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Four iconic album covers (and what made them so good)

The best designs aren’t just striking and memorable – they also work perfectly with the medium they’re printed on. Album covers are a perfect example of print design that’s limited by the medium – but it is this limit that tests designers to create some astonishing results. Iconic album covers don’t just come about because of great design – they must also be backed up by great music. In addition, some of these album covers have been deemed iconic because of a close relationship between the music and the design. Both elements work together to create a memorable piece of art or design that remains relevant for decades in the future. We examine some iconic album covers and take a look at what makes their designs so great.


Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

One of the many legendary albums to be recorded at Sound City Studios, Nirvana’s second studio album stormed to the top of the charts off the back of the classic lead single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ Of course, this album cover features a baby in a pool, reaching for a dollar bill that is just out of his reach. A clever comment on the ever-present draw of money and capitalism, this bizarre image remains one of the most recognisable album covers in history. The simplicity of the design makes it a winning one.


Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

Another album cover that shows simplicity is key, Pink Floyd’s masterpiece is clearly iconic in many more ways that its memorable cover alone. However, from a design point of view the image of a white beam of light being split by a prism has stood the test of time, and perhaps even become an icon in itself. In the original gatefold release of the album, the ray of light continues through the inside of the packaging, crossing the gatefold and the back cover. This is one of the reasons why we miss vinyl.


David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (1973)

Released only a month after The Dark Side of the Moon, Aladdin Sane is unarguably Bowie’s most memorable album cover (although Low, Heroes and Earthling also deserve a mention). The cover for the sort-of sequel to Ziggy Stardust’s first outing features a topless Bowie with his eyes closed, his face half-covered by a bold red and blue lightning bolt. He looks almost alien. Aladdin Sane’s distinctive lightning bolt has of course made its way into mainstream culture, a symbol adopted by today’s popstars, designers and artists – a sure sign that the design was a good one.


The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969)

Many of the tracks on Abbey Road were amongst the last that the Beatles recorded before their split in 1970. The album cover, of course, features the four Beatles walking across a zebra crossing on Abbey Road. The design has been imitated not just by professional photographers, but by members of the public. Hundreds flock to the famous zebra crossing to mimic the shot – one of the most iconic to ever grace an album sleeve.


Your company may not have the same prestige as these four famous artists did, but we can all learn a few design lessons from them: keep it simple, try something different and play with expectations. Visit our design studio for more design advice.

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