming, voice, logo, marketing, packaging, creating a brand for something people have been jonesing to be legal for decades—millions using it illicitly—now suddenly this juggernaut, this leviathan of wrong and right and fun and ok/not ok product is going to be heading through the 12 items or less line with several packages of Doritos and Ding Dongs. Well there is simply no precedence for it. To a branding pro this is, pardon the pun, heady stuff.

Consider alcohol just after Prohibition. Same thing in terms of a percentage of the population always using it (making their own in the case of my Grandpa Roy) and then the liberation and libations when Prohibition was repealed. But branding and advertising were a whole other thing in those days and the breadth of products and ways to reach the audience were relatively small.

Now it’s 2014 and you’ve got a substance that millions of people want, still in a limited space with a limited supply but a wide range of ways to consume it: dried as always, oils, chews, baked goods, infusions, oh good grief, this is Everything.

And check out that target audience. Stoners, sure. No disrespect meant but like hardcore Christians and the second coming, they prayed this would happen and I can believe they are feeling the rapture. But even better and much more fun is that vast untapped, empowered, wealthy, maybe slightly hesitant but what the hell adventurous Chardonnay drinking 40-something female demographic. Okay, they don’t have to drink Chardonnay, it can be Proseco…point is, there are women who’ll want weed and that my friend is one awesome demographic. If you only market it to women, you could craft an awesome and lucrative brand is what I’m saying. But there’s more.

How fun, how new, how bad we want to boldly go where no brand has gone before. I can already imagine the smokesperson™…somebody uber cool and not too young and already a little messed up in the best way. Someone to help create the buzz. And the best part is, we’re all in on the celebration.

While many will be pushing the stuff out in whatever packs are handy and legal, there are already some stellar package designs out of Colorado and much much more to come. I’ve got to admit, even if Gravity doesn’t get in on the ground floor, I can’t wait to see how this market evolves. It’s gonna be so Far Out.

-Barbara Combs

Sagmeister & Walsh’s new identity is a bit of a tragedy


I saw Stefan Sagmeister speak for the first time at a HOW conference in 2004 or 2005. His topic was Production. It was one of the most entertaining talks I’ve heard at any conference and the crowd cheered him to the echo. About production. Dude’s a genius.

Being naked in print is not new for Sagmeister, and recent photos have the whole team jumping about in the buff. So maybe it’s not out of the norm for Sagmeister & Walsh who’ve already posed naked together to announce their partnership, but unsettling to see the whole team…you know, really see them (I mean how does a new client feel with their creative team in full monty mode when they are about to meet for a presentation?)

Then I see the new Sagmeister Walsh identity and I’m baffled. I want to get inspiration and good stuff from it but all I get is an ew (Penis size by race? What?) and ick (the design is almost as bad as the subject matter) and a feeling that they really need to rethink the whole thing. It’s their business and their identity but Stefan Sagmeister is about the closest design comes to a real rockstar and people notice what he does.


I don’t know where he’s going with this but it all feels kind of sad and desperate. Pushing buttons instead of pushing the envelope if that makes sense. Misguided.

For more, this article by Michael Silverberg has some good thoughtful insights on the new identity system.

-Barbara Combs