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Form Design: Musical Instincts and the Complexities of Pop

img  Tobias

The introduction to your music-portfolio reads: „Music is where we cut our teeth and it's still at the heart of what we do“. In how much does your work in the field of music influence your designs in other artistic areas?
Our training in music design has been enourmously important in the way we work. Design in the music Industry is instinctive, and nearly always needed quickly. We have developed what we call the „360 degree“  way of designing. - to KNOW what works, and to understand the overview idea to immediately see how the idea can pan out over an entire concept – be it a website, or a brand proposal which may be completely opposite to a record campaign. Working within music has encouraged us to always look for indirect references – art, architecture, print techniques - are all absorbed into the way we work today, and this is a development of the way we trained as designers in the music industry.

Your approach seems to be based on the idea that design should aways be part of a band's overall identity and image. How do you go about determining a band's image from their music and translating it into visuals?
Good question, and not easy to answer! The main appeal about designing in the music industry, is that no two projects are ever the same – product managers are very different in different record companies, management can be massively important influencers in certain campaigns, and some band members have a huge input and opinion, so we have to take all these factors into consideration. With Pixie Lott for example, we were invited to pitch for the project and we submitted a series of logo routes, working to beautifully shot images of the artist. Something about the name ‚Pixie’ made us feel that it should be designed as handwriting; less vector, more emotive. We also developed a sub-logo which focussed on the X of PiXie. The record company and management were very excited with this in terms of rolling out to merchanise and more ambient marketing, focussing on a semi-abstract mark, and this concept is essentially a key factor in winning us the pitch. 

Which suggests that at the end of an image-analysis, the essence of a particular band at a particular time can be expressed through a single strong image or visual hook ...
With Pendulum, we came up with a concept of a maze that we felt represented a journey, and had mystical/shamanic undertones that we thought were representative of what the band liked. It was a huge success with the band, management and record company. This logo went on to brand the entire campaign and we experimented with different foil techniques and textures to add variation to the campaign through the releases, so I guess that could certainly be seen as an example to illustrate your question – I definitely feel that the Pendulum campaign is representative of a massive year for the band. You can look at many record covers over the decades and pinpoint certain epochs – this can be due to political, economic and cultural references that shape the way we think at a particular moment in time, which is recorded through all mediums of art and design. For example you can see  how design created a myriad of creative expressions; from US ‚No Wave’ and European ‚Punk’ protest graphics of the 70’s to the affluent early 80’s work (embodied in artists like Sade), deconstruct to the late 80’s happy happy ‚rave’ imagery to be very visual catalogues of an era, and so it goes on...

I think the importance of minimalism within all areas of design (and not just music) is that it creates a sence of timelessness that transcends many subcultural style innovations that become fashionable – or the mainstream – and then lose their relevance as they become unfashionable. What one takes OUT of a design is what can give this feeling of longevity, which is why I feel Saville’s work for Joy Division & New Order, or Farrow’s earlier work for Pet Shop Boys looks as fresh today as it did decades ago.

How do you usually communicate with people whose main forte lies in making sounds rather than images?
Reference. We got into music design because we love music – and I think that energy and love transcends all areas of this industry, from producer to designer to video director. When bands can see your passion and willingness to work with them to create something meaningful, the rest follows through discussion and evolution.

When you're doing the artwork for Coil and Girls Aloud, do you essentially treat these acts with the same approach or do the scenes for experimental- and pop-music require different means and methods?
We treat these very differently. „POP“ can be talked about like it’s a bit of a dirty word – not „real“ music in many peoples view, however we have never treated this genre like that. Pop is actually very complex in it’s message and mark making requirements and we get annoyed when we see record companies packaging a pop artist like a box of chocolates – you can be more challenging than that, especially in this world of instant access to information on a global scale. A pop sleeve has to have shelf appeal, and look good, without looking too cheesy or cliched. We have also found many of the most passionate people work in „pop“ from songwriters to producers and remixers, and this is very inspirational to feel part of that team.

How did the assignment for Coil's „Love“-album come about?

Paula and I had been over to Japan a couple of times as representatives of UK graphic design, and we forged some lasting frienships in Tokyo. The Coil project came around through recommendation from a very good friend of ours. We met the band and label, discussed some ideas, and then went back to London to work on campaign ideas. What I have always admired about Japanese design is the level of abstraction that they apply to design, so we were inspired to create something that the audience could relate to, and something that could push our studio and take a few visual risks than perhaps we would be allowed at home. The label were so happy with the graphic direction that we were comissioned to create the 5 minute video promo for „Loveless“, the first single from the album. We did find it slightly ironic that it took a commission from the other side of the world to allow us to do this!!

How much fun was working with Anton Corbijn, Depeche Mode and the record label? 
I had actually worked with Anton years earlier on Depeche Modes „101“  when I was working at Peter Saville Associates so when Anton approached us to work with him on Exciter, we did have a previous association. Yes, the campaign was enjoyable, working with a photographer and art director of Anton’s calibre is always inspiring. The work load was immense as the band were embarking on a world tour so we were working on the album, singles, and tour merchandise at the same time which involved lot’s of late nights, but that’s what we are used to, and we were pleased with the end results.

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