Design for Listening
The future of music graphics appears to be in doubt. In the mp3 era, the phrase "I bought some music" often refers to a process in which no physical material changes hands and the visual element is at best a footnote. At the Design Observer blog, Adrian Shaughnessy recently lamented this situation in terms that will be recognizable to any music lover old enough to remember clearly a time before iTunes. Shaughnessy writes: "There is an undeniable sense of completeness when music comes with handsome packaging...Who ever had a love affair with a JPEG?"
Shaughnessy's little elegy, however, wouldn't pass muster with the techno-optimists at Wired. A new piece by Eliot Van Buskirk details how developing design technology and multimedia convergence could resurrect the romance of album art. Industry insiders are working hard on solutions such as iPod-friendly "fly-throughs" (likened by one exec to "a theme park ride through the album"). Elsewhere on the Wired website, Van Buskirk interviews Jadon Ulrich, the designer for Omaha-based indie label Saddle Creek Records.
I wonder, though, whether a whiz-bang multimedia experience could ever match the imaginative potency of an iconic album cover like, say, the Warhol-designed sleeve for the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers. It's true that great album art always somehow reflects the music, but reflection implies distance. If sound and image are brought too closely together, the result might be that both become boring. The marriage between music and graphics deserves to survive the digital revolution, but not if it becomes codependent.